Food stamp benefits would be restored to 250,000 legal immigrants under legislation passed by the Senate, which brushed aside arguments that it would reverse the 1996 welfare law.
The five-year, $1.9 billion bill, sent to the House on a 92-8 vote Tuesday, also would provide new financial guarantees for crop insurance and set aside new money for agricultural research in what supporters said was a balance intended to appeal to both urban anti-hunger forces and farm advocates."This is a carefully crafted compromise," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
On a 77-23 vote, the Senate defeated an attempt by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, to send the bill back to committee, which would have effectively killed it. Gramm, who had blocked a floor vote for weeks, argued that restoring more than $818 million in benefits for some legal immigrants amounted to a full retreat from the welfare overhaul that cut them off.
"The biggest problem with this bill is it puts a great big neon sign at the border of the United States of America, `Come and get welfare,' " Gramm said. "I want people to come to America to go to work."
President Clinton had indicated he would veto the bill without the food stamps provisions, and supporters stressed that farmers needed the crop insunce to renew policies, which would allow them to obtain bank credit and peace of mind in case of disaster.
"There is no new entitlement here," said Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Agriculture Committee. "This is a question of a commitment to farmers."
The food stamp restoration applies to fewer than one-third of the estimated 935,000 legal immigrants who lost benefits under the welfare law, but supporters said they were willing to accept that as a down payment.
Targeted are the elderly, those under 18, the disabled and people who came to the United States to flee political or religious persecution. To qualify, those immigrants had to be living in the United States as of Aug. 22, 1996.
The deal to restore the benefits was initially struck by House and Senate negotiators in March.
In crop insurance, the measure would guarantee $470 million over five years to pay agents and companies for expenses and commissions.