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Jewish Activists Smile As Food Stamps Are Restored

June 24, 1998
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With the stroke of a pen, President Clinton has restored food stamps to some legal immigrants, including thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

A few yards from the place Clinton revoked the benefits as part of the 1996 welfare reform law, the president, in a Rose Garden ceremony, signed the $1.9 billion agriculture bill into law.

As a result of the new law, refugees can collect food stamps for seven years instead of five. The measure also restores food stamps to children, elderly and disabled legal immigrants who were already in the United States when Clinton signed the welfare law. All other legal immigrants remained barred from the federal nutrition program.

The changes will go into effect November 1.

The provisions will cost about $818 million over five years and will provide benefits to about 250,000 of the 935,000 legal immigrants — including 75,000 children — who were taken out of the program.

“When I signed the welfare reform bill in 1996, I said the cuts in nutritional programs were too deep and had nothing whatever to do with welfare reform,” Clinton said.

“None of these benefit cuts had the first thing to do with welfare reform. Reinstating them is the right thing to do.”

The restoration of food stamps is the latest measure to reinstate benefits that had been lost under welfare reform. An earlier act of Congress signed by Clinton enabled many immigrants to receive Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.

“We did not think that we would get anything restored” after the welfare law, said Diana Aviv, director of the Council of Jewish Federations’ Washington Action Office.

Aviv, who attended a small gathering in the Oval Office before the bill signing, estimated that 85 to 90 percent of Jewish immigrants and refugees will continue to receive food stamps as a result of the new law.

But over time, as new immigrants come to the United States who are not eligible for food stamps, and refugees after seven years do not become citizens, the Jewish community will face a “critical mass” that local federations “won’t be able to handle,” said Aviv, who watched over Clinton’s right shoulder as he signed the bill.

The partial restorations of benefits, she said, is “just for us a down payment.”

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