Senate committee to debate food stamp changes

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers have agreed to take another crack at changing how often food stamps are released to needy Idahoans each month.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee agreed Thursday to debate a bill that would release benefits on as many as 10 different days each month as opposed to the current rules that peg the release to the first day of each month.

The House approved a similar bill last year, but the measure never made it out of the same Senate committee that agreed Wednesday to revisit the idea again in coming weeks.

The bill has the support of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the agency that administers the program. But it also has the backing of the Northwest Grocer's Association, whose members include some of the biggest grocery stores in the state.

Grocery executives like the idea of spreading food stamp release across several days, Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, the bill's sponsor, told the committee. The way things work now: Stores are flooded on the first day of each month by shoppers eligible for the benefits, a phenomenon that causes a run on certain goods, long lines at the check-out stand and supply-chain problems for store managers, she said.

Those logistical headaches have been exacerbated during the economic recession in Idaho as more residents have turned to the program to make ends meet. Last month, Health and Welfare reported more than 229,000 people were enrolled in the program, about 14.5 percent of the state's overall population.

The bill carries a startup cost of $683,000 and another $231,000 each year to operate. That price tag already raised concern among some Senators who suggested Thursday the money would be better spent on programs to educate food stamp recipients on health, nutrition and skills to stretch their food resources more evenly across the month.

"I think we need to help our people to be as healthy as they can, but also efficient," said Sen. Patty Ann Lodge, R-Huston.