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Conference Report on H.R. 2419, Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Unknown

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the nutrition title of the pending conference report. It includes many urgently needed improvements to our food assistance programs for low-income people.

As a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, I am particularly pleased to see this title includes language to correct a couple of problems that have arisen relating to the enforceability of the act and to ensure that no further problems exist.

The Food Stamp Act has long been recognized as fully enforceable on behalf of active and prospective participants. This history of enforceability is comparable to that of securities regulations, which the courts have long accepted. When, many years ago, a panel of the Fifth Circuit found no private right of action under the Food Stamp Act in a case brought by a pro se plaintiff, several other circuits, and ultimately the Fifth Circuit en banc, rejected that conclusion. Had they not done so, I have no doubt we would have intervened.

Recently, a couple of Federal courts cast doubt on this long-held principle, one by finding the Department's regulations on bilingual service unenforceable and another by forcing plaintiffs to meet the high standards for supervisory liability when suing a State to enforce the act and regulations against local agencies. I am pleased that this legislation overrules both of those decisions.

More broadly, the legislation recognizes that lawsuits by individual households or classes of household to enforce their rights under the act and regulations are an important part of the program. There now should be no doubt, if there ever was any, that all provisions of the act and regulations that help individuals get food assistance, or that protect them from burdens in their pursuit of food aid, are intended to create enforceable rights, with corrective injunctions or back benefits, the latter subject to the limitations in the act, as appropriate.

The act does not require States or the Department only to exercise reasonable efforts or to substantially comply with its requirements and those in the regulations: it gives each individual a right to be treated as the act and rules provide. The act and regulations have an unmistakable focus on the benefited class of participants and prospective participants, they are written in mandatory, not precatory terms, and they are concerned with the treatment of individuals as much as they are with aggregate or system-wide performance.

I cannot imagine how Congress could be any clearer in this regard. I anticipate that we will have no further confusion concerning the enforceability of the act and regulations.

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