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Sen. Kennedy proposes bill to save Louisiana food stamps, if cut

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - U.S. Sen. John Kennedy plans to file legislation to shield Louisiana's food stamp program if state lawmakers fail to pay for it themselves.

Kennedy said his bill would let the U.S. Department of Agriculture administer the state's $1.4 billion share of the program to food banks and churches.

"They can probably do a better job than the bureaucrats can anyway," he told reporters. "I'm not going to let the state lose $1.4 billion because of a political spat."

State lawmakers will begin a 10-day special session Monday to fill a budget gap, created when temporary sales taxes expire July 1. Administrators have said failure to renew revenue would cut $34 million from the Department of Children and Family Services, preventing state operation of the federally funded program past this calendar year. Louisiana would be the first state to halt food stamps.

"It obviously touches a lot of our people," Kennedy said. "I want all people who depend on food stamps not to be scared."

Roughly 860,000 Louisianans — or more than 19 percent of state residents — receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Roughly half of those recipients are children, according to state estimates.

Kennedy, a Republican, said he has not shared his idea with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"I've kind of given up on that," he said. "The governor doesn't answer my letters and has never accepted any one of my suggestions."

Edwards' spokesman Richard Carbo doubted whether lawmakers will back Kennedy's idea.

"They have given no indication that they are willing or able to do what the senator is suggesting," he said in a statement.

But Carbo welcomed the proposal as a start, in addressing a budget gap less than a month away.

"We're glad to see that he's finally acknowledging that there are real consequences from budget cuts that would be imposed without action from the Legislature," he said.

Kennedy, who called for the governor's resignation earlier this week, is often considered a potential challenger to Edwards’ 2019 re-election campaign. The senator said he is debating a bid, though he has yet to decide for sure, citing continued work on Capitol Hill.

"I'm enjoying my work in Washington, D.C.," he said. "Unlike in Louisiana, we're making progress up here."

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