In All But Seven States, People With Drug Felonies Can't Get Food Stamps

| by Sheena Vasani
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All but seven American states have either fully or partially lifted bans restricting felons with drug convictions from receiving food stamps.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming are the last few in the country still holding on to these Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program restrictions.

A February 2016 report by the Georgia Council on Criminal Reform suggests the state may be considering implementing reforms.

“After a careful review of the issue, the Council recommends that Georgia remove the lifetime ban on food stamps for felony drug offenders in its entirety,” the Georgia report says.

“Various social and criminal justice dynamics have caused the ban to have a disproportionate effect on women, children and African-Americans,” it adds. It later also states, “Among individuals denied benefits, many were not users, but rather sold drugs to provide income for their families.”

Elsewhere, the bans have been criticized for being unfair.

Johnny Waller Jr. of Nebraska explains when he was 18 years old, he received a drug felony conviction. When his toddler son was diagnosed with cancer and needed full-time help, Waller’s past meant he couldn’t access food stamps.

“I really needed assistance there,” Waller said. He was unable to get any, he said, because of a felony “when I was 18 years old that didn’t have anything to do with my son.”

In 1996, President Bill Clinton established the ban blocking drug offending felons from receiving federal assistance as a part of the War on Drugs. Since then, most states have backed away from these restrictions for a variety of reasons.

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, explains that banning felon’s access to assistance is an ineffective way to fight crime.

“This increases the odds they will commit new crimes by virtue of the fact that you’re creating a significant financial obstacle,” Mauer said.

A relatively larger number of American states still forbid felons from getting welfare or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. These include Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Sources: The Pew Charitable Trusts, Georgia Council on Criminal Reform Report / Photo credit: Phil! Gold/Flickr

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