As part of a broader criminal justice reform measure, the state of Georgia is set to lift the ban on drug felons claiming food stamps.
Democratic Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia signed a law on April 27 lifting the lifetime ban, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The move follows similar decisions in Alabama and Texas, leaving a dwindling number of states still enforcing the regulation.
The federal regulation was brought in as part of the welfare reform signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. But only Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia still enforce it.
"I haven't heard any negative commentary on this, and think that is largely because many have taken the opportunity to understand the bigger picture in what is being done with criminal justice reform,” Republican State Sen. John Kennedy of Macon told the Associated Press. “They see this as one piece of a larger puzzle.”
Researchers have suggested the cost of the measure could be as much as $10 million. Around 6,600 Georgians who are rejected each year for the program because of a drug-related offenses could now be eligible.
Others suggest the costs could be offset by a decline in repeat offenders.
“I think it will have positive benefits, and we could see other positive outcomes, like increased food security or decreased recidivism,” assistant professor Grace Bagwell Adams from the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health said.
When the measure was voted on in the state General Assembly, hardly any opposition was registered.
Thomas Worthy of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform argued the old law was part of a “get-tough-on-crime, three-strikes-your-out mentality,” which had been proven to be flawed.
Others pointed out that it was unfair to single out drug felons, when people convicted of robbery, burglary or murder could obtain food stamps if they complied with parole conditions.
“It’s excellent news for me,” Norvell Lawhorne, who has a previous conviction for cocaine possession, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It will help me with food. I won’t have to wait on lines for the churches to feed me.”
The lifting of the ban does not mean all drug felons will automatically be able to collect food stamps. Some could be compelled to participate in drug treatment programs or meet other conditions upon leaving prison.