The Senate unanimously voted last Wednesday to make ex-convicts who were convicted of violent crimes ineligible for the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, quickly called the move racist.
“Given incarceration patterns in the United States,” Greenstein said, “poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in every 15 African American men are imprisoned, while only 1 in 106 Caucasian men are serving time.
Under current law, only drug felons are ineligible for food stamps, though some states have amended the law or opted out of it. If the bill is passed, sex offenders and murderers would be added to the list.
While the bill aims to cut costs for the government, Timothy Smeeding, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, calls the claim ridiculous.
“It doesn’t save anyone any money,” Smeeding said. “It just makes sort of a political statement that we don’t forgive people for crimes once they pay their dues."
A study done at Yale’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS found that drug offenders who were ineligible for food stamps were more likely to engage in dangerous behavior to obtain food, including turning to prostitution.
The bill would also have negative effects on convict’s families, reducing funds for children and other family members.