Hundreds of thousands of Americans are serving time for drug offenses — nearly a half-million according to the latest numbers available, from 2013. For many ... leaving prison with a felony conviction on their record adds to the hurdles they face re-entering society. A 1996 federal law blocks felons with drug convictions from receiving welfare or food stamps unless states choose to waive the restrictions.The story described Texas' new legislation thusly:
The bans, which don’t apply to convictions for any other crimes, were put in place as part of a sweeping reform of the nation’s welfare system, and at the height of the war on drugs. Now many states are rethinking how to help felons become productive citizens and reduce the likelihood they will return to prison.
Since 1996, 20 states have lifted restrictions on food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and 24 allow people with certain types of drug felonies to get those benefits — leaving six states where a felony drug record disqualifies a person from receiving them.
States have been more restrictive when it comes to extending welfare benefits through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families: 14 have lifted the restriction, 24 have some restrictions and 12 have full restrictions barring felons with a drug conviction from receiving cash assistance.
[Last] year, Utah, Texas and Alabama became the latest states to lift blanket bans on receiving food stamps.The Marshall Project on Feb. 4 produced two graphics in a short story, showing Texas among the holdouts
“If we want people to stay out of trouble we’ve got to give them a hand up, not a foot down,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat who pushed for the repeal in Texas. She said providing help is much less expensive for the state than paying for repeated incarcerations.
While Texas’ food stamp program is now open to anyone convicted of using or selling drugs, those who violate their probation or parole are ineligible for benefits for two years. If they are convicted of another felony, drug-related or otherwise, they are barred for life.
Alabama scrapped its ban on food stamps and cash assistance.
The partial relaxation of the food stamp ban in Texas is great news, but the ban on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits for drug offenders has always baffled me. This is a program which primarily (among drug-offender ex-inmates, nearly exclusively) benefits single women with children. So punishing Mom punishes her kids who didn't do anything. It's no wonder 37 or 38 states (Pew and the Marshall Project offer different counts) have already at least partially lifted the TANF ban. That's one of those penny-wise-pound-foolish policies that cannot survive close, rational scrutiny, particularly for anyone who purports to be serious about helping ex-offenders succeed upon reentry.