Thousands of people trying to get back on their feet are denied access to the very thing that can help them stay sober. While violent offenders can eat, non-violent drug offenders are forever banned from receiving food assistance even when they're trying to live positive lives. Legislators are more concerned with their political careers than with ensuring that Texas citizens can get back on their feet and become productive members of society. In 1996, a bill passed through the Senate permanently banning anyone with a felony drug conviction from ever receiving benefits from the food stamp program. While it is easy to see the good intentions behind this law, it is an extremely flawed policy. In fact, 39 out of 50 states have opted out of it but Texas has not. Texas has the 2nd highest rate of incarceration in the world and a large percentage of those who have records are in some way drug related. People have the capacity for change. Why discriminate ONLY against people who were CAUGHT with drugs? Those that have criminal histories already face many obstacles to employment, housing, and taking away access to a need so basic is inhumane! Meet Elizabeth, she is a recovering addict, with felony drug convictions on her record. Elizabeth struggled for months to find employment. Once employment was gained she dealt with multiple abusive situations and tolerated them with the knowledge of how difficult finding another job would be. Elizabeth got fired. She also happened to be 7 months pregnant when she was fired. So now in addition to having the obstacle of her criminal history she is now the pregnant girl that most employers will be reluctant to hire. Her family is on drugs so they can't be a source of support to her. While she is pregnant she can't receive food stamp benefits because of her history, and the law. Once she has the baby she can receive benefits for the baby ( even though the baby can't eat) but how will she eat until then? She lives in Bastrop Texas which is a small town and the few food pantries available are limited in what they can do. In Austin the resources are greater, but that would mean having the time, and money to get there and if she had the money to spend for gas then she would just be able to go to the local store. Elizabeth should be able to access programs that her tax dollars helped fund! This law should not have been passed in the first place, but we need to send a message to our representatives that this is not acceptable behavior! Sign my petition and let them know that!
In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was passed by both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. This act effectively banned persons with a drug felony from being able to have access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also known as food stamps.
Since this time, all but 8 states have opted-out of or modified the ban so that persons convicted of a drug felony may receive food stamps if they meet certain requirements. Texas is one of only nine states that have not made any modifications to this legislation.
This bill does not just impact persons with a drug felony but also affects their families. A recent study at Yale provides further insight into this statement. Researchers examined three states, including Texas, that had modified or full bans. The study found that in the past month, 91% were food insecure, 37% did not eat for an entire day, 38% of women living with children did not eat for a day, and 25% of women living with children reported their children not eating for a day. As seen through these results, children may not have access to food as a result of behavior over which they had no control.
PRWORA was originally enacted to provide additional incentives for working. One of the primary obstacles for persons convicted of a felony is finding a job due to the requirement to divulge this information on job applications. The ability to provide for one's family during this period of time is an important element of rehabilitation and encourages a restoration of independence. PRWORA was also enacted to prevent fraud of government assistance programs. In 2004, food stamps were moved to an Electronic Benefits Transaction (EBT) card, which further prevented the chance of fraud.
In light of this evidence, we propose that a modification be made in Texas in light of the PRWORA so that this act no longer applies to persons convicted of a drug felony, they are the only class affected by this poor policy. Furthermore, the work requirements mandated by the SNAP program will actually serve as an additional tool to get these people back into the workforce.