General Assembly Lifts Ban on Food Stamps

For at least seven years advocates have been urging legislators to pass legislation lifting a ban on ex-drug offenders getting food stamps. No other offenders are banned from receiving food stamps and the MCC argued that the law singling out ex-drug offenders represented punitive action that undermined the rehabilitative efforts of offenders.

In the final week of the session, both chambers took final action on lifting the food stamp ban. On Thursday, the House and Senate gave final approval to SB 680 and sent it to Governor Nixon for his signature.

Sponsored by Senator Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City), the measure lifts the ban, but ex-offenders would need to wait one year after conviction or release from custody to get the food stamps.  Also, it requires that the individual be in drug treatment, be on a waiting list or deemed not to need treatment.

In the end, SB 680, which also includes other changes in the food stamp program, easily passed the House by a vote of 122-19 and the Senate by a vote of 27-3.  If the governor signs the bill, Missouri will join 42 other states in opting out of this harsh provision that was put in the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act.

The saga of this bill is a story of perseverance. Numerous organizations, individuals, and legislators were determined to correct a serious flaw in the law that was not well known.  A special thanks to all the legislators who sponsored this legislation through the years; including Representative Paul Wieland (R-Imperial) who sponsored the House version of the bill this session.

Through the years the MCC worked with other groups including Catholic Charities of St. Louis and the Missouri Association for Social Welfare to raise awareness with legislators of the injustice of this food stamp ban that only discriminated against ex-drug offenders.  A special thanks goes to Pat Dougherty, the Senior Director of Advocacy for St. Louis Catholic Charities.

The issue took on a human face early in the session when former drug users testified before legislative committees. Johnny Waller, whose son had cancer, and Christine McDonald, a young mother who became blind, told legislative committees of their efforts to rebuild their lives and become productive citizens. They said food stamp assistance would have helped them in their journey to recovery.

The support of citizens, including the MCC’s Network Members, who contacted their legislators at crucial times, helped moved the issue forward.  While the bill had moved some in past legislative sessions, it was not until this year that all the pieces fell in place and the bill made it to the governor’s desk.

This is well-deserved victory!  Thanks to all who supported this important cause.

 

Posted: May 16, 2014

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