With ‘unbelievably bad’ food stamps proposal, U.S. Senate further criminalizes poor

With ‘unbelievably bad’ food stamps proposal, U.S. Senate further criminalizes poor
Vintage food stamps. Photo by NCReedplayer/flickr.

Anyone convicted of murder, rape or pedophilia is looking at being cut off from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for life under an amendment to the U.S. Senate’s version of the 2013 Farm Bill--even if they’ve served their time. And by doing so, the amendment would also impact the nutritional assistance received by the families of people with violent convictions.

The amendment was introduced by Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and approved by unanimous consent in the Senate, including by Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, last week. It’s the latest attempt by Congress to use the reauthorization of the Farm Bill to slash at food stamp benefits.

The mammoth, five-year legislation expired in 2012. Congress passed a partial extension of the bill until September to keep some of the programs it is responsible for running, but the pressure to come to an agreement on the legislation is mounting.

Dan Lesser, director of economic justice at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, called the amendment “an unbelievably bad proposal.” Food stamp allotments are decided by household – a family of four with one person who has a conviction that bans them from getting food stamps benefits would only receive SNAP for three. This will only further stretch the resources of low-income families, Lesser said. In any case, “the benefits are only enough to provide an adequately sufficient diet.”

People convicted of drug felonies are already barred from benefits in some states. In Illinois, they can become eligible to receive SNAP again if they take part in drug or alcohol treatment. The vast majority of households receiving SNAP benefits – 72 percent – have children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think-tank focusing on policy issues that affect low-income people.

Sen. Durbin did not reply to requests for comment.

There will also be a disproportionate racial impact, according to Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: 

A young man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor, and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP, and his grandchildren’s benefits would be cut.

Given incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact. Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.

The amendment essentially says that rehabilitation doesn’t matter and violates basic norms of criminal justice.

This amendment isn’t the only attempt to cut SNAP benefits going through either the House or Senate versions of the Farm Bill. The Senate Agricultural Committee suggests cuts of $4.1 billion over 10 years. The House Agricultural Committee topped that with a proposal of $20.5 billion in cuts over 10 years, according to a fact sheet from the Food Research and Action Center, a non-profit aiming to eradicate hunger.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Food Research and Action Center has a comprehensive list of amendments that would reduce SNAP eligibility: Some propose to require anyone receiving SNAP to show proof of citizenship and attempt to give states more leeway in deciding which foods are eligible to be purchased with food stamps.

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  • We must make sure that when the murderers, rapists and pedophiles are fat and happy when they are sent back through the revolving door to prison, as so many are.

    Wow, this is real muckraking journalism. The criminals criminalize themselves and remove themselves from living off the largess of the land. Nobody has a right to food stamps.

    What is the recidivism rate, eh? How bout a hard hitting "muckraking" story on that?

    Good thing that Chicagonow will post and feature this dribble each time it you hit the button.

  • Brother, another poster who has to approve posts. Why? It drives away readers and eyeballs.

  • Richard, I agree. So the poor baby murderers and rapists can't get their free food? Oh the humanity! Tough. That's what you get for violating the social contract.

    And oh no, not the racial impact! Sorry, we're tired of the race card being played every time something doesn't go someone's way.

    What's next, complaining that we're not giving away free houses to gangbangers?

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