Farm Bill Amendment Imposing Lifetime Ban on Food Stamps Hits People of Color Hardest

On Wednesday, the Senate accepted a devastating farm bill amendment offered by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). The amendment would bar anyone who’s ever been convicted of certain violent crimes from receiving food stamps—forever.

It doesn’t matter that it’s been decades since you served your sentence in prison and completed your terms of probation and parole. It doesn’t matter that you were a teenager at the time of conviction and haven’t received so much as a parking ticket since. It doesn’t even matter that you care for dependent children or grandchildren who rely on your benefits to eat. You are banned for life.

Let’s get a couple things straight about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): 4 out of 5 families receiving benefits have gross incomes below the poverty line ($23,550 for a family of four in 2013), and the majority of those families actually earn below half of the poverty line—that’s $9,765 for a family of three. Furthermore, 87% of households receiving benefits include a child, senior citizen, or disabled person.

4.5-SNAP

The approved amendment would deliver a crushing blow to communities of color, which have disproportionately high rates of poverty and food insecurity as well as greater risk of involvement in the criminal justice system. One in four black or Latino households is food insecure, compared to one in 10 white households. One in three black men and one in six Latino men can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime, compared to one in 17 white men. As Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, under Vitter’s amendment, “Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.”

It’s hard enough for folks with former convictions to secure housing or find jobs; discriminatory policies and practices often leave those with criminal records bereft of options. In many states, federal welfare law already bans anyone who has ever been convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving SNAP benefits or cash assistance (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF). SNAP helps the most vulnerable members of our communities put food on their tables, and a lifetime ban based on a prior conviction only makes it harder for returning citizens trying to make a fresh start. Households that rely on food stamps frequently have to make tough choices between paying for food, rent, medicine, and other critical expenses; what happens when their benefits are cut? It certainly won’t make our communities any safer. In fact, when people struggling to feed themselves and their families feel like they’re out of options, it may very well contribute to recidivism.

We need to let our Senators know that the farm bill cannot pass with this amendment intact. There are 11 Democrats and 9 Republicans on the Senate agriculture committee; their contact information is below. You can also use the Senate’s online directory to find your Senators’ contact information by state. Not a single Senator objected to the amendment. Contact your Senators and tell them that cutting SNAP benefits for people who have already served their time is a low blow. Tell them that it will likely prove counter-productive to public safety. Tell them that amendment #1056 needs to go.

Members of the Senate agriculture committee:

Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman (D-MI)
(202) 224-4822
@StabenowPress
Email her here.

Thad Cochran, Ranking Member (R-MS)
(202) 224-5054
@SenThadCochran
Email him here.

Max Baucus (D-MT)
(202) 224-2651
Email him here.

Michael Bennet (D-CO)
(202) 224-5852
@SenBennetCO
Email him here.

John Boozman (R-AR)
(202) 224-4843
@JohnBoozman
Email him here.

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
(202) 224-2315
@SenSherrodBrown
Email him here.

Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
(202) 224-3521
@SaxbyChambliss
Email him here.

William Cowan (D-MA)
(202) 224-2742
@SenMoCowan
Email him here.

Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
(202) 224-4814
@SenDonnelly
Email him here.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
(202) 224-4451
@SenGillibrand
Email her here.

Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
(202) 224-3744
Email him here.

Tom Harkin (D-IA)
(202) 224-3254
@SenatorHarkin
Email him here.

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
(202) 224-2043
@SenatorHeitkamp
Email her here.

John Hoeven (R-ND)
(202) 224-2551
@SenJohnHoeven
Email him here.

Mike Johanns (R-NE)
(202) 224-4224
@Mike_Johanns
Email him here.

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
(202) 224-3244
@amyklobuchar
Email her here.

Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
(202) 224-4242
@SenatorLeahy
Email him here.

Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
(202) 224-2541
@McConnellPress
Email him here.

Pat Roberts (R-KS)
(202) 224-4774
@SenPatRoberts
Email him here.

John Thune (R-SD)
(202) 224-2321
@SenJohnThune
Email him here.

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One Comment on “Farm Bill Amendment Imposing Lifetime Ban on Food Stamps Hits People of Color Hardest”

  1. Bruce Reilly says:

    This is what I emailed my Senator, David Vitter, although I am not allowed to vote for or against him, who sponsored this rider:

    “Considering that LA is the incarceration capital of the world, I am surprised that only 1700 people who were in prison could access Food Stamps during the 3 year period cited by the Senator. There are 45,000 people on probation and parole. So even if these people were recently involved in the justice system, and still serving a sentence, this would only be 4% of people getting some food assistance, it is no wonder recidivism is so hard to reduce.

    I received Food Stamps for about 5 months while on parole. It was a crucial help at a critical time. I have since paid thousands of dollars in fees to the justice system. I have paid thousands in taxes. I will ultimately pay about six figures to the Senator’s own alma mater: Tulane Law School. Those of us who committed a violent crime are not inherently “dangerous” for life, but I recognize that there are some people who would like to not see us succeed. This bill will surely pass, as will many like it, and some of us will succeed nonetheless. However, it takes a lot of sincerity out of the purported efforts (fed/state/local) to “help” us get our lives together. So while it is understandable that some people will never accept us in their neighborhoods, they should also understand those who do not trust any governmental efforts to rehabilitate and reenter. Without that trust, those programs will be no more than an occasional photo-op.

    I respectfully request the Senator to reconsider his approach to Food Stamps. A month of benefits = 2 days of what the federal government pays to incarcerate someone.”

    Who remembers the woman who lied about her conviction in order to get Food Stamps for her children? She is in prison and the kids are eligible for the program now that they are children of a prisoner.


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