Pubdate: Sun, 15 Sep 2002
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2002 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Cheryl Wetzstein


In California and 18 other states, convicted drug felons - including poor 
mothers - are not allowed to receive food stamps. That policy could change 
in California, however, if Gov. Gray Davis signs a bill reopening the 
food-stamp program to drug felons if they are in drug treatment. Top Stories

"I don't believe we should punish people twice, and if a court finds that a 
person is in a position to rehabilitate themselves, they should receive 
benefits," said Democratic Assemblyman Carl Washington, chief sponsor of 
the bill.

Mr. Davis, also a Democrat, has vetoed two previous bills on this issue, 
but Mr. Washington thinks his bill - which passed the legislature in late 
August - will be enacted because it won't cost California any money and 
would help feed poor adults.

The other bills, Mr. Washington said, would have returned both welfare 
money and food stamps to drug felons, and California would have had to pay 
part of the costs of the cash welfare. The food-stamp program is completely 
federally funded, however, "so there's no cost to the state." Moreover, 
"food stamps can only be used to purchase food," the assemblyman said, 
adding that he is personally urging Mr. Davis to sign the bill.

Many Republicans in the Assembly oppose Mr. Washington's bill because they 
say it will take welfare reform back to the failed policies of rewarding 
bad behavior.

"It's not OK to use illegal drugs and expect the state to support the habit 
by also providing food stamps," said Assemblyman Roy Ashburn, lead sponsor 
of the state's welfare reform measure.

"The bill would send an indefensible message to California's youth that it 
is acceptable to consume illegal drugs because the state will give them 
food stamps. This doesn't promote personal responsibility," said Republican 
Assemblyman Phil Wyman.

The original provision to deny welfare to drug felons was added as a state 
option by Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, during the final days of 
debate on the 1996 welfare reform law.

"The bottom line is, if we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not to 
give people welfare benefits who are violating the nation's drug laws," Mr. 
Gramm said before his amendment passed by a 74-25 vote.

More than half the states, including Virginia, initially adopted the ban, 
which denied welfare checks and food stamps to any person convicted of a 
drug felony. (Felons' children still could receive welfare benefits.)

Other states, such as Maryland, adopted a modified ban, but other states 
and the District chose not to impose any kind of a ban.

Over time, several states have eased their policies. This spring, for 
instance, Maine lawmakers overturned their ban on welfare to felons.

This change means that 19 states have a full ban, 21 states deny benefits 
to drug felons only under certain circumstances and 10 states plus the 
District don't have a ban at all, according to a May report compiled by the 
Sentencing Project, a District-based group that monitors criminal justice 

About 92,000 women - including 37,825 in California - were "currently 
affected" by the bans, the Sentencing Project concluded.

Mr. Davis twice has vetoed bills to allow drug felons to receive welfare 

"Convicted felons do not deserve the same treatment as law-abiding 
citizens," Mr. Davis said in November 1999 when he vetoed one such bill.

Last week, however, the Sacramento Bee in an editorial urged Mr. Davis to 
sign Mr. Washington's bill. The Los Angeles district attorney, California 
Narcotics Association and California Association of Drug Court 
Professionals support the Democratic assemblyman's measure, the newspaper said.
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