Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jun 2013
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times


On their release from prison or jail, inmates can return to their 
communities with transitional assistance to keep them fed while they 
look for work - or they can return desperate and hungry. Which 
circumstance is more likely to keep the neighborhood safe?

In its wisdom, or what passed for it at the time, Congress in 1996 
banned anyone convicted of a drug-related offense from ever getting 
food stamps. People convicted of rape, murder or armed robbery were 
eligible for food aid, but not former drug offenders. It was the 
height of the war on drugs, and lawmakers were bent on punishing 
addicts and dealers.

The foolishness of this lifetime prohibition quickly became apparent. 
Federal administrators allowed states to alter it or opt out 
altogether, and most quickly did so. It took California until 2004 to 
partially end the ban on benefits for drug offenders through CalFresh 
- - the local program for getting federal food aid to the needy - but 
it was kept intact for any offender whose conviction went beyond 
simple possession. Because addicts often engage in low-level dealing 
to pay for their habits, many drug offenders here continue to return 
to the streets after doing their jail or prison time, with no legal 
way to feed themselves or their families. They remain desperate and 
hungry. Local grocery stores remain unpaid. Neighbors remain uneasy.

It's time to end this destructive policy. State lawmakers have before 
them a bill that would end the lifetime CalFresh ban for drug 
offenders who comply with the conditions of their parole or 
probation, including participation in a drug rehab program. SB 283 
has cleared the Senate and is shortly to be heard by the Assembly's 
Human Services Committee. It should be adopted and sent to the 
governor for his signature.

Opponents continue to worry that drug offenders will sell their food 
credits to feed their habits instead of their families. But the 
requirement to abide by the terms of release, especially 
participation in rehab programs, goes a long way to address that 
concern. Plus, despite the devout belief to the contrary by some 
members of the public, there is scant evidence that Californians who 
get assistance through their EBT cards (no one actually uses "stamps" 
anymore, although aid is still commonly called "food stamps") engage in fraud.

And besides, it's worth noting that ex-offenders whose crimes 
actually included fraud, and who thus might be more prone than most 
to abuse their card privileges, are nevertheless eligible for food 
aid. The ban on CalFresh benefits for drug offenders is an unfair and 
unwise relic from an era of antidrug frenzy. It should be repealed.
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