Have A Felony Drug Conviction? No Food For You

Author: December 26, 2012 2:31 pm

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frankie-620x411On December 21 2012, Dr. Emily Wang, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and the Associate Director of the Transitions Clinic Network, posted a piece in The American Prospect about the plight of Carla, a convicted felon who had recently been released from prison. Carla showed up at Dr. Wang’s office in tears. She had been doing well since her release from prison. She was drug-free, had regained custody of her children, and enrolled in a local community college.

Things were looking great for Carla, so why was she upset? In spite of a diligent job search, her felony conviction has made it virtually impossible to find even an entry-level job, and she can’t feed her children because she has no money and is not eligible for . Is it because she’s a felon? Not exactly. If Carla were a murderer or a rapist, she’d qualify for . But because she was convicted of possession of marijuana at the age of 20, she is ineligible for state assistance via the (food stamp) program.

32 states ban people with drug felony convictions from receiving . The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that nine states have a lifetime ban for food stamp eligibility for drug felony convictions, and 23 states have a partial ban. Partial bans permit eligibility for people convicted of “possession” or who are enrolled in a drug treatment program. People who were convicted of selling drugs are completely ineligible.

Carla is one of thousands of former convicted drug offenders who suffer because of a passage in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. The specific passage of the Act was implemented to keep drug users from selling their for drug money. This concern is irrelevant today because food stamp funds are distributed electronically via a “debit” card that must be used during checkout at grocery stores. I suppose that “technically,” Carla could buy prime rib and then sell it (what’s the street value of prime rib?), but that is unrealistic. I’m sure that it does happen, but most people use their food stamp funds to buy food for themselves and their families.

People who are coming out of prison are vulnerable. It’s extremely difficult to find employment with a felony conviction. Renting an apartment or home is challenging because many apartment complexes have policies against renting to felons, and some communities have even passed laws that disallow landlords from renting to convicted felons. Many convicted felons lost everything when they were locked up, and while some have supportive families, the majority do not.


Author: An unapologetic member of the Christian Left, I have spent most of my career actively working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have an awesome website and a literary quotes blog that is a labor of love. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.

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