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MO Lawmakers Urged to Repeal Food Stamp Ban for Ex-Drug Offenders

PHOTO: Missourians who have served time for drug offenses say they're being doubly punished by the state's lifetime ban on SNAP benefits, and hope lawmakers will act to repeal it. Photo credit: freestockphotos.com.
PHOTO: Missourians who have served time for drug offenses say they're being doubly punished by the state's lifetime ban on SNAP benefits, and hope lawmakers will act to repeal it. Photo credit: freestockphotos.com.
February 12, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Missouri lawmakers have the chance to join 40 other states in lifting a ban that prevents anyone with a prior felony drug conviction from ever receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps.

Johnny Waller Jr. of Kansas City acknowledged that he served prison time for selling drugs nearly two decades ago, but has since turned his life around - starting his own business and earning multiple degrees. But when a family medical crisis rocked his world, Waller said, there was no safety net to help keep food on the table.

"If you're hungry, you're starving, you have children - you did something 10, 15 years ago that you can't get this type of assistance - what would you do to eat?" he asked.

The ban originally was part of a 1996 federal Welfare Reform Law, but most states now have sought waivers to repeal it. Bills have been introduced in both the Missouri House and Senate to reverse the ban and hearings are being held this week.

Waller said he feels the current law unfairly singles out people such as himself, because - unlike those convicted of other felonies, including murder, child abuse, and rape - only former drug offenders face the lifetime food assistance ban.

"It kind of makes me feel like I must be the scum of the earth or something,” he said, “because no matter how long ago it's been, no matter what you've done to clean up or to turn your life around, you're still bottom of the barrel."

The Missouri Association for Social Welfare has called the ban on SNAP benefits for former drug offenders one of the most problematic state-imposed barriers for people in poverty.

The bills are HB 1589, online at house.mo.gov, and SB 680 at senate.mo.gov.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO