Missouri Considers Lifting Lifetime Food Stamp Ban For Former Drug Felons

By McCarton Ackerman 04/09/14

Thanks to the lobbying efforts of former felon Christine McDonald, a bipartisan effort is underway to lifting the draconian ban.

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Missouri is one of 10 states that currently has a lifetime ban on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for anyone convicted of a drug-related felony, but they could soon be amending their policy.

The harsh ban was part of the welfare reform effort of 1996, but most states have since modified or completely removed the lifetime ban. However, the Missouri Senate has approved a bill for modification and is already gaining bipartisan support in the House.

The consideration for change regarding the food stamp ban is largely due to the lobbying efforts of Christine McDonald. McDonald spent time in and out of the prison system, but has stayed out of jail since 2004. But because of her convictions from over a decade ago, she remains ineligible for food stamps. Her struggle was made even greater by the fact she is a single mother and lost her eyesight in 2006 after declining to take a medication that could have harmed her unborn child.

"You couple finding a job with a criminal record, with having no eyeballs, you’re going to face some societal barriers,” said McDonald. “If I would’ve killed someone, I could’ve gotten food stamps.”

The proposed amendments in the new bill seek to lift the food stamp ban for individuals one year after their conviction or release from prison. It would also be contingent on either completing a drug treatment program or being certified as not needing treatment. Anyone with three drug-related felony convictions would still be banned from the SNAP program. A more stringent House version of the bill would waive the ban after five years and require individuals to pass a sobriety test in order to qualify for the benefits.

Both Republicans and Democrats who are supporting the bill believe that having access to food stamps would ultimately reduce the chance of a relapse and drug-related crimes, something with which McDonald also agrees. “We know that with proper treatment and rehabilitation, people can get clean and sober and never use again,” she said. “If we take care, nurture the person, we keep the disease of addiction at bay. If you can’t feed yourself or your family, out of frustration you’re going to go back to the drugs, back to whatever criminal acts get the money for the drugs.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.