Nebraska Could Drop Lifetime Food Stamp Ban For Convicted Drug Felons

By McCarton Ackerman 01/27/16

New legislation could overturn Senator Phil Gramm's draconian policy from 20 years ago.

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New legislation has been introduced in Nebraska that could ultimately drop the current policy of lifetime food stamp bans from convicted drug felons.

Democratic State Sen. Adam Morfeld introduced the legislation to remove the policy adopted by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) nearly 20 years ago. Gramm originally called for lifetime bans on welfare and food stamps after just one drug conviction, but the state has since tapered down to bans after a third conviction. Morfeld’s policy would lift the bans on food stamps for convicted drug felons, but wouldn’t touch the current bans on welfare. It would also remove the mandatory rehab requirement for welfare and food stamp recipients on their first and second drug conviction.

“We should not punish children for the mistakes of their parents,” he said during a committee hearing last week on the proposed legislation.

The option to take away welfare and food stamps from convicted drug felons comes from a federal law established in 1996 by Bill Clinton, although it does allow states to waive the restrictions. Eighteen states have completely lifted the restrictions since then, while an additional 25 allow people with certain drug benefits to still receive them. Lifting welfare benefits has been met with slightly more resistance, with only 14 states lifting the restriction completely and 23 allowing people with certain drug benefits to receive them.

The only states to still have full bans on food stamps for convicted drug felons are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Texas became the most recent state to lift the ban in August 2015. Although some people believe doing so is a poor use of taxpayer dollars, many believe removing financial obstacles will help convicted felons more easily integrate into society and reduce their chances of recidivism.

“It isn’t about rewarding people convicted of crimes. It’s about making sure that they do not become repeat offenders, and to do that, we need to give them some help,” said Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson. “This will give them an opportunity to regain respectability by going out into the marketplace and make a living.”

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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.