Food Stamp Ban Turns WoD's Into War Against Hungry

Food Stamp Ban Turns WoD's Into War Against Hungry
Posted by FoM on May 04, 2000 at 07:14:30 PT
By Tom Wicker, Earth Times News Service 
Source: Earth Times
Since the expensive, much-promoted "war on drugs" has failed to make much of a ripple in the tide of illegal substances flowing into this country, and may have promoted more crime than dimuntion in the American urge to get high, promoters of this futile war have turned to pure revenge.
What else can you call it when they now penalize addicts and users of whatever degree by withholding food stamps from them--permanently, and despite the fact that this vindicative and foolish policy damages the poor generally, hurts minor offenders most and big dealers not at all, may actually increase crime and won't reduce food-stamp fraud and expenditures.To the extent, moreover, that the food-stamp penalty is a Republican policy- embodied in an amendment to the 1996 welfare act proposed by Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas, and easily passed by a Republican Congress--it betrays a program that owes much to previous Republican support, particularly from President Richard Nixon.His administration sponsored the expansion in 1970 of the food stamp program to uniform application in all 50 states, and the near-doubling of its federal funding at the time. Tom Foley, the former Democratic Speaker of the House has pointed out that, whatever its other problems, "the Nixon Administration was most important in advancing the anti-hunger fight in America."That was then. Now, under the Gramm amendment, anyone convicted of a felony for violating either state of federal drug laws never again can be eligible for food stamps. And there's zero tolerance for any excuse that may be advanced--even if the offender is already in a treatment program or has been drug-free for years.Nothing will restore food-stamp eligibility. Administrators are allowed no discretion whatsoever, and a federal court has upheld that law--finding that it was "reasonably conceivable" that it was intended to curb welfare spending, deter drug use, or reduce illegal food-stamp buying and selling. No evidence exists that it has done any of those things.The only escape hatch is that individual states may choose not to follow, in whole or in part, the federal food-stamp ban. To date and to their credit, 27 states, including majors like New York, Ohio and Florida, have opted out--which is why no substantial savings have been realized in the food-stamp program. Nor will any be in the future, since more states are considering whether to shun this vengeful and counter-productive policy.In 1997, 24 million Americans obtained about $21 billion worth of food stamps, the program is undeniably a major bulwark against hunger. Under the federal ban now effective in 23 states, however, food stamps may be denied to an estimated 200,000 persons annually, since in each recent year more than 300,000 people have been convicted of various drug offenses.Many of the 200,000 to be penalized will be women, particularly black and Latino women, which means that children suffer, too. Many welfare families are headed by single mothers, often ill-educated and with physical or mental disabilities; such women are a disproportionately high percentage of drug offenders. And nearly 40 percent of incarcerated women are such offenders.Withholding food stamps--a lifetime sentence--may produce more crime because it will hit minor drug offenders most often. Big drug dealers don't need food stamps; repeat offeneders usually get long prison sentences, and thus are amply if not well fed behind bars. But small-timers with a record, once out of prison, probably won't be able to get work. Without food stamps to supplement whatever income they have, many will turn to crime--perhaps drug crime.Banning food stamps for felony drug offenders paradoxically may also, increase drug use. That's because it also penalizes residential drug-treatment programs. Typically, these require residents to turn over their food stamps to the treatment center, which then uses the stamps to buy food; but if the client has no food stamps and can't get them, he or she can't comply.Already treatment programs in California--one of the 23 states that enforce the federal ban--are having trouble obtaining enough food. To make ends meet at the steam table, they and other such programs may have to reduce the number of clients they serve--hence their deterrent and corrective effects on users.Food charities, too, are being challenged, because hunger is a growing national problem. At the same time, these charities find food supplies harder to come by, and the food-stamp ban is no help. As for food-stamp fraud, there's no evidence that it's significantly attributable to drug users.Even in actual gunpowder warfare, hunger is a weapon not easily or lightly employed even against a threatening enemy. Since poor Americans, particularly poor women and their children, are not exactly threatening enemies, and since drug criminals who may be such enemies are unlikely to need food stamps, the deployment of his weapon in the "war on drugs" seems both unwarranted and cruel.What's the justice, for instance, in permanently depriving Henry Turner, a disabled, 50-year-old Indianan who lives on Supplemental Security benefits, of eligibility for the food stamps he had been receiving since 1990? Well, Turner was convicted of "possessing marijuana"--an act for which thousands of Americans, including President Clinton, Vice President Gore, a lot of other politicians, many a moralist, and no doubt some persons reading this article will pay no penalty whatever.Web Posted: May 2, 2000Copyright  2000 The Earth Times CannabisNews Articles On Welfare Reform News Items:
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Comment #1 posted by Dan Hillman on May 05, 2000 at 13:53:06 PT
two words:
Compassionate Conservatism
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