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If You Have a Drug Conviction In Missouri, You Can’t Have Food Aid

If You Have a Drug Conviction In Missouri, You Can’t Have Food Aid

Ever done drugs? Received a drug conviction for any reason, even if the circumstances were murky? Well, in Missouri, along with several other states, that counts against you when you seek government services, no matter how long ago it was and how much you’ve changed since then. For Missouri moms trying to support themselves and growing kids, that means no food aid: even though food prices and the cost of living are rising, and many women are struggling with food security issues in their households.

Ten states across the nation have chosen to stick with tough laws surrounding eligibility for government aid dating back to the Clinton Administration. These laws involve restrictions on who can get aid, including welfare and food stamps, even for parents of young children. These laws are theoretically designed to prevent the abuse of government resources, but they have a chilling effect on anyone who’s ever had a felony conviction.

Even if someone was involved with drugs in her late teens or early twenties and made radical life changes, she’s still not able to access benefits under the law — and human rights advocates argue the laws should be a concern even if convictions are more recent, because people have done their time and are now ready to rejoin society.

Due to prejudicial hiring practices that tend to put felons at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking jobs and making connections on the outside, it’s often hard to find good work that pays fairly with a felony conviction in your past, especially a drug conviction. Consequently, many ex-felons struggle near the poverty line, particularly women of color, especially mothers.

The lack of eligibility for benefits to help them get on their feet is a serious issue, and when they’re mothers, the ban on benefits affects their kids, too. Children who grow up with food security issues tend to experience lifelong health and social problems as a result, and thus, the law is creating an intergenerational situation.

Almost 200,000 families of color in the United States suffer under these little-known laws, which are mostly seen in Southern states. Multiple states across the country have tried to take it one step further and require drug testing as part of the eligibility process for welfare recipients. This increases the burden on people with alcohol and drug problems even further — by rendering them ineligible for help, the state makes it harder for them to stabilize their lives and get assistance, and it also leaves their children at a disadvantage.

Now, Missouri is thinking about changing its stance on past felony convictions and food aid, thanks to the hard work of activists, organizers and ex-felons with bitter memories of relying on food banks and charity for help when they were trying to rebuild their lives. Missouri legislators have been batting the idea back and forth with various caveats for several years, and it finally seems to be gathering steam. If successful, legislators will be setting an excellent example for remaining states, illustrating that it’s possible to reach a compromise that’s acceptable to all political parties, while still working with advocates to get food into the mouths of people who need it, without enabling abuse of government benefits.

Legislators have been convinced of the need for reform in part because of aggressive lobbying and testimony within their own state, as well as evidence from other states that have lifted their own bans on aid for people with drug convictions in their past. Evidence suggests that outcomes are better for people with drug and alcohol problems who have a secure, stable lifestyle and a safety net to fall back on, as it reduces the risk of falling back into harmful habits. For kids, such bans create unfair penalization by depriving children of needed aid because of the past actions of their parents, and lifting the ban would create a world of opportunity.

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Photo credit: Din Jimenez.

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107 comments

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5:34AM PDT on Jul 13, 2014

Sounds like someone needs some more drug education.

5:13AM PDT on Apr 23, 2014

Punishing children for the "sins" of their parents is sheer lunacy and sets them up for future failure thus perpetuating the cycle. Anthony R. seems to have an anger issue. Let us "liberals" hope neither he nor any members of his family ever find themselves in dire circumstances either sadly self-inflicted or due to circumstances beyond their control. We can be bigger than those whose sense of fairness is warped.

4:45AM PDT on Apr 23, 2014

Compassionate conversatism at work. Unreality based legislation. And it's taking a lot of hard work by a lot of liberals to make a difference.

3:14PM PDT on Apr 21, 2014

when jesus gave out loaves and fishes i don't think he asked about prior criminal records

10:42PM PDT on Apr 20, 2014

that's not right, everybody has to eat.

10:30PM PDT on Apr 20, 2014

If they've use drugs in the previous 2 years they shouldn't get help with food and their children should be put in foster homes where they will be properly cared for.

7:08PM PDT on Apr 20, 2014

It is the ignorance of people like "Anthony R" why these laws persist along with the selfish view that the majority should always be first. We should ALL be equal and our government is is overrun with people who have these ideals. I would certainly leave if I could. I just hope I die before it gets too bad.

4:24PM PDT on Apr 20, 2014

Any way you look at it, this is sad. I'm betting a big chunk of the majority of drug users, started out because it was the cool thing to do along with peer pressure. You just didn't want to be uncool. Leaving with that, you've got your addiction of choice. People really need to stop persecuting others because I'm betting half of everyone here have much bigger sins. Let's just pray that this continues to get straightened out. Don't give to users, rehabilitate and start feeding these people! This is the land of plenty. Reach out to them just as Jesus reaches out to us.

1:07PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

Thanks.

12:50PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

To Anthony R.:
You are kidding, right?

Are you aware of the discrimination regarding, crack and cocaine?
Perhaps, you feel that they are honest and just.

I promise you, that if I delved into some of the archaic laws of ANY state, especially backward states like Missouri, you personally, are breaking at least, one of them.
I will guarantee you another point. If as many white people, as a percentage of the white population, were stopped as are minorities, you would definitely find a difference in the color of prisoners.

I'd just llove to hear how the majority is getting screwed.
Gee, their lives are so terrible. They find it arduous to find employment, housing in a safe neighborhood, nourishment that is affordable and other citizens like you, to treat them respectfully.

I guess I didn't recognize their numerous problems.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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