The fear of taxpayer dollars inadvertently going to support drug use and addiction, and those who spend more time maintaining their drug dependence than working and investing back into the system, has caused many states to ban anyone convicted of a drug-related crime from receiving any financial assistance, including food stamps.
But some states are reconsidering that choice and making it possible for people with prior drug convictions to get food stamps. Texas is one of those states, according to the Wall Street Journal. While some states are allowing people with a criminal drug record to also apply for welfare (sometimes requiring a clean drug test to qualify), Texas is not one of those states.
Under federal law, no one who has ever been convicted of a drug offense is eligible to receive welfare benefits or food stamps, but states are allowed to make exceptions. Almost two dozen states have decided to do just that by allowing this population to take part, if they qualify, in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A dozen of these states have also allowed this group to qualify for welfare under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The Congressional Research Service reports that a partial ban has been lifted or eased in 18 states on the ability of prior drug offenders to receive food stamps and in 27 states for those who would seek cash assistance.
So what does this mean for Texas families with members who are in recovery for addiction?
Fear and Stigma
While drug addiction treatment lays the foundation for a strong start in recovery, addiction is a chronic disorder and one that requires ongoing maintenance, care, and treatment. For this reason, many are concerned that even if people are currently in recovery, they may relapse and use the resources they have – including any state funding in the form of food stamps or cash aid – to fund their use of drugs and alcohol. It is understandable that taxpayers would be concerned that their hard-earned dollars may inadvertently go to support drug or alcohol abuse, but the institution of drug testing is a simple enough way to ensure that this doesn’t occur while also making sure that families – especially the children and elderly dependents – are not punished for the addiction of their family members.
A Hand Up
It’s not easy to come back from a drug or alcohol addiction. Though it is true that people who struggle with substance abuse may have initially chosen to take a drink or experiment with drugs, none chose to develop the life-altering addiction that overtook them. A mixture of genetics, environment, biology, and/or other causes is the likely reason that this medical disorder afflicts some and not others. The choice to undergo treatment in an effort to get the disorder under control is something to be applauded and supported – not discouraged with prejudice.
The provision of food stamps ensures that people who may be looking for work or in search of fulltime work that will be enough to support themselves and/or their families will at the very least be able to ensure that all are fed properly. It’s a modicum of assistance that is based on financial need and a temporary measure that can provide immeasurable assistance to families who may have been struggling for years due to their loved one’s addiction.
The Right Message
To basically say that people do not deserve to eat because they have drug-related offenses on their records at any point in their lives is the wrong message. The change to the law in Texas is an update to a law that should probably never have even been written in the first place, and that update sends the right message: You are a valued person no matter what your history with drugs and alcohol. There is hope in treatment and recovery. You are not defined by your past. You deserve the same assistance that anyone else would get.
In 2013, a study found that more than 90 percent of people released from prison did not have access to food that was reliable. About 33 percent of participants reported that they had gone through at least one day in the past month where they had not eaten at all due to a lack of access to food.
How is anyone supposed to prepare for a job interview, secure employment, and make it through the first day – to the first paycheck – without a modicum of assistance? Not everyone has a supportive family and a safe place to land after a harrowing bout with drug addiction, especially when that addiction leads to a prison cell. Since more and more courts are providing a drug court option for people facing charges of nonviolent drug-related offenses and requiring that treatment take place, it is necessary to apply that same concept to those who are leaving prison after serving time for a drug-related sentence.
Change is possible but it’s understandable that someone would need a little bit of financial assistance during the transition from incarceration to independent living. If it is available for any citizen who comes on hard times, then so too should it be made available to those who are ready to make some big changes in life and get on the right track.