An amendment to the Senate farm bill banning convicted murderers, rapists, and pedophiles from receiving food stamps discriminates against African Americans, according to a critic of the effort.
Last week the Senate agreed to an amendment introduced by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter that would prohibit convicted murderers, pedophiles, and rapists from obtaining benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
Currently, there is a ban on SNAP benefits for convicted drug felons, a ban which some states have opted out of or modified, according to Vitter’s office, which adds that the amendment would extend that ban to other convicts.
According Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) president Robert Greenstein, the amendment “would increase hardship and will likely have strongly racially discriminatory effects.”
“Given incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact. Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit,” he explained at CBPP’s blog.
He added that the amendment “violates the basic norms of criminal justice.”
“It’s also possible that the amendment could contribute to recidivism. Ex-offenders often have difficulty finding jobs that pay decent wages,” he explained. “The amendment could pose dilemmas for ex-offenders who are trying to go straight but can neither find jobs nor, as a result of the amendment, obtain enough food to feed their children and families.”
Another concern he and others have noted is that households in which the felon is a part could potentially see their benefits reduced.
An Economist blog offered additional analysis:
Ex-convicts who apply for food stamps have served their time. They will likely be unemployed, and given the nature of the crime for which they were convicted, older and perhaps unemployable. Food-stamp benefits are not generous; they will simply help such people—who, again, have served their sentence and been deemed fit for release—not starve, and not commit other crimes.
The number of people enrolled in SNAP has reached record highs in recent months and years and spending on the program is expected to remain double what it was prior to the recession, according to Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Approximately one in seven people in America receive SNAP benefits.
The Senate farm bill currently cuts about one half of one percent from the SNAP budget, or about $400 million a year a cost of about $80 billion annually.