Texas lawmakers were able to end a ban Tuesday allowing ex-drug offenders to receive food stamps despite still being federally barred from requiring drug testing as a qualification, if they wanted to.
The new law overturns a 19-year-old legal prohibition making Texas the 45th state to enact such a policy. The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The measure passed with bi-partisan support. Republicans hold a majority in both the state House and Senate. Even with the ability to overturn the rule, Texas lawmakers are still barred by the federal government from drug testing as a qualification to receive benefits. This includes the now eligible ex-convicts charged with drug related crimes.
“Federal law does not permit states to require broad drug testing as a condition of receiving SNAP,” a spokeswoman for the USDA told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Congress has repeatedly rejected the expensive, intrusive practice of suspicion-less drug testing, which has been shown to uncover very little drug use.”
Individuals with drug convictions are generally banned from receiving benefits under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The law does, however, allow states to modify their own eligibility requirements. Federal law doesn’t allow states to add new restrictions.
“Combining better state-run SNAP employment and training programs that help people get good paying jobs with broader efforts to grow the economy and strengthen job opportunities will reduce poverty,” the USDA spokeswoman continued. “We are seeing results, as the economy has strengthened and the number of families that need SNAP has fallen.”
Nevertheless, the USDA has taken major steps in other areas to prevent fraud and abuse. This includes switching to electronic cards which makes it easier to track purchases and harder to sell benefits for illegal substances. There are also federal and state taskforces dedicated to stopping abuse.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million. Numbers are expected to continuing declining as the economy improves.
The measure was passed by the legislature in May and signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June. Though the state cannot defy federal law, there are some ways to work around it. In some cases the state can drug test for reasons unrelated to the program. This includes if drug testing is stipulated as a part of parole.
Under such a situation, if an ex-drug offender is found to have used illegal drugs again, they’d be subjected to a lifetime ban from the program.
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