No Food Stamps For Felons Is Racist and Sexist

The Conservatives just don’t know when to quit, do they? It’s not just about reproductive rights this time–it’s about the right to food. Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) has created an amendment to a proposed Farm Bill that is currently being considered in the senate that would ban violent felons from being able to receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Acceptance Program, aka food stamp) benefits for life, no matter how long ago the crime was committed, or the circumstances surrounding the crime. If they’re currently receiving benefits, they get kicked off. The amendment was unanimously accepted by the senate, and is currently being reviewed by the House of Representatives.

The amendment reads:

“(1) IN GENERAL.—An individual shall not be eligible for benefits under this Act if the individual is convicted of—

  (A) aggravated sexual abuse under section 2241 of title 18, United States Code;

  (B) murder under section 1111 of title 18, United States Code;

  (C) an offense under chapter 110 of title 18, United States Code;

  (D) a Federal or State offense involving sexual assault, as defined in 40002(a) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. 13925(a)); or

  (E) an offense under State law determined by the Attorney General to be substantially similar to an offense described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C).”

Another paragraph of Vitter’s amendment is also troublesome:

“(2) EFFECTS ON ASSISTANCE AND BENEFITS FOR OTHERS.—The amount of benefits otherwise required to be provided to an eligible household under this Act shall be determined by considering the individual to whom paragraph (1) applies not to be a member of such household, except that the income and resources of the individual shall be considered to be income and resources of the household.”

This is a big, big problem for several reasons. Someone who may have been convicted years, or even decades ago, for aggravated sexual abuse or sexual assault, even if they have served their sentence and been released, would lose food stamp eligibility. Even if the crimes may have been convicted in someone’s youth (think statutory rape cases;) the person served his sentence and has since been integrated back into the community, but as a low-income person, needs food stamps. By Vitter’s standards, that’s enough for disqualification.

Why isn’t this amendment taking circumstances surrounding the crime into consideration?  What if the violent crime was an act of self defense? Should a woman protecting herself against a rapist or stalker be denied benefits because she was fighting for her life? Nope, because that’d be too much extra work. According to Vitter, all crimes are equal.

It also doesn’t take into consideration people who are raising families–the convicted is disqualified for the benefits, so the SNAP now covers a family of three instead of four. However, his or her income would still count against the household’s calculation for food stamp benefits, which barely feeds a family anyway. It doesn’t make sense.

Two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, elderly or the disabled, and two-fifths of SNAP households live below half the poverty line.  The amendment would hit African Americans particularly hard as, according to Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“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.”

Of course, Vitter is claiming that his amendment is only aimed at preventing those convicted of violent crimes from obtaining benefits, apparently under the logic that stripping them of what may be their only form of income assistance will lead to less violence.

This whole amendment just reeks of racism and sexism. Once again, a wealthy, white, male politician is trying to keep the poor down. The Republicans talk a lot of guff about “people just need to work! Be like me, work your way up!” It’s all lip service. This is not about trying to teach criminals a lesson, this is about hurting specific demographics under the guise of “fixing a problem.” A lot of conservatives cry “focus on the family! focus on the family!” Okay. So, if this mother committed a crime, yet is trying to rehabilitate herself and raise her family yet needs some assistance, you take it away from her, it’s not helping. You’re just creating more poverty. (and by the way, telling someone to “get a job at McDonald’s” is not conducive. Many positions are only part time, and most fast food/food retail jobs don’t pay enough in non-management positions, so many employees qualify for SNAP benefits.)

So what’s a good solution? I’m at a loss, LivLunatics. I’m so angry about this amendment, that’s clearly targeting a specific group of people and feeding on stereotypes. What’s your take on this situation? Is Vitter’s amendment a good intentioned one, or should it be rejected?

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