Last week, a federal court in Mississippi sentenced a key figure in a $3 million mortgage fraud scheme to two and a half years in federal prison. Just a few days earlier, however, a Mississippi federal judge imposed a significantly harsher sentence on a woman who lied on her benefits applications in order to receive just $4,367 in food stamps to help feed her family:
[I]n moments of desperation, a lie can seem like the only option. Anita McLemore, a Mississippi mother of two, faced one of those unfortunate moments when filling out her application for food stamps — and now she’ll pay the price, by spending three years of her life behind bars in federal prison.
Thanks to a federal ban on food stamps for people with felony drug convictions, people like McLemore are out of luck when it comes to getting assistance with putting food on their tables. Though states can opt out of the ban, those that don’t (like Mississippi) deny food stamps even to individuals who have already served their sentences or overcome previous addictions. It’s true that McLemore’s past isn’t perfect — she has four felony drug convictions and one misdemeanor, which place her firmly in the category of people the federal government has declared unfit to receive public benefits. Hence, faced with the prospect of being unable to feed her family, McLemore lied on her application.
In a compassionate nation, the penalty for drug use is not starvation. In a just nation, the penalty for drug use is not that your two children must be hungry as well. There is no excuse for a federal drug policy that punishes anyone by taking away their ability to put food on the table — and that punishes them so severely for the crime of needing to eat.
And, unlike thousands of Wall Street bankers who helped plunge America’s economy into a catastrophic recession, McLemore actually paid back the $4,367 she received.