Due to legal restrictions, nine states in the U.S. prevent people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. But two bills in Missouri — one of those nine states — may reverse that policy with bipartisan support, and eliminate a vicious cycle of crime.
House Bill 1589 and Senate Bill 680 will permit “[individuals] who [have] pled guilty to or is found guilty under federal or state law of a felony involving possession or use of a controlled substance” to enter the SNAP program, if they fulfill at least one of several eligibility requirements. For instance, convicts can receive food stamps if they are enrolled in a “substance abuse treatment program approved by the division of alcohol and drug abuse within the department of mental health,” has completed such a program, or is currently on a waiting list to do so. People can also secure food stamps if four years have transpired since a conviction, or if they have adhered to the “obligations imposed by the court,” including probation terms.
Both bills, which were sponsored by Rep. Paul Wieland (R) and Shalonn Curls (D) in Missouri’s House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, have the backing of 18 additional state leaders. They also proceeded through committee uncontested.
According to the president of Justice Fellowship, Craig DeRoche, the inability to receive food stamps is detrimental to convicts because it often leads to additional crime. Convicts who have no safety net turn to illegal methods of procuring food and other items necessary for their survival. If Bills 1589 and 680 are passed, individuals will be granted access to those goods without resorting to criminal activities, and public safety will be strengthened as convicts alter their behavior to meet the eligibility requirements.
The proposed legislation in Missouri falls under a larger trend of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform. Drug sentencing is another issue that conservatives have tackled alongside Democrats; last year, Sen/ Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed, “The injustice of mandatory minimum sentences is impossible to ignore when you hear the stories of the victims.”