With­hold­ing food stamps hurts re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY DES­MOND MEADE Mi­ami Her­ald Des­mond Meade is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Florida Rights Restora­tion Coali­tion.

Get­ting back on your feet af­ter serv­ing time in pri­son is not easy. Even for those of us lucky enough to find sup­port, hunger, home­less­ness and hope­less­ness are all too com­mon bar­ri­ers to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and a real sec­ond chance.

Many peo­ple who serve time in pri­son are all but ex­cluded from the job mar­ket once they are free. Of­ten, low-wage jobs with ir­reg­u­lar hours and no ben­e­fits are the only op­tion. Hav­ing ac­cess to the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, com­monly known as food stamps, can make all the dif­fer­ence for Amer­i­cans work­ing hard to rein­te­grate into so­ci­ety and restart their lives.

But some in Congress are try­ing to pull the rug out from un­der thou­sands of Amer­i­cans who have served their sen­tences for vi­o­lent crimes, even in cases where the crimes are decades in the past and the sen­tences are com­pleted. In­stead of the short­sighted ver­sion of the farm bill that passed the House, which would ban peo­ple em­brac­ing a sec­ond chance from ever par­tic­i­pat­ing in SNAP, our rep­re­sen­ta­tives need to work on bi­par­ti­san bills that sup­port SNAP, like the one the Se­nate passed last week.

Amer­ica is a coun­try of sec­ond chances. For many, SNAP ben­e­fits are a big part of that sec­ond chance. Food as­sis­tance helps keep those who have served their time out of poverty and home­less­ness. It helps them sup­port their fam­i­lies and keep food on the ta­ble for their kids.

There al­ready are re­stric­tions to make sure SNAP ben­e­fits don’t go to those who have vi­o­lated pa­role or the terms of their re­lease. But deny­ing as­sis­tance to ev­ery­one who has been found guilty of a vi­o­lent crime, in­clud­ing those who have served their sen­tences and are work­ing hard at heal­ing them­selves, goes too far and would leave many with nowhere to turn to put food on their ta­bles.

This mis­guided pol­icy wouldn’t just threaten the food se­cu­rity of in­di­vid­u­als who were in­car­cer­ated. It also would threaten food se­cu­rity for their fam­i­lies. Low-in­come fam­i­lies and chil­dren would be at in­creased risk of food in­se­cu­rity, all for help­ing a fam­ily mem­ber suc­ceed with their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and pro­vid­ing them shel­ter.

In­stead of of­fer­ing hope and sup­port­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, a life­time ban on SNAP ben­e­fits would un­der­mine rein­te­gra­tion and hurt fam­i­lies. Noth­ing about this pol­icy would im­prove pub­lic safety – it would just put more Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing chil­dren, at risk of go­ing hun­gry.

This amend­ment also would per­pet­u­ate the racial in­jus­tice that con­tin­ues in our pri­son sys­tem. AfricanAme­r­i­cans are in­car­cer­ated five times more of­ten than white Amer­i­cans. And low-in­come African-Amer­i­cans would be hit the hard­est by this ban. El­derly African-Amer­i­cans con­victed of even one crime decades ago would be at par­tic­u­larly high risk of food in­se­cu­rity un­der this mis- guided pol­icy.

That doesn’t align with what we be­lieve jus­tice should be in this coun­try. Elected lead­ers on both sides of the aisle have been work­ing for years to sup­port those re-en­ter­ing so­ci­ety to be­come pro­duc­tive and suc­cess­ful mem­bers of their com­mu­ni­ties.

Help­ing feed Amer­i­cans who are try­ing to get their lives back on track shouldn’t be a par­ti­san is­sue, and ev­i­dence sug­gests SNAP can help re­duce crime by pro­vid­ing food to those strug­gling to meet their ba­sic needs.

In­stead of po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tacks on cru­cial sup­ports like SNAP, the House should sup­port the Se­nate’s bi­par­ti­san ver­sion of the farm bill, and all of Congress should be look­ing for ways to fa­cil­i­tate re-en­try and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion so Amer­ica can de­liver on its prom­ise of a sec­ond chance.

RICHARD B. LEVINE TNS

The new House SNAP bill could take food stamps away from some of the peo­ple who need them the most.

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