US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A SNAP decision: Food benefits denied to those convicted of violent crimes

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As the 2013 Farm Bill makes its way through Congress, it was already likely to reflect cuts to SNAP—the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. However, if Senator Dan Vitter (R-LA)’s proposed requirement stands, whatever is left of the government’s food assistance program will be unavailable to people who have committed certain types of crimes.

A statement from Vitter's office reads: “Under current law, there is a lifetime ban for convicted drug felons, though many states have opted out of or modified that ban. Vitter’s amendment would extend the lifetime food stamp ban to dangerous sex offenders and murderers.” It would also not be possible for states to opt out of this provision.

There’s no reasoning or justification provided for this amendment and its timing. The message from his office also mentions the results of a recent audit showing overpayments of assistance, but disallowing certain offenders from receiving benefits will just hurt people who likely need the help. Offenders have already served the punishment that society placed on them–-why continue to punish them when their time is up?

Life is already immensely hard for offenders returning to society, as they will face barriers to obtaining both housing and employment. Without a steady job or a secure place to live, it’s likely to become food insecure as well. Studies of drug offenders who have been denied food stamps show that these people are at a greater risk of engaging in dangerous behavior in order to obtain food. Plus, family members of returning offenders are possibly at risk for lower SNAP benefits as a result.

This amendment flies in the face of compassion, forgiveness, and rehabilitation, all of which are possible to bestow upon those who have committed crimes without endorsing their violent acts. By limiting access to food for returning offenders, we send the message that these are inherently bad people unworthy of a second chance. There are certainly many people who have done morally reprehensible things in their lives, but it’s just as sinful for us to deny them a chance at rehabilitation, since followers of Jesus are taught to believe that all are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.