By Dan Viets, J.D., SMCR Board Chair
People who have been convicted of a drug-related felony lose eligibility for food stamps for life under an act of Congress passed several years ago. However, Congress allowed states to choose not to follow this law. Forty other states have opted out of this ridiculous and counterproductive law.
Missouri loses an estimated seven million dollars each year because of its failure to opt out of this law. Only those convicted of drug felonies suffer this disability. Those who commit rape, robbery, murder or treason can still receive food stamps.
Food stamps primarily benefit single mothers of young children. They provide the most basic necessity of life to those who would otherwise go hungry.
Two bills to allow Missouri to opt out of the food stamp law are presently pending in the Missouri General Assembly. Senate Bill 346 was heard on March 5 in the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, but had not moved out of committee until this week. House Bill 838 was heard by the House Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday, April 23.
I testified in support of the bill on behalf of SMCR and NORML at the hearing Tuesday. I pointed out to the Committee that the Speaker of the House, Mr. Tim Jones, had failed to refer the bill to them until very recently, but I urged them to take immediate action now that the bill was in their hands and forward it to the full House for a vote.
After the hearing on that bill, I met with the lobbyist for the Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW), Annette Driver. Together, we visited the offices of several members of the Senate Committee, and learned that the Committee would be meeting again the following day. The staff of the Chair of the Committee told us that if any member of the Committee would move for that bill to be passed out, he would permit a vote on it. We then visited the offices of Senator Paul LeVota and Senator Jamilah Nasheed and asked them to make that motion.
On Wednesday, April 24, the Senate Committee voted 5 to 1 to forward SB 346 to the full Senate. The House Committee also voted HB 838 out of committee. Therefore, both bills are now moving forward toward a vote by the full House and Senate.
This legislation now has a very real chance of passing this year. The Governor will almost certainly sign it if it is passed by the General Assembly. Passage of the bill would mean that seven million dollars of our tax money, which is sent to Washington each year and is now distributed to people in other states, will instead come back to benefit citizens of Missouri. Even those who do not receive food stamps will benefit because this money will create new jobs and stimulate our state's economy.
Every member of the Missouri General Assembly is likely to have an opportunity to vote on this bill before the legislature adjourns on Friday, May 17. Please contact both your Missouri State Senator and your Missouri State Representative immediately and urge them to vote in favor of Senate Bill 346 and House Bill 838, the bills which would restore eligibility for food stamps to people convicted of felony drug possession offenses. Many, if not most, of these people were convicted of possessing only marijuana.