Food Stamp Expansion Unlikely, Drug Offenders Left Out
COLUMBIA - After his arrest in 1997, James McIntyre spent three and a half years in the Boonville Correctional Center for selling methamphetamine and marijuana to an undercover police officer.
McIntyre was 17 at the time and tried as an adult.
After his release, McIntyre became a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, an electrician's union.
McIntyre worked as a union journeyman electrician in Kansas City until the union laid him off in January. The layoff brought uncertainty to McIntyre's life and eventually led him to "In2Action," a transitional home in Columbia for men.
"People who come here have an array of challenges that they have to address in order to be successful," said Dan Hanneken, the director of In2Action. "Substance abuse, mental health, employment; affordable housing, food, clothing, these are all things that need addressed."
McIntyre has not worked since the cutback and likely won't anytime soon, as the program restricts its participants from working for the first 30 days of their stay.
While In2Action provides its residents with several resources and shelter free of charge, the program requires participants to be self-sufficient for food, a huge problem for McIntyre.
"I'm eating, you know, really just whatever comes my way. I'm kinda in a bind for whether or not I can go out and get food without a job," said McIntyre.
McIntyre was employed for 15 years after earning his associate degree and has never had the need for federal assistance until now, but with his previous drug conviction McIntyre is ineligible for food stamp program benefits.
The lifetime ban is a result of welfare reform efforts in 1996, an effort that all 50 states once followed, but many have since modified or removed.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and Food and Nutrition Services State Options Report from August 2012, Missouri is one of just 11 states to still impose a lifetime ban on drug offenders from ever receiving food stamp benefits.
A bill proposed during the Missouri Legislature's regular session by Senator Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, would modify the lifetime ban to one more consistent with many other state standards. Curls' bill would allow drug offenders access to food stamps under the following conditions:
- The offender successfully participates in, is accepted for treatment and is on a waiting list for, or has satisfactorily completed a substance abuse treatment program approved by the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
- Has been determined by a division-certified treatment provider to not need substance abuse treatment.
- Complies with all obligations imposed by the court, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse and the Division of Probation and Parole.
Additionally, people convicted of possession or use of a controlled substance felony may be eligible for food stamp benefits one year after release from custody or conviction date as long as the person does not receive a subsequent felony controlled substance conviction.
As a safety measure, Curls' bill would disqualify people with three drug related offenses.
Despite some bipartisan and cross-chamber support, many legislators disagreed with expanding the food stamp program.
"The food stamp program is one of the programs that has the most fraud in it," said Senator Will Kraus, R-Jackson County. "My belief is why would you expand a program you know is fraudulent."
Kraus said the program itself needs to be modified before more people are added to it.
"There is no focus on nutrition. Benefits can be used for potato chips, pop, premade food, things that are not good for a person to live on," said Kraus. "I believe those are the things we need to change with the program, making it more about healthy and sound eating."
In addition to regulating food stamp usage based on nutrition, Kraus also said adding a photo to the EBT card would go a long way in reducing waste and fraud in the program.
KOMU 8 News contacted Senator Curls eight times via phone and visited the senator's office but she refused to speak to us.
McIntyre said he understands the reason for the ban, but it's approached in the wrong way.
"There are people that change and people that don't change," said McIntyre. "I think the ban should be applied on an individual level rather than an everybody level."
Curls' bill is stuck in the House Rules Committee and is unlikely to find its way to the House floor for approval by the time the regular session closes May 16.