KANSAS CITY — Some Missouri lawmakers believe it's not fair that convicted murderers and child molesters are eligible for food stamps, but that people who have been convicted of felony drug crimes are not.
A House measure sponsored by three Republicans and one Democrat seeks to remove the state's ban on federal food stamp aid to convicted drug felons. The bill made it out of committee last year, but never reached the House floor for debate.
The Kansas City Star reported that the state is one of only nine in which a felony drug conviction means a lifetime ban from qualifying for food stamps. Forty-one states, including Kansas, and the District of Columbia have opted out of the federal ban that was imposed in 1996 as part of legislation to reform welfare.
Supporters of the Missouri measure say term limits are partially to blame for the state's retention of the ban.
Lora McDonald, Second Chance Program director with the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission, said her organization has worked on the issue for four years.
"It takes a while to get people to understand why this is important, and just about the time we get there we have to start over," McDonald said.
Some lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, oppose ending the ban because they fear it could result in drug users selling their federal food stamp cards to get money to buy more drugs.
"I just don't want to see the food stamp program used to subsidize a drug habit," Brattin said. "I'm not against helping anyone, but to say a murderer can get food stamps, well, a murderer can't subsidize his crime with food stamps."
Brattin said he would be willing to support the bill if it contained a provision for random drug testing. The current measure, sponsored by Rep. Bob Nance, R-Excelsior Springs, requires that a beneficiary successfully participate in or complete a substance abuse treatment program. Drug testing would be used for people who applied for the aid within four years of their drug convictions.
Nance said it makes economic sense to make the change if it helps prevent drug felons from committing new crimes because they don't have enough money to eat.
It costs $1,100 a year in federal funds to provide food stamps to a drug felon, he said, compared with $21,000 in state funds to put one back in jail.
"This bill is about saving lives, saving families, but also about saving money," Nance said.
A Missouri Association for Social Welfare study estimates the state could bring in $7 million in additional federally funded food stamp dollars if the state lifted the ban. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says every dollar spent on food stamps results in $1.79 in economic activity.
McDonald said she hopes this could be the year the ban is lifted, adding that she is receiving positive feedback from lawmakers across the political spectrum.