Approximately half a million Americans are currently incarcerated for drug convictions at the state and federal level. President Clinton’s 1996 enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (“PRWORA”) affects this enormous class of individuals by including a provision that places a lifetime ban on access to welfare benefits, including food stamps, for individuals who have been convicted of a drug felony. Although there is an option within PRWORA for states to modify or opt out of the provision, six states and territories still enforce the full lifetime ban, and most states have some form of the ban in effect. This provision, introduced as a part of the “tough on drugs” initiative of the 1990s, disparately affects minorities and low-income communities and serves to perpetuate the cycle of recidivism. Thus, Congress must amend PRWORA to eliminate the drug felony component altogether, so that individuals with drug felony convictions are no longer singled out amongst felons to be denied access to food stamps. In the short term, the United States Department of Agriculture should promote uniformity across states by introducing a model reform of the PRWORA drug felony provision for states to follow. These modifications will combat the grave societal problems imposed by the PRWORA drug felony provision, and allow all convicted drug felons to obtain important welfare benefits, including food stamps.
Meghan L. Paresky, Changing Welfare as We Know it, Again: Reforming the Welfare Reform Act to Provide All Drug Felons Access to Food Stamps, 58 B.C.L. Rev. 1659 (2017), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol58/iss5/6