State Measure Allowing Access to Food Stamps and Other Benefits Goes Into Effect Today, Opting Out of Federal Law</p>
(Santa Fe, New Mexico - May 15, 2002) -- Today New Mexico became the 30th state (including Washington, DC) to implement a bill waiving the federal ban on benefits for those individuals who have successfully completed sentences for drug convictions. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Thompson (R-Albuquerque), passed the New Mexico state legislature in February and is expected to help thousands of people get back on their feet, especially women with children.
"This new law is extremely important for women trying to rehabilitate themselves and the communities in which they live," said Elizabeth Simpson, Executive Director of Crossroads, an organization that provides services for women in transition in New Mexico. "Without help it is very difficult, if not impossible, for women with children to support themselves long enough to find jobs, housing, childcare, and eventually to become self sufficient."
Though the majority of U.S. states have either entirely or partially opted out of the federal lifetime ban on benefits for anyone convicted of a drug offense - a provision of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Welfare Reform Act -- Congress refuses to repeal the law. Right now, however, as Congress considers the reauthorization of the welfare laws, a coalition of treatment providers, along with criminal justice and women's rights organizations, are lobbying them to listen to the will of the people and repeal this law as part of that process.
"Many women in jail or on probation are mothers of small children, and are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction," said Judy Appel, Deputy Director of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading drug policy reform organization. "They want to move forward with their lives, but they need help. It is no surprise that more and more states are taking this step."
According to a recent report by the Sentencing Project, an estimated 92,000 women nationwide will never be eligible for food stamps or other welfare benefits due to this law. Additionally, tens of thousands of children, while not themselves directly disqualified from benefits, are at far greater risk of hunger and poverty due to lost family support when their mothers are disqualified. This law only applies to people with drug convictions - other types of convictions, including rape or murder, do not permanently disqualify a person from applying for benefits.
In addition to New Mexico, other states that have opted out of this law include Michigan, Oklahoma, Idaho, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Ohio.
"In New Mexico, we anticipate at least 400 parents will now have the ability to receive assistance that could not before," said Nancy Koenigsberg, Legal Director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. "They will have to abide by all the rules of the programs, just like everyone else. But at least now, they have a chance."