There is a very bad bill brewing in Harrisburg and we wanted to let you know about it, and ask that you take action by urging our representatives to oppose it.
In short, House Bill 222 punishes people in recovery from addiction by withholding food from their families by imposing a lifetime ban on benefits for people convicted of felony drug crimes. The ban is not just immoral, it’s ineffective as a deterrent. Prosecutors say refusing to give people in recovery the support to get back on their feet—and in many cases, the ability to support their children while doing so–increases the likelihood of criminal behavior.
The background: In 1996, Congress passed a federal law that imposed a lifetime ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for anyone with a felony drug conviction, even for small amounts of drugs. SNAP is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency by providing temporary support while seeking employment.
The majority of recipients of SNAP and TANF are women, and many of these women are primary caretakers of children. As a result of this ban, many women with felony drug convictions for possessing and sharing small amounts of drugs were no longer able to support their children after arrest or incarceration, so they lost them to the system.
Luckily, the federal law allowed states to opt out. After it became clear families were unnecessarily being pulled apart as a result of the ban, Pennsylvania opted out. Pennsylvania lawmakers of both parties voted by an overwhelming majority to opt out of the lifetime ban more than 10 years ago.
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association testified at hearings in support of opting out of the lifetime ban: “Citizens who have been convicted of drug felonies but who wish to mend their ways and become honest and productive societal members, should not be denied the resources necessary to make these changes possible. Denying those resources simply increases the likelihood that they will continue their criminal behavior, which means everyone loses.”
Some lost more than others under the ban, which disproportionately affects women and specifically, African-American women. Though studies show drug use is roughly equivalent for white women and African-American women, African-American women are arrested and sent to prison in greater numbers than their white counterparts.
Now, despite all we know, some state lawmakers are trying to bring back the ban. House Bill 222, sponsored by Rep. Mike Regan, is scheduled for a vote in the Pennsylvania House early next week.
We can do better than taking food off the table as punishment for addiction.
Please urge your lawmakers to oppose HB 222.
Specifically, we ask that you contact Majority Leader Dave Reed and Governor Tom Wolf, and ask them to help women who are struggling to overcome the effects of addictions, sexual assault, domestic violence, and sex trafficking, not punish them by taking food off their table.