- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

In California and 18 other states, convicted drug felons including poor mothers are not allowed to receive food stamps. That policy could change in California, however, if Gov. Gray Davis signs a bill reopening the food-stamp program to drug felons if they are in drug treatment.
"I don't believe we should punish people twice, and if a court finds that a person is in a position to rehabilitate themselves, they should receive benefits," said Democratic Assemblyman Carl Washington, chief sponsor of the bill.
Mr. Davis, also a Democrat, has vetoed two previous bills on this issue, but Mr. Washington thinks his bill which passed the legislature in late August will be enacted because it won't cost California any money and would help feed poor adults.
The other bills, Mr. Washington said, would have returned both welfare money and food stamps to drug felons, and California would have had to pay part of the costs of the cash welfare. The food-stamp program is completely federally funded, however, "so there's no cost to the state." Moreover, "food stamps can only be used to purchase food," the assemblyman said, adding that he is personally urging Mr. Davis to sign the bill.
Many Republicans in the Assembly oppose Mr. Washington's bill because they say it will take welfare reform back to the failed policies of rewarding bad behavior.
"It's not OK to use illegal drugs and expect the state to support the habit by also providing food stamps," said Assemblyman Roy Ashburn, lead sponsor of the state's welfare reform measure.
"The bill would send an indefensible message to California's youth that it is acceptable to consume illegal drugs because the state will give them food stamps. This doesn't promote personal responsibility," said Republican Assemblyman Phil Wyman.
The original provision to deny welfare to drug felons was added as a state option by Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, during the final days of debate on the 1996 welfare reform law.
"The bottom line is, if we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not to give people welfare benefits who are violating the nation's drug laws," Mr. Gramm said before his amendment passed by a 74-25 vote.
More than half the states, including Virginia, initially adopted the ban, which denied welfare checks and food stamps to any person convicted of a drug felony. (Felons' children still could receive welfare benefits.)
Other states, such as Maryland, adopted a modified ban, but other states and the District chose not to impose any kind of a ban.
Over time, several states have eased their policies. This spring, for instance, Maine lawmakers overturned their ban on welfare to felons.
This change means that 19 states have a full ban, 21 states deny benefits to drug felons only under certain circumstances and 10 states plus the District don't have a ban at all, according to a May report compiled by the Sentencing Project, a District-based group that monitors criminal justice issues.
About 92,000 women including 37,825 in California were "currently affected" by the bans, the Sentencing Project concluded.
Mr. Davis twice has vetoed bills to allow drug felons to receive welfare benefits.
"Convicted felons do not deserve the same treatment as law-abiding citizens," Mr. Davis said in November 1999 when he vetoed one such bill.
Last week, however, the Sacramento Bee in an editorial urged Mr. Davis to sign Mr. Washington's bill. The Los Angeles district attorney, California Narcotics Association and California Association of Drug Court Professionals support the Democratic assemblyman's measure, the newspaper said.

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