Members of the U.S. Senate unanimously accepted an amendment to the Farm Bill that would bar convicted rapists, pedophiles and murderers from receiving food stamps for life.
The amendment which was introduced by GOP Senator David Vitter of Louisiana last Tuesday was accepted by unanimous consent on Wednesday, according to a release from Vitter's office.
Under existing law, only drug felons have a lifetime ban from the food stamp program officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and states can opt out or modify the ban as they choose. Vitter's amendment would expand the current ban to include convicted rapists, pedophiles and murderers and would not allow states to opt out or modify the ban.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office recently released an audit on the federally-funded Louisiana food stamp program revealed millions of dollars in duplicates and overpayments. The audit which covered records from fiscal year 2010 to 2012 showed that more than $1.1 million was issued to 1,761 people who were in prison, 322 people gained benefits even though their wages exceeded $50,000, and 3,060 people used $2 million worth of benefits in a state other than Louisiana.
In a recent op-ed in The Huffington Post, however, Bob Greenstein, founder and president of the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, argued that the amendment is racially tinged and could impact rehabilitation gains negatively.
"Given incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact. Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit. The amendment essentially says that rehabilitation doesn't matter and violates basic norms of criminal justice," argued Greenstein.
"It's also possible that the amendment could contribute to recidivism. Ex-offenders often have difficulty finding jobs that pay decent wages. The amendment could pose dilemmas for ex-offenders who are trying to go straight but can neither find jobs nor, as a result of the amendment, obtain enough food to feed their children and families," noted Greenstein. "Senator Vitter hawked his amendment as one to prevent murderers and rapists from getting food stamps. Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects."
He noted, however, that the Farm Bill was still on the floor and the senators still had an opportunity to modify the amendment.