An East Bay Assemblyman’s bill to let drug felons get food stamps after their release from prison passed the Assembly floor today, but not without taking some heat from a lawmaker seeking higher office.
The Assembly voted 42-23 to approve AB 1756, the Transitional Assistance for Re-Entry Programs Act, by Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda. Existing federal law permanently bars drug-related felons from receiving food-stamp benefits, but allows states to opt out of the ban through legislative action; that’s what this bill would do. Elsewhere, 14 states have eliminated the ban entirely, and 21 have modified the ban so those with certain drug felony convictions can get food stamps and cash assistance.
“California currently spends over $8 billion on prisons, and spending is on track to surpass the higher education budget within the next four years. We cannot begin to address this problem without implementing programs that help former offenders successfully re-enter society.
“If a person’s most critical needs are not met when they re-enter society after being in prison, they won’t be able to successfully return to their communities. In fact, without basic support, many of them will be inclined to return to criminal activity and drug use instead of attaining sobriety and gainful employment. The recidivism rate in California is at an astonishing 70 percent. It is hypocritical for the Legislature to say we are interested in stemming the spiraling prison population while we continue to release prisoners without addressing some of their most basic needs upon re-entry.
“California’s restrictive policies are inhibiting its access to federal monies. AB 1756 will tap into more of these federal funds, which will support agriculture, sales tax revenue, reduce the state’s recidivism rate, and provide fundamental services to families.”
But Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine – a candidate vying for the GOP nomination next month to challenge U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in November – voted and spoke against the bill, calling it Democrats’ most recent attempt to weaken welfare-reform measures signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
“Giving felony-level drug dealers government funds with no strings attached undermines the very concept of holding them accountable for their actions,” DeVore said in his news release. “With just 12% of the nation’s population residing here, California is home to 32% of the welfare recipients in the United States. We should be encouraging Californians to become self-reliant, not enlarging the welfare rolls with convicted felons. Each dollar given to drug felons is a dollar that could go to an out of work family with children to care for.”
The bill now goes to the state Senate.