May 23, 2013
S-221, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
328A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
RE: Diverse Organizations Oppose Ban on Food Assistance for People with Certain Convictions
Dear Leader Reid and Chairwoman Stabenow:
Our diverse civil rights, labor, and criminal justice advocacy organizations, representing the interests of individuals and families throughout the United States, strongly oppose Senator Vitter’s amendment 1056 to S.954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act. This hastily considered amendment would deny food assistance through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for life to anyone ever convicted of certain offenses. In addition, it would result in lower SNAP benefits for children and other family members of people convicted of such offenses. Our organizations urge you to reject this cruel and unjust amendment before voting on final passage of the Farm Bill this week. This is not an issue that should be addressed in conference between the House and Senate on the Farm Bill. It is something that needs to be fixed right now in the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill.
Vitter amendment 1056 would impose a burden on thousands of seniors, children, and working families hardest hit by the nation’s economic downturn. Because it is retroactive, an elderly person who long ago completed his or her prison sentence could lose SNAP benefits under this amendment. A grandmother who decades ago was implicated in a violent crime could lose food stamps for her household. A family working to make ends meet upon a relative’s reentry from prison could be denied a lifeline and plunged further into poverty.
Moreover, this amendment would have a harsh impact on communities of color – African Americans and Latinos in particular – who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. Research documents that race continues to play a role at each stage of the criminal justice system in driving unwarranted disparities.
Finally, the amendment is counterproductive, as it places yet another hurdle before formerly incarcerated individuals struggling to reenter society. Individuals with criminal records already confront thousands of federal, state, and local legal and policy barriers to employment, education, housing, and public benefits. Because of these and other barriers, unemployment is particularly high among this population, and many individuals struggle to provide for themselves and their families. The Interagency Reentry Council has urged federal agencies and state attorneys general to reduce or eliminate counterproductive collateral consequences that do not enhance public safety, such as barriers to public assistance that make it harder for people to meet their most basic needs. Amendment 1056 would add another such counterproductive barrier to the federal code at a time when a bipartisan consensus is forming around the need to support successful reentry strategies.
Our organizations urge you to reject this harmful and racially discriminatory amendment so that it does not become law.
All of Us or None
American Civil Liberties Union
Brave New Foundation
Center for Community Alternatives
College and Community Fellowship
Community Service Society
Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Families Against Stop and Frisk
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights
International Community Corrections Association
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
Legal Action Center
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Michigan League for Public Policy
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Association of Social Workers
National Employment Law Project (NELP)
National H.I.R.E. Network
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
National Transitional Jobs Network
National Workrights Institute
North Carolina Justice Center
Robert F. Kennedy Juvenile Justice Collaborative
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
The Sentencing Project
Solano County Health and Social Services
Solano County Public Defender’s Office
Southern Coalition for Social Justice
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Reentry Clinic