Compassion, hunger food aid and drug testing

Concepts of food culture are under cultivation nationwide as Americans seek greater health, social justice, urban renewal and sustainable ecology.

In 1996, the Federal Personal Responsibility

and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

amended the welfare system to prohibit

anyone with a drug-related felony conviction from receiving SNAP (Supplemental

Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, more commonly known as food stamps, for

the rest of their lives. This short-sighted and

unjust measure makes no exceptions or provisions for demonstrated good

behavior, successful completion of a rehabilitation program, or the need of

minor dependents. So far, 39 states have passed legislation to amend or remove

these restrictions. Indiana is not one of them.

If

America wants to get serious about making significant strides against our

societal ills of hunger, hyper-incarceration, and recidivism, we must look at

the structural faults in our own backyards that are prohibiting progress. When

a released inmate attempts to reenter society and provide for their family,

they already face huge barriers to assimilation into the workforce due to their

record and social stigma. In this crucial period of transition, unemployment

compounded with food insecurity fosters desperation and increases the

likelihood of resorting to crime, prostitution, or other risky behaviors to

obtain food, encouraging recidivism.

Far from

solely punishing offenders, the exclusion from food stamps also has detrimental

effects on their children. With the current arithmetic, the ex-offender is

simply not counted when determining their family's eligibility. It is

unrealistic to believe that the parent will just go hungry, and thus the

already small rations are spread thinner. Many parents will wait to eat, eating

only after their children. Older children soon learn what their parent is

doing, and the child will eat less to leave food for them. In some cases

of single-parent households, the income may be low enough to qualify two people

for food stamps, but since the parent is not counted, the income exceeds the

barrier for a one-person household, excluding the family from federal food

assistance entirely. In this reality, the child will not receive the nutrition

they deserve and require. It's time to rethink and remove this legislation that

unfairly targets innocent youths for their parents' pasts.

The

equity of targeting drug offenders also has an alarming racial component. Although

the majority of illegal drug users and dealers in America are white,

three-fourths of people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino

(learn more here). Due to this Act, minority populations are systematically

barred from receiving federal benefits. This

disconnect between the reality of drug-using populations in this country and

those being penalized for it commands us to reevaluate our judicial failings

and not reinforce them by withholding food from the needy.

Rather than recognizing the issue at

hand and undergoing preventative and systemic change, Washington and

Indianapolis have continued along the path of the 1996 Act. The 2013 Federal

Farm Bill cut funding to food stamps in half, making it more difficult to gain

traction for allowing rehabilitated ex-felons to be included in the funding. And

though a bill to amend the ban and make eligibility contingent on five years of

good behavior and completion of a rehabilitation program was introduced by Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend,

it was refused a hearing by Sen. Brent Steele,

R-Bedford, the chair of the Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil

Matters. Regardless, this issue must be brought to the public

consciousness. We are asking readers to educate themselves and those

around them on this issue, and to make their voices heard by Indiana state

senators and those in positions of power. Call and email your government and

demand justice for those who have been convicted of

drug-related crimes. Voice your support of the bill to amend the federal

regulations on SNAP benefits. This bill and the individuals for whom it is

a crucial lifeline deserve a second chance.

Brooke Justus, Anna

Kottkamp, Yuko Gruber, Kaitlyn Kennedy, Kelly Smith,

Colleen McLinden, and Amber Lalla

are students studying advocacy for the common good at the University of Notre

Dame. They represent a diverse array of class years and majors but are united

in their passion for food justice. For more information and to sign their

online petition, check out their website on Food Justice.

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