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California Lifts Ban on Public Assistance for People with Drug Convictions

May 14 2015, by Jessica McElfresh in Criminal Convictions, Drug Crimes

In what many have lauded as a move towards a more just public policy, California has joined with the majority of states in the U.S. to lift the lifetime ban on allowing people with prior drug-related convictions to receive public assistance. For over 18 years, citizens in California were not able to receive unemployment assistance or food stamps. Under the new policy, anyone convicted of felony drug possession, use, or distribution after December 31, 1997, is no longer automatically disqualified from receiving CalWORKs (employment assistance) and CalFresh (food stamps) benefits.

This change in policy will help thousands of people across the state. According to a federal study done in 2005, almost one in four people released from prison after serving time for drug convictions are custodial parents who would otherwise qualify for food assistance. This number may be even larger now since both incarceration rates and poverty rates are up. By allowing these parents access to food stamps, their children won’t be forced to suffer from hunger due to a parent’s past infraction—the punishment for which has already been served.

Why the Change in Policy?

California is actually one of the last states to eliminate such a ban. The law previously preventing people with drug convictions from accessing public assistance was originally a by-product of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act that enacted a lifetime ban on federal food stamp programs for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense. Due to the overly harsh ramifications of this law for poor mothers, Congress passed legislation in 1998 that allowed states to opt out of the ban. Since then, most states have at least partially opted out of the ban, with California being one of the slowest to adapt. In fact, only twelve states still maintain the full lifetime ban on receiving assistance after any type of felony drug offense (including charges like marijuana possession, which are now decriminalized in many states).

By finally fully eliminating the ban, California’s public assistance and drug policies are more sensibly and compassionately aligned. Advocates of this change also believe that it will bring more federal money to California, which could boost spending and jolt the economy. This change may also help ease reentry into society for those released from prison, lowering the chance of recidivism. As you can see, the benefits to the state and its citizens could be great.

If you have previously been ineligible for desperately-needed assistance due to a drug conviction, now is your chance to re-apply. Unfortunately, there are still significant challenges facing former convicts after paying their debts to society. That’s why drug charges are so important to fight diligently. If you have been charged with a drug-related crime in the San Diego area, call McElfresh Law at (858) 756-7107 today. Our California drug offense lawyers have years of experience helping our clients fight drug charges and reclaim their lives.