Welfare Ban For Drug Offenders Denied Financial Aid To 92,000 Women Since 1996, Study Says NORML Calls Feds’ Little Known Provision “Mean and Excessive”

An estimated 92,000 women and 135,000 children have been adversely impacted by a 1996 amendment barring felony drug offenders from receiving assistance-based federal entitlements, according to a report by Washington DC’s Sentencing Project think-tank.

“Since the inception of the ‘War on Drugs,’ children have been some of the most affected innocent casualties of misguided drug policies,” concludes the report, entitled Life Sentence: Denying Welfare Benefits To Women Convicted of Drug Offenses. “The welfare ban is yet another example of such misguided policies.”

Felony drug offenders, including most anyone convicted of growing or selling even small amounts of marijuana, are ineligible to receive cash assistance and food stamps for life under Section 115 of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), who sponsored the lifetime ban provision, defends his measure, arguing “If we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not to give people welfare benefits who are violating [them.]” No other criminal offenses, including murder or rape, preclude individuals from receiving financial assistance.

According to the Sentencing Project report, 42 states enforce the ban in full or in part. Of those, California imposed the ban on the greatest number of women – some 38,000 – between 1996 and 1999. Among states that fully enforce the lifetime ban, California, Georgia and Missouri imposed it on the greatest number of female drug offenders.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation lifting the ban.

“This little known provision is mean-spirited and excessive,” said Keith Stroup, Executive Director of NORML. “It singles out and disproportionately penalizes marijuana smokers and other drug offenders long after they have already been punished by the criminal justice system.”

In 1998, Congress passed a similar amendment to the Higher Education Act barring federal aid to any applicant who has ever been convicted of a drug crime, including minor pot offenses. No other criminal conviction triggers such a ban. To date, more than 48,000 student applicants have been partially or fully denied aid under the law.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML, at (202) 483-5500. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.sentencingproject.org.