Texas soon will allow tens of thousands of residents convicted of drug crimes to receive food assistance from the federal government, joining almost every other state in ending a ban that once covered the nation, the Houston Chronicle reports. A new state law makes Texas the 44th state to opt out of the ban, which former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), inserted into President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform package. Starting Sept. 1, first-time drug felons will be able to get food stamps as long as they comply with the conditions of their parole and do not commit a second offense while receiving assistance. They still will be ineligible for cash help through welfare.
The change could help many of the 56,860 Texas residents on community supervision for drug offenses, and many more who already have cycled out of parole, says the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. It is unknown how many of them may seek food stamps. “It isn’t about rewarding people convicted of crimes. It’s about making sure that they do not become repeat offenders, and to do that, we need to give them some help,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson. Opponents said change would encourage crime and waste taxpayer money. “What we’re talking about is using public tax dollars to expand the federal government’s food-stamp program to convicted drug offenders,” said Rep. Matt Rinaldi. “I’m against allowing felons to feed at the public trough in an entitlement program such as that.”