Senator Vitter Offers — and Senate Democrats Accept — Stunning Amendment With Racially Tinged Impacts

May 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm

In today’s Senate debate on the farm bill, Senator David Vitter offered — and Senate Democrats accepted — an amendment that would increase hardship and will likely have strongly racially discriminatory effects.

The amendment would bar from SNAP (food stamps), for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time — even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since.  In addition, the amendment would mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members.

So, a young man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor, and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP, and his grandchildren’s benefits would be cut.

Given incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact.  Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.

The amendment essentially says that rehabilitation doesn’t matter and violates basic norms of criminal justice.

It’s also possible that the amendment could contribute to recidivism.  Ex-offenders often have difficulty finding jobs that pay decent wages.  The amendment could pose dilemmas for ex-offenders who are trying to go straight but can neither find jobs nor, as a result of the amendment, obtain enough food to feed their children and families.

Senator Vitter hawked his amendment as one to prevent murderers and rapists from getting food stamps.  Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects.

The farm bill is still on the floor, and the amendment can still be modified.  Senators should gather the courage to step up to the plate and address this matter forthwith.

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More About Robert Greenstein

Robert Greenstein

Greenstein is the founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. You can follow him on Twitter @GreensteinCBPP.

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14 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. 1

    I can’t imagine that anyone would have in his/her heart a spirit of unforgiveness and put forth every effort to take away the very essesnce of an individual’s hunger survival. If an individual has made mistakes in his/her early life and has turned his/her life around,why should that iduvidual be punished by withholding the SNAP assistant. We must remember that we may be blessed abundantly today, but we never know what will befall us in the future. Therefore, we must be careful how we treat others. Senator Vitter must remember the times that he made mistakes and was forgiven by God!!!!!

  2. 2

    This Bill is without a conscious. How can it be that an amendment would take
    food out of the mouths of “babes” as well their families. A group that has been
    granted the use of “insider trading” so that they can attain more wealth from
    people unaware in the market would pass an amendment like this is more than VILE. We should get rid of the lot; we pay their salaries and they act as elitists on our money, PLUS what the lobbys pay them. It is heart-wrenching and

  3. Steven Newman #

    Is there no redemption?

  4. Lea Schuster #

    Did this amendment remain in through passage yesterday? Does the House have the same provision? Any chance you could direct us to the link so we can see how our Senators voted?

    • 5

      I would also like to know how far this amendment has made it through the process this week and if there is a list we can refer too in terms of who voted for the Vitter amendment. As people in their local communities continue to pull whatever resources they have available to help feed needy children and families it is very disheartening to see the poorest continue to be attacked by harmful legislation.

  5. Sean Parmenter #

    Do not even entertain this knuckle-headed amendment. Why it would be necessary to tie the commission of two of the index crimes to the qualification for public benefits is beyond me. The vast majority if recipients of these benefits are children and not their caregivers. The minimal savings are not worth this amendment.

  6. DHFabian #

    It is wrong, morally repugnant, and tragically, it reflects the views of much of this (arrogant) generation. We’ve embraced a full range of policies that continue to deepen poverty and push the US even further behind the more advanced nations. Making matters worse, we have a media marketed to liberals/progressives that merely panders to middle class consumers rather than informing the people about the range of issues that this case represents. With the middle class turned against the post-middle class/poor, there is no chance of rebuilding lives, families, communities, the country.

  7. Echo #

    Please, for pities sake, do not even think about pushing this bill. This bill would devastate so many people and their families.

    OMG, i can’t even begin to think of enough words to describe how wrong this kind of thinking is.

    • 9

      Agreed. The lack of congressional representation of poor constituents is what allows this kind of cruelty to persist in congress. These leaders MUST find a way to focus their war on poverty, not poor people.

  8. Greta Wanyik MD #

    If you are hungry and poor and have a criminal record, and paid with jail time, it should make no difference ….. Hunger hurst poor,rich, saints an criminals. We are a democratic country, and charity is part of our tradition to all . Next you will pass a
    legislation only blue eyed people deserve food stamps and help, green eyed people should be totally excluded and brown eyed should be given half the food stamps the blue eyed deserve . Shame on you this is truly against our American and Judeo Chritian tradition. Be happy that you had a good upbringing, education and luck, because for the grace of God it could be you.

  9. cindy baldani #

    You have got to be kidding me! Talk about not having a chance, you might as well not even let anyone out. They don’t stand a chance anyway. Bet you would feel differently if this was you or your family member.
    Lets see, they open the door and boom, housing, job, transportation, food, moral support clothes, toiletries, medical care, don’t forget your appointment with your parole officer and for goodness sake Never forget to register if required as a sex offender and if you find a place to live announce to the neighborhood also that your a sex offender by all means you better pass your suprise polygraph and dont have any questionable friends and after all this is taken care of. …….you just be thankful and have a wonderful day!
    Justice for all, innocent until proven guilty, all equal, fair and unbiased, plea bargain but noone influenced my decision to take offer or go to trial, can’t afford bail its ok stay with us for a couple years till you try to prove your innocents, don’t defend yourself in jail when you’re attacked or your in more trouble, keep your bills paid family taken care of and reputation in tact.
    Food Stamps? Are you freaking kidding me?
    Thank you and have a wonderful day!

  10. 13

    The food stamps I received after prison for about 6 months, amounted to less money than my probation and parole fees- it was actually less than the “Activity Fee” I pay to have access to the university gym. Next year I will graduate from Senator Vitter’s alma mater law school, and yes, I was on Food Stamps subsidizing the grocery store as I ate cheap food. It took about 5 months to qualify, and I gave them up after I started working full time while taking a full course load.

    I accept that some people would prefer to see people like me never get out of jail, and if we are out, to struggle so hard we return to a cage. That is a fair opinion- but not good public policy. It contradicts other programs and statements about letting people get back on their feet after they have served their time. Only a unified America can overcome our collective problems, and policies such as this need to be examined by what sub-group they seek to unify and why.

    There seems to be a bottomless cauldron of money when it comes to incarceration, yet every penny is pinched when it comes to small supports that can keep someone out. That is the real issue.

  11. Amy #

    There are no words for how wrong and horrible this admendent is. I had to read this several times. This admendent cannot be real?

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