Monday, March 9, 2015

Food stamps and Registered Sex Offenders: What you need to know

This morning I received an email from a Registered Citizen who recently applied for food stamps and was denied due to his status as a Registered Citizen. After getting some background information, I'm pretty sure this man was wrongfully denied food stamps and I told him to appeal it. I believe his appeal will be successful.

I'm sure some of you heard by now that "sex offenders can't get food stamps" because of a provision of last year's "Farm Bill" (H.R.2642 — 113th Congress [2013-2014], officially called the Agricultural Act of 2014.) Well, what you might have heard is only partly true. 

Last year's farm bill did contain a section  that denied food stamp eligibility to "certain convicted felons." This amendment was known as the "Vitter Amendment," for the diaper-fetishist Louisiana Senator David Vitter. However, this provision is actually pretty limited. Below is the so-called "Vitter Amendment" added to last year's farm bill.

(Note: eAdvocate pointed out that part (c), which prevents the amendment from being applied retroactively, is NOT a part of the original Vitter Amendment; the Senate version of the Farm Bill (S954) which failed to pass in the House; instead the House copied the Vitter amendment into their version of the Farm bill with the added section (c) to their version, which became law.  Vitter's idea was source of Registered Citizens denials.)


(a) In General.--Section 6 of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2015) is amended by adding at the end the following"

``(r) Disqualification for Certain Convicted Felons.--

``(1) In general.--An individual shall not be eligible for benefits under this Act if--

``(A) the individual is convicted of--

``(i) aggravated sexual abuse under section 2241 of title 18, United States Code;
``(ii) murder under section 1111 of title 18, United States Code;
``(iii) an offense under chapter 110 of title 18, United States Code;
``(iv) a Federal or State offense involving sexual assault, as defined in 40002(a) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. 13925(a)); or
``(v) an offense under State law determined by the Attorney General to be substantially similar to an offense described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii); and

``(B) the individual is not in compliance with the terms of the sentence of the individual or the restrictions under subsection (k).

``(2) Effects on assistance and benefits for others.--The amount of benefits otherwise required to be provided to an eligible household under this Act shall be determined by considering the individual to whom paragraph (1) applies not to be a member of the household, except that the income and resources of the individual shall be considered to be income and resources of the household.

``(3) Enforcement.--Each State shall require each individual applying for benefits under this Act to attest to whether the individual, or any member of the household of the individual, has been convicted of a crime described in paragraph (1).''.

(b) Conforming Amendment.--Section 5(a) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2014(a)) is amended in the second sentence by striking ``sections 6(b), 6(d)(2), and 6(g)'' and inserting 
``subsections (b), (d)(2), (g), and (r) of section 6''.

(c) Inapplicability to Convictions Occurring on or Before Enactment.--The amendments made by this section shall not apply to a conviction if the conviction is for conduct occurring on or before the date of enactment of this Act.

Sections (B) and (c) are in emphasized in bold and underline because the criteria for food stamp ineligibility is specific to certain conditions. It is NOT a blanket provision. First, the food stamp ban does NOT apply to anyone convicted for a crime that was committed on or before the bill passed (it was officially signed into law or "enrolled" as Public Law No: 113-79 on February 7, 2014.). Second, this provision" prohibits anyone convicted of aggravated sexual abuse, murder, sexual exploitation and abuse of children, sexual assault as defined in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, or a similar State law, and who is also not in compliance with the terms of their sentence or a fleeing felon from receiving SNAP benefits." In other words, if you are not registering or obeying the conditions of your sentence, or if you are a fleeing felon, you are ineligible for food stamps. 

If you were not convicted for a crime that took place on or before February 7, 2014, you are still eligible for food stamps. If you were convicted for a crime that took place after February 7, 2014, you are STILL eligible for food stamps so long as you abide by registration laws and don't have any active warrants out for your arrest. If you are denied simply based upon sex offender status, you can successfully appeal for eligibility.

You may, however, have to present a copy of Section 4008 of the Farm Bill as evidence, as 7 USC 2015 (r) does not mention the fact the farm bill, as signed, was not intended to apply to anyone convicted before or on February 7, 2014. You can also provide a copy of this USDA memo as further proof of the interpretation of the law as non-retroactive and only applicable to absconded registrants (See page 6, "Section 4008" of the memo). 

Law professor Corey Yung believes it is unlikely this bill will ever be applied retroactively, but when it comes to the rights of  Registered Citizens, I've learned to never say never. But for now, you are eligible for food stamps as a Registered Citizen for the most part. 

One last note, if the Vitter Amendment does apply to you and you are disqualified from food stamp eligibility, whatever income you bring into the household is still counted against the rest of your household for determining eligibility. (See the italicized portion of the Vitter Amendment above.)