It seems the defeat of the House farm bill has a thousand fathers. But one reason for the bill’s demise has been overlooked: a particularly mean-spirited amendment that would have denied food stamps to anyone ever convicted of certain violent offenses. The amendment would have extended the existing ban that applies to those with felony drug convictions and would mean that parents released from prison could lose food assistance for their families.
Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democratic member on the House Agriculture Committee, said he lost votes from members who were angered by this amendment, which would place yet another hurdle before the tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals who struggle each year to reenter society.
About one in six of the 1.6 million people in state or federal prison was convicted of an offense targeted by this amendment. Over time, the food stamp ban, which was also included in the Senate bill, would apply to more than a million people. Disparities in the criminal justice system mean African Americans and Latinos would be disproportionately affected.
People who have served time in prison face a multitude of challenges upon release. It is heartening that this latest attack on formerly incarcerated individuals and their families was not offered with impunity.
Jeremy Haile, Washington
The writer is a lawyer for the Sentencing Project.
The defeat of the farm bill in the House [front page, June 20] has generated the usual series of laments for the decline of bipartisan cooperation. Politicians of both parties declare that the other party has engaged in partisan politics (as if there are any other kinds of politics) to the detriment of the national interest.
Frankly, if the Farm Bill represents bipartisanship, we can do with less of it. Healthy bipartisan support is typically purchased with an array of pork-barrel projects, subsidies and handouts; in the case of the farm bill, the handouts went to wealthy farmers and large corporations. No agreement? No problem! Spend more and a majority will materialize. This is no longer such an easy option.
Perhaps the lesson is that politicians now must first generate the illusion of savings before writing expensive handouts into legislation. That’s progress, of a sort.
Scott Atherley, Arlington