Sentencing Project Study Finds 135,000 Children Affected by Welfare Ban for Drug Offenders 3/22/02

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(reprinted from the study's Executive Summary)

"Life Sentences: Denying Welfare Benefits to Women Convicted of Drug Offenses" is the first national analysis documenting the harmful effects to women, children and communities of the 1996 welfare reform provision imposing a life-time welfare ban on people convicted of selling or possessing drugs. As this report documents, legislative action in the arenas of welfare reform and the war on drugs have combined to produce negative consequences for many low-income women, with a disparate impact on African American and Latina women.


  • Section 115 of the welfare reform act provides that persons convicted of a state or federal felony offense for using or selling drugs are subject to a lifetime ban on receiving cash assistance and food stamps. No other offenses result in losing benefits.
  • 42 states impose the ban in full or in part -- 22 states deny all benefits, 10 have partial bans, 10 require drug treatment as a condition of receiving benefits -- and eight states and the District of Columbia have opted out of the ban.
  • The growing trend among states to modify or opt out of the ban reflects growing recognition that a complete lifetime welfare ban is unsound public policy.
  • Over 92,000 women are currently affected by the lifetime welfare ban.
  • The ban also places over 135,000 children at risk of neglect and involvement in criminal activity due to the prospect of reduced family income support.
  • More than 44,000 white women, nearly 35,000 African American women and almost 10,000 Latinas are affected by the ban.
  • The loss of welfare benefits adversely affects the ability of women, especially women of color, to become self-sufficient, provide for their children and be active participants in their communities.
  • The ban endangers the basic needs of low-income women and their children, including food, housing, job training, education and drug treatment, which are all key ingredients to help poor families lift themselves out of poverty.
  • The ban will lead to higher incidences of family dissolution and further increase welfare caseloads.
  • The ban places an increasing number of children at risk of neglect or delinquency.
  • The lifetime ban has a disproportionate impact on mothers of color.
  • Congress should hold hearings during this reauthorization period and consider the immediate repeal of the lifetime welfare ban.
  • State governments should opt out of the ban or at least modify it. For those states tying drug treatment to welfare assistance, additional programs, such as job training or GED programs, should be provided as an alternative to maintain welfare benefits.
  • The federal government should shift its focus in the "war on drugs" and allocate a greater proportion of funds to prevention and treatment.
(The Sentencing Project study can be read in full at online.)

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Issue #229, 3/22/02 Editorial: Congress's Bad Joke | DRCNet Launching John W. Perry Scholarship Fund for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions at NYC Event on March 26 | Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal the HEA Drug Provision in Full | Supreme Court Hears Arguments in High School Drug Testing Case -- Comments by Justices Ominous | 3th Anniversary of Shafer Commission Report -- New Nixon Tapes Reveal Twisted Thinking at Root of Modern Marijuana War | Bush Administration Asks Congress to Lift All Restrictions on Aid to Colombia | Colorado State University Opens Nation's First College Drug Court | Canadian Firm That Sued US Over Hemp Foods Ban Set to Meet With Array of Feds -- NAFTA Rules Force US to Talk to Kenex | Medical Marijuana Bills Still Moving in Maryland, Vermont | Sentencing Project Study Finds 135,000 Children Affected by Welfare Ban for Drug Offenders | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar

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