Oklahoma House Bill 2014 takes aim at drug-related felons receiving food stamps, draws criticism

TULSA - If an Oklahoma House Bill becomes law, anyone convicted of a drug-related felony would no longer qualify for food stamps. 

House Bill 2014 would actually be a return to the letter of a federal law enacted in 1996 that denied the program to drug-related felons and those living with them but gave states the choice to opt out, which Oklahoma did the following year.

READ THE BILL (http://bit.ly/XEVp2q)

"I wasn't here in 1997 when that decision was made, but I can tell you that my constituents do not approve," said state Rep. Sean Roberts, who authored the bill. "We are going to undo this mistake and restrict the food stamp program to appropriate recipients."

But some community advocates say the legislation, which passed a House committee 6-2 Tuesday, would be the true mistake.  

"It's a really, really bad idea," said Kate Richey, policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Richey says the bill would harm the state on a number of levels. One reason, Richey says, is who it would actually impact the most.

"Substance abuse and addiction is a disease ... (HB2014) would deprive assistance for the people it's meant for," she said. 

But Richey also has an issue with another facet of the bill.

"The state also shall disqualify from participating in the food service program any individual who maintains over ($2,000) in a bank account," the legislation reads. 

Not allowing someone with money in their bank account to have access to food stamps sounds like it makes sense, until you think about what it's actually telling the impoverished -- to spend money to get money, Richey says.

It's a way to condition the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans receiving the assistance, a "way to keep them poor forever," she said.

But Roberts' bill would address a growing problem. Nearly twice as many Oklahomans are enrolled in nutrition assistance than were in 2003, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. 

With many drug felons struggling to find jobs or working for low wages, HB 2014 would likely stunt at least some of that trend, but Richey says its price is too steep.

"It's just not good government," she said.

The bill is now headed to the House Calendar Committee before potentially heading to the House floor. If passed, the law would be enacted Nov. 1.

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