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Drug, food stamp law strikes reasonable balance
Giving food stamps to drug dealers only enables them to keep on breaking the law.
Keeping food stamps from people convicted of drug felonies is only kicking them when they're down, and putting more pressure on local food pantries.
For now, the Nebraska Legislature is taking the first position.
Thanks to a filibuster to conservative opponents, Nebraska residents with major or multiple felony drug convictions will remain ineligible for federal food assistance.
A 1996 federal law prohibits drug felons from receiving food assistance, but states can opt out.
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln says he may try to introduce the repeal again next year. He says the law makes no sense because it applies to drug crimes but not more serious offenses such as sexual assault and murder.
The state denied benefits to 676 applicants last year because of felony drug convictions, and that was only those who chose to apply.
They could still turn to local food pantries, like McCook's, but rural areas, especially, have limited services.
SNAP outreach manager Sarah Comer of the Food Bank of Lincoln said many former inmates want to turn their lives around, but get discouraged when they learn they're not eligible. "They feel like they're getting kicked when they're already down," she said. "They're trying to be part of the community again."
But opponents of the repeal point out that offenders with one or two felony convictions can still qualify for food assistance if they are participating in an accredited or state licenses substance abuse treatment program.
It's wrong to give food to active drug dealers, said Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion. "If you're dealing drugs and I'm paying for your food, we're subsidizing your operation."
The bill won initial approval earlier this month, but Gov. Pete Ricketts and conservative lawmakers oppose it. A vote of 28-15 fell five short of the 33 needed to bring it to a vote, effectively killing it for the year.
The current law seems to strike a reasonable balance between enabling drug dealers and punishing those who have already paid for their crimes.
But what do you think?