Missouri is relaxing its lifetime ban on providing food assistance to people convicted of felony drug offenses.
Legislation signed Friday by Gov. Jay Nixon will allow people with three or fewer drug felonies to receive aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program if they meet certain conditions.
To qualify, they would have to prove their sobriety through urine testing and must complete, enroll in or be determined not to need a substance treatment abuse program approved through the Department of Mental Health.
A 1996 federal welfare law banned people convicted of felony drug offenses from receiving food stamps or cash welfare payments. But it allowed states to opt out of the ban.
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Missouri was one of about 10 states that still maintained a ban on food and welfare payments.
During legislative hearings, people with prior drug convictions testified that the ban has made it harder for people to climb out of poverty. Some also questioned its fairness, noting that the ban did not apply to convicted murderers or sex offenders.
Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, was one of several lawmakers pushing to modify the ban.
“This is really important when these individuals are trying to re-establish themselves,” Curls told colleagues at a hearing earlier this year. “Sometimes food stamps help get folks over the edge.”
The bill includes several provisions intended to catch potential misuse of food and welfare payments. Electronic payments would be temporarily suspended pending a state investigation anytime a recipient does not make at least one electronic benefit transaction in Missouri during a 90-day period.
A state audit last year questioned the out-of-state use of welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The audit found 366 cases in which recipients used a total of $461,000 of benefits exclusively outside Missouri for at least three months.