An Open Letter to Congress - Drug Policy Alliance
October 26, 2005 An Open Letter to Congress: Suspend Federal Bans on Public Assistance Dear Members of Congress: We urge you to support the Elimination of Barriers for Katrina Victims Act introduced by Representative Bobby Scott, which would temporarily narrow the application of federal laws that deny public assistance to former drug law offenders. These laws are tremendous roadblocks to thousands of families struggling to put their lives back together in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. People who have lost everything should not be denied public assistance just because they were convicted of a drug offense sometime in their past. Nearly 3 million Americans have been displaced from their homes and are seeking immediate food, medical and monetary assistance. According to FEMA’s reporting, an estimated 2.1 million Americans have already applied for federal aid. While it is impossible to know for sure how many families will be denied public assistance because of drug convictions, it could be in the tens of thousands. More than 1.5 million Americans are arrested for drug offenses every year. Numerous federal laws impede their ability to get their lives back together. A recent GAO report 1 reveals the staggering impact: • An estimated 41,000 Americans were denied college assistance during the 2003/2004 academic year because of drug convictions. • While the GAO was only able to collect data from 15 public housing agencies (out of more than 3,000), those 15 agencies denied housing to almost 1,500 families in 2003 alone because of past drug violations. • In states that have fully implemented the federal ban on accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), almost 25 percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2001 were eligible for aid for their families but permanently barred from receiving it because of their drug convictions. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have inflicted suffering on millions of people and this suffering will fall the hardest on Americans denied aid because of past drug offenses. Parents struggling to feed their children will be denied TANF and food stamps. Students struggling to stay in school will be denied student loans. Entire families will be denied housing. These federal bans are needlessly cruel. We urge you to support the Elimination of Barriers for Katrina Victims Act. While America would undoubtedly be better off if these federal bans were permanently repealed, they should at least be suspended for families affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, so that they can put their lives back together. 1 Drug Offenders: Various Factors May Limit the Impacts of Federal Laws That Provide for Denial of Selected Benefits. United States Government Accountability Office. September 2005.