No Food Stamps for Fleeing Felons, USDA Rules

Published November 3, 2015

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a new rule requiring consistent application and definitions of rules preventing individuals convicted of felonious criminal activity from receiving food stamp benefits while on the lam.

New Eligibility Tests

The final rule, first proposed in 2011, adopts eligibility tests used by the Social Security Administration. In November 2015, the eligibility of wanted criminals knowingly avoiding active manhunts was suspended. Individuals with active warrants for evading arrest were also be removed from food stamp rolls.

Ross Kaminsky, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, says USDA’s rule change may not go far enough.

“It’s hard to say whether the new standardization of definitions, if not exactly of policies, actually represents tightening entitlement eligibility, or whether its mind-numbing pages of prose better signify how completely dominated our nation is by lawyers,” Kaminsky said. “States will still be able to choose one of two different policies.”

‘Entitlement Mentality’

“I think the number of people this fleeing felons issue would apply to is small,” Kaminsky said. “The problem is an entitlement mentality, one that believes that a primary function of government is redistribution of income.”

Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation, says much more substantial reforms to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service entitlement programs are needed.

“We see tinkering around the edges with different groups like felons and lottery winners, but the biggest reform that makes sense is a work requirement, so that the assistance is going to those truly in need,” Sheffield said. “A work requirement forces the gatekeeper to ensure that the assistance is going to those that need it. Those that can otherwise work or support themselves will be directed towards work, and a work requirement is a good way to encourage work and self-sufficiency.”

Returning to Normality

In 2009, USDA allowed state entitlement programs to waive existing work-requirement rules to increase welfare rolls. Sheffield says states are choosing to reinstate those rules, empowering people to help themselves.

“Some states have chosen to forego the waiver and implement the work standard,” Sheffield said. “Maine has been a really good example, where they basically said they were going to end that waiver unless the able-bodied person fulfilled the work requirement. You … saw from that a huge drop-off in the rolls of able-bodied persons without dependents.”

Tony Corvo ([email protected]) writes from Beavercreek, Ohio.