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Welfare Reform Act Ends Assistance to Drug Law Felons


November 1996

On August 22, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193), which ends eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Food Stamps for anyone convicted of a drug felony (Legal Action Center, "Effects of Welfare Reform On Women with Drug and Alcohol Problems," Press Release, September 18, 1996).

People with a drug use, possession or distribution felony conviction after the effective date of the law are prohibited for life from receiving this assistance to the needy. Felony convictions are to be self reported, and states can "opt out" of the provision by enacting specific legislation. The new law also allows states to drug test welfare recipients and sanction them if they test positive. The law does not affect family members' benefits, but reduces the amount by the amount paid for the individual with the felony conviction.

According to the Legal Action Center, "the provision will make it harder for treatment programs. . .to survive financially. These programs, many of which cannot get Medicaid reimbursement, pool their clients' public benefits (including AFDC and Food Stamps) to support all of the components of treatment." For example, a treatment program in Florida estimates that 80% of its clients have felony convictions, and the loss of funds supporting clients in treatment "could leave significant gaps in the program's budget."