My name is Lauren Johnson and I am a Policy Advocacy Strategist at the ACLU of Texas. I have three children. Over the years, I’ve spent probably a little over three years incarcerated. All of my charges are drug-related.
In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the big sweeping Welfare Reform Act, and at the last moment of the legislation, somebody tacked on an amendment that denied people with felony drug convictions access to food stamp assistance, and it was a lifetime ban. My husband and I both have felony drug convictions, and when he lost his job in 2008, we needed help for a couple of months. And I remember going into the food stamp office to apply for benefits, and basically being reminded of this law that was in effect that said, because he and I both have drug convictions on our record, that we were not eligible to receive benefits, but also at the same time handing me a card with benefits on it for my children. So, effectively, giving my whole household less money because of a crime that we had already both paid for.
There’s no end to the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Here in Texas, 55,207 total individuals in the fiscal year 2014 were disqualified for federal drug convictions for SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That doesn’t include all of the individuals that didn’t even apply because this had been the law for so long that all your friends had told you, you don’t qualify. And a lot of people just didn’t even bother trying.
Our legislature meets once every other year, for 140 days, and there had been a bill pretty much every session since 1996 trying to opt out of the federal law. When I came home from my last incarceration, I was inspired by a water hearing at the Capitol, and decided that that was an issue that I wanted to work on. There are so many stories of, you know, not being able to have access to the things that you need to live and support your children. I would take my kids to the Capitol with me and go from office to office talking to different legislators.
In 2015, we changed that law. Many, many people who have now come home from prison or used to be disqualified, that are now accessing the food stamp assistance. We’ve got people that are struggling and like, deserve the opportunity to be more than a bad choice. You know, sometimes it’s not even a bad choice. Sometimes it’s just the best choice you had to choose from.
We can uproot the drug war from our communities.
It Takes All Of Us
Get involved in the grassroots movement to uproot the drug war in all systems.