Bill adding barrier to welfare, food assistance for people with drug-related felonies moves along 1 - Florida Independent

State Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto (Pic by Meredith Geddings, via myfloridahouse.gov)

A bill that would make it slightly harder for someone with a drug-related felony conviction to receive welfare benefits and food assistance passed a state House health committee today.

House Bill 813, which was filed by state Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, would disqualify anyone with a drug-related felony conviction from receiving public cash assistance or food assistance unless the applicant has “satisfactorily completed a treatment program or regimen for drug addiction or drug abuse.” Current law does not require that treatment be completed.

This law would reverse an opt-out in federal law that allows states to not require TANF beneficiaries to complete drug and alcohol programs.

Democrats on the committee were uniformly opposed to the bill. Democratic state Reps. Jeff Clemens, Mark Pafford, Lori Berman, Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed and Steven Perman vigorously questioned Smith about the purpose of the bill, since it would not save the state money.

Clemens described the bill as “mean spirited.”

“It unfairly targets people who have been committed of a felony and payed their debt to society,” he said.

Pafford said, “This just adds another level of burden for someone who has paid for their crime.”

Smith maintained that the bill was about making sure there was “personal responsibility.” He said that he liked helping people, but “you have to try to help yourself.”

This bill follows a controversial law approved last session that requires anyone applying for welfare benefits to take a drug test before becoming eligible. A court recently blocked implementation of the law. The state, however, has filed an appeal to the court’s decision.

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