New bill would add barrier to welfare, food assistance for people with drug-related felonies 1 - Florida Independent

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

A Republican in the state Legislature wants to make it a little harder for someone with a drug-related felony conviction to receive welfare benefits and food assistance.

A bill filed recently 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.

Smith’s legislative assistant, Chase Daniels, tells The Florida Independent the bill would reverse a decision Florida made to opt out of a federal requirement similar to Smith’s bill.

House Bill 813 “prohibits individual convicted of felony offense from receiving temporary cash or food assistance under certain conditions, provides conditions under which person with felony conviction may resume receiving such assistance and provides for designation of alternative payee under certain circumstances,” according to its summary.

Smith’s law (.pdf) strikes language from current cash assistance requirements that says:

Benefits shall not be denied to an individual solely based on a felony drug conviction, unless the conviction is for trafficking pursuant to s. 893.135. To be eligible under this section, an individual convicted of a drug felony must be satisfactorily meeting the requirements of the temporary cash assistance program, including all substance abuse treatment requirements. Within the limits specified in this chapter, the state opts out of the provision of Pub. L. No. 104-193, s. 115, that eliminates eligibility for temporary cash assistance and food assistance for any individual convicted of a controlled substance felony.

The law would replace this language with:

An individual convicted of an offense classified as a felony for possession of a controlled substance, as defined in the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C., s. 802(6), or pursuant to s. 893.135, is not eligible for temporary cash assistance or food assistance unless the department receives verification that the individual has satisfactorily completed a treatment program or regimen for drug addiction or drug abuse. An individual who has a felony conviction for drug trafficking is not eligible for temporary cash assistance or food assistance. If the individual is deemed ineligible for temporary cash assistance or food assistance as a result of a felony drug conviction, an appropriate alternate payee shall be designated to receive the assistance on behalf of the other members of the assistance group.

State Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, has filed the same bill in the state Senate.

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

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