Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 27, 2013

Some say Michigan's food stamp restrictions for drug felons are unfair

TRAVERSE CITY — Jason Beasley said he’s made many personal changes since he was convicted of possessing cocaine in 2003.

The Manistee resident who formerly hustled drugs in seven states is now clipping coupons for the first time.

After prison, he searched for two years before securing a part-time job. He’s relies on $200 a month in Bridge Card benefits to help put food on his table.

Beasley hasn’t sold drugs since the conviction, he said. Yet he knows that falling back into his addiction and getting “back into the game” would be as easy as making one phone call.

If he does, a second drug felony conviction would permanently strip him of food assistance benefits, according to state law.

“I get this $200 taken from me and I’m only working part-time, how am I going to feed myself and pay my bills? I’m not going to be able to. That puts me in a bind,” he said.

Drug felons under certain circumstances are banned from the Department of Human Service’s food assistance and family independence programs. The food assistance program provides low-income people with monthly benefits toward groceries, and the latter provides financial assistance to families with children.

People convicted of a felony for use, possession or distribution of a controlled substance after August 1996 are disqualified if they violate probation or parole. Ex-cons with two drug felonies over separate time periods are permanently disqualified.

”It’d be an atrocity if somebody makes a mistake, not even selling drugs but getting a (second) drug conviction because they’re still active using and they get their food stamps taken,” said Beasley, who thinks many felons aren’t aware of the law until they’re shut out from assistance.

Fugitives, parole violators and people convicted of fraudulently receiving state aid also are restricted, but other types of felony convictions don’t hinder eligibility.

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