How ex-cons add billions to food stamp costs

With their job prospects so dismal, they have little recourse but to join the already surging assistance rolls.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 11, 2013 1:28PM

Man in prison cell (© B. TAYLOR/ClassicStock/Alamy)With more than 2 million Americans behind bars, federal, state and local governments shell out about $75 billion annually to keep them locked up. But the cost to taxpayers doesn't end there.

Because many employers refuse to hire people who have been convicted of crimes when their incarceration is over, it's likely that most of them rely on food stamps to get by, costing taxpayers an additional $4 billion each year, according to an estimate from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"If you were to envision that these people didn't have the black mark of a prison record, they would be getting more money or more hours or both," CEPR co-director Dean Baker told The Huffington Post. "A lot of people fall into that category."

While Baker noted that his estimate is rough, the difficulty that convicts face in the job market is substantial, with potential employers concerned about recidivism and crime. The recession made it even harder, increasing the competition for jobs amid a rise in the unemployment rate.

The U.S. Census Bureau is one major employer that has turned away people with records, banning some with felony convictions from working on the 2010 Census. 

At the same time, the number of Americans receiving food stamps has surged, reaching 46.6 million last year at a cost of $78.4 billion. Only a decade ago, there were just 21.3 million recipients at a cost of $23.8 billion.

Some lawmakers are supporting legislation that would ban people convicted of murder, pedophilia and violent sexual assault from receiving food stamps. Already, 32 states ban people with drug felony convictions from receiving the benefit. 

One offender told HuffPo that he went on food stamps after applying to 80 jobs and receiving 80 rejections. The only interview he got was at Yum's (YUM) Taco Bell. 

"Food stamps was the only option," said James Cannon Jr., who now works at the advocacy group Take Action Minnesota. "That was something I never had to do in the past."

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Jul 11, 2013 3:29PM
While convicts should not get special treatment cutting them out of the workforce will almost always result in them returning to crime to survive. While i may not agree with the principle giving someone subsidized food is far cheaper then keeping them in prison. Perhaps if we had more education opportunities for convicts they could develop work skills that could help them survive without government assistance. Again you may disagree on principle but the money saved by taxpayers will be significant
Jul 11, 2013 3:48PM
If we were to reform SNAP and other entitlement programs to become truly temporary and to enforce the eligibility requirement then these programs would work better for their intended purposes. The problem is that as the amount of people receive benefits increase the money spent enforcing the rules decrease. Anyone who has ever had unemployment will know how easy it is to fake job searches because no money is spent enforcing compliance. More money spent on detecting fraud will equal less money spent by the overall program
Jul 11, 2013 2:25PM
How many of the 2 million people in prison are there because of drug charges?  Just as Prohibition did in the 1920's and 30's, criminalizing drugs has enriched organized crime and filled up our prisons with non-violent offenders.  Is it any surprise that these convicted felons need public assistance when they are released?
Jul 11, 2013 4:44PM
it's too bad your headline intimates that ex-cons are conning the system. it should have been worded better. its a sad fact that ex cons cant get jobs. its even sadder that low life congress members and states ban ex cons from getting food stamps. maybe an ex con will go hungary, commit another crime as they are hungary or homeless or both and go back to the prison industrial complex where the taxpayer will pay more while the prisons make a fortune. what a system.
Jul 11, 2013 10:30PM
Red Bull, Schweppes Tonic water, and Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix are all eligible for purchase with food stamps or SNAP cards. Can anyone tell me how this program can improve nutrition or help the American farmer?
Jul 11, 2013 4:10PM

Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this country has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Purchases by food stamps should be (if not already) restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and non sweetened juices. The following should always be banned, and processes need to be in place where not already, to restrict: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, sweetened juices, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food. If these rules would be followed, and recipients would learn how to shop and properly eat, no one would be hungry and we the taxpayers would save billions.

Jul 11, 2013 2:38PM
Get rid of all of the socialist, redistribute people's earnings, programs. There is no reason for me to have to work and pay taxes for someone to be fed by foodstamps, talk on their Obama phone, get their healthcare paid by Obama-Care, and live in free government housing via Hud Section 8.
Jul 11, 2013 2:57PM
The dems have adone a great job of moving more and more of the country to government assistance programs. Nothing like building your base one meal at a time.
Jul 11, 2013 3:55PM


Another stupid, hack writer who can't do math.  A single person in Ohio for example with zero earned income gets a whopping 39 to 93 dollars a month!  How can this equate to BILLIONS? Can YOU eat even 2 MEALS A DAY for one DOLLAR? A typical Alaska family of 4 with an annual income of 15k gets a good deal more. BUT a 2 lb box of macaroni costs 7 bucks out in the villages. 


Anyone who think that somebody other than the PAKIRATZ running INNER-CITY convenience stores (which PROFIT $50 on a $10 box of baby nappies sold as singles, "loosie smokes" and Non American Scum those who DEMAND [in broken English] 5 dollars for a gallon for outdated milk) are getingt rich on food benefits are sadly deluded.


Jul 11, 2013 4:32PM
The government posts sign that read " don't feed the animals, they will become dependent  on humans". Then the democrats do nothing but? The "great society" has been a complete success for demorats. Building their base of dependency since the late 60's. 
Jul 12, 2013 2:06PM

I think we all agree that food stamps should be TEMPORARY and restricted to healthy non processed foods, so if we are in the majority how come it doesn't happen?  Also, it is true that there is  SO MUCH abuse of the system in so many different ways, if the program invested more money in anti fraud, it would cut the benefits by at least two thirds!

 I think most Americans don't resent the program so much, they resent the abuse, lack of accountability and the lack of incentive to get off all government social programs.

Jul 11, 2013 4:01PM
Ex-cons should not get any food stamps.
This way they will have to commit more crimes to get food needed to survive.
Finally we will be able to use them in "Hunger games" for our amusement.

Jul 11, 2013 4:07PM
With many out of jobs, even now, it's no wonder there are so many on food stamps.  Compare the cost of food stamps to the costs of: 1-The Iraq War, 2-The war in Afghanistan, 3-The cost of absurd military weaponry even the Pentagon does not want 4-The cost of crimes (by the police, the courts and the jails--both private and public) 5-The costs of outrageous CEO/crony capitalists ($11.5 million average take-home by insurance Co. execs).  This is a sick society, with a substantial amount of the sickness due to Republican stupidity.
Jul 12, 2013 1:50AM
All will be hired at colleges.....

Jul 12, 2013 2:47PM

I just had this conversation with someone.  When convict is  released, the problem is their record.   No one wants to hire someone who has a record the ones that want to get straight, can't get a job and other problems they have, they get discussed  and feel desponded and can't get work.  They will  get into trouble  so they will go back, they can't make outside, they know at least they get three meals and a place to sleep.  They really feel safe in prison compared to the outside world.  I know 2 people who did exactly that  because of what they had to go through on the outside, and couldn't make it.  sad................

Jul 11, 2013 9:41PM
Is it true food stamps can now be used to buy food in certain restaurants?

Jul 11, 2013 3:58PM
Jul 11, 2013 1:37PM

For gods sake aimee.  msn just ran an article yesterday on foodstamps.


keep doging and deflecting on a big issue that happened yesterday.


how about an article on democrats in the senate screwing college students with higher interest rates?  or is that not important?  would it be important if republicans in the house shut it down?  i bet it would.


keep ignoring democrats screwing young kids today who want a higher education

Jul 11, 2013 7:59PM

If the death penalty was invoked quickly and for all crimes of violence or a weapon being used, we'd be free of having bto pay for all these dirtbags in the first place.

I never hired a convict and I never will. Can't trust them ant farther than you can throw them.

If the wanted to live with the rest of us they'd follow the rules in the first place.

Quit giving them 3 hots and a cot, free education and medical benefits. Let them die of their own self-inflicted diseases and throw the next ****er in on top of the dead carcass and see how they like living with what they created.

Jul 11, 2013 1:50PM
This artice will bring out the right wing Haters.Everybody who gets food stamps is getting rich.
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