November 16, 2018

Ending the SNAP ban: the time has come

Some of us are gearing up for another food fight in the West Virginia legislature. In case you missed it this story from the WV News Service lays out the case for ending the lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for people with felony drug convictions:

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Reformed drug felons in West Virginia are blocked from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and some want the Legislature to fix that. 
West Virginia is one of only three states that has a lifetime SNAP ban for anyone convicted of a drug-related felony. 
That applies to Debbie Kolbe of Huntington, even though she has finished her sentence and broke her addiction to methamphetamine more than two years ago. 
Kolbe says it's unfair that no matter how long she stays clean, or how long she keeps her job, she can't get the help any other kind of felon can the day he or she leaves prison.
"Murder and armed robberies and all that stuff, and you can get help all day long,” she points out. “If I needed help with food, they absolutely will not. Even if I had young children, I could not get food stamps. They could, but I can't."
The lifetime ban was put in place as one of several measures designed to get tough on drug crime. 
Kolbe says she and other reformed felons want the Legislature to reconsider it in the next session.
Advocates say the ban may actually be counter-productive, forcing people back into crime just when the state should be helping them get their lives back together. 
Kolbe says it's enough of a struggle to become an ordinary taxpaying citizen again – hard to get work or an apartment and extremely difficult to build up any kind of financial security.
"You've already suffered the consequences to your actions, which I have,” she stresses. “And you've got numerous years of clean time and you're doing everything you're supposed to do. 
“I just don't think it's fair that drug-convicted felons are labeled like we are."
In recent years, the state has expanded drug courts and day reporting centers, making it easier for offenders to avoid prison time. Lawmakers also have made it easier for nonviolent felons to clean up their record, to make them more appealing to employers. 
Advocates say ending the benefit ban would add to that.

November 14, 2018

Camino dreams

It's kind of hard for me to fathom that less than two weeks ago I was slogging along on the last legs of my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago Compostela in Spain. To be specific, I was slogging back towards Santiago on a rainy and chilly day after walking to "the ends of the earth" at Finisterre and Muxia.

I think it's literally the case that I've dreamed about the Camino, more or less realistically, every night since returning. One dream involved laying out extensions of the path to the frozen north. Another involved walking endlessly uphill towards a destination on it...wait a minute...that could be a memory not a dream.

Anyhow, by coincidence, NPR ran a feature about the Camino this past weekend (thanks to a friend for the heads up).

I'm still trying to consciously process what that 640 mile trek meant to me--and it looks like my unconscious mind is doing the same.

Looking back, I kind of wish I was more grateful and less grumpy some days. On the other hand, that evil water bird backpack/torture device was really nasty. And those endless hills...

Good though.

November 12, 2018

Stating the obvious

It's been five and a half years since then Governor Tomblin (where are you when we need you?) decided to expand Medicaid coverage for low income working West Virginians under the Affordable Care Act. A recent study by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found what you might expect: it was a good idea, one that literally changed and saved lives.

As I mentioned in the last post, the recent election not only strengthens the position of those states that have expanded the program--it opens the way for Medicaid expansion in several holdout states. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,

"If all remaining non-expansion states (including Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah) adopted the expansion in 2019, more than 4.5 million uninsured people would gain coverage and uninsurance rates in these states would fall by a quarter, according to Urban Institute projections."
Let's hope we get there.