Antoinette Samson is a mother of three whose New Orleans home was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. Though her family's possessions have been wiped out and they cannot go back home, they are among the many hurricane victims who cannot receive housing assistance or food stamps. It's not because Antoinette's family doesn't need the support. It's because some years ago, her husband was convicted of possessing crack cocaine.
This country cannot afford the war on drugs during the best of times, and certainly cannot afford it now. Our war on drugs is undermining hurricane relief efforts. Federal laws prohibit former drug law offenders from obtaining welfare, food stamps, public housing, financial aid for schools and other benefits for themselves and their families. While it is impossible to know for sure how many hurricane victims will be denied public assistance because of drug convictions, it could be in the tens of thousands.
Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation last week that would temporarily suspend federal laws that prevent hurricane victims with drug convictions from receiving public assistance. His legislation, entitled the "Elimination of Barriers for Katrina Victims Act," is co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS).
Now we need to make sure Congress focuses on this important issue so families like Antoinette Samson's can get the relief they need to get back on their feet. Almost 100 groups have already signed onto a letter in support of the bill. You can add your voice by sending a note to your representative in Congress via the Drug Policy Alliance's website.