ACLU Hails Restoration of Help to People in Need

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington hails enactment of a law that removes unnecessary barriers to help for needy families.  Governor Christine Gregoire today is signing SB 5213 that will provide fair access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and its related Work First programs to people who have been barred from receiving help because of prior convictions for drug offenses.   

“This measure remedies one of the injustices of the misguided ‘war on drugs.’  Enabling people in need to have access to assistance programs will promote family stability and reduce the likelihood that individuals will reoffend,” said Andy Ko, Director of the ACLU of Washington’s Drug Policy Reform Program.

Disqualification from TANF and Work First programs unfairly punishes people who have already been punished by the criminal justice system.  In addition, TANF disqualification harms children, whose access to basic financial support is reduced when their ex-offender parents are denied TANF funds. 

Current Washington law denies TANF benefits to people who have been convicted of felony drug offenses even if they have completed serving their sentences.  By contrast, individuals who have served their time for other offenses – including robbery, rape, and murder – remain eligible for public assistance.

The new law, which goes into effect in September, was sponsored by Senator Dale Brandland and Representative Eric Pettigrew and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from state legislators.