We applaud the introduction of the "Elimination of Barriers for Katrina Victims Act." If enacted, this legislation will enable thousands of people displaced or otherwise harmed by Katrina to gain access to food stamps, medical care, public assistance, public housing, and student loans that they would otherwise be barred from receiving because of past criminal convictions.

Dear Representative Scott,

We applaud the introduction of the "Elimination of Barriers for Katrina Victims Act." If enacted, this legislation will enable thousands of people displaced or otherwise harmed by Katrina to gain access to food stamps, medical care, public assistance, public housing, and student loans that they would otherwise be barred from receiving because of past criminal convictions.

Human Rights Watch believes that people struggling with displacement should not be denied the means of feeding, clothing, and housing themselves simply because they were convicted of a crime in the past. Common sense as well as compassion mandate eliminating the barriers to subsistence aid for anyone who needs it.

Many of the laws that restrict government assistance for those with criminal records are specifically targeted at people who were involved in drug-related offenses. Human Rights Watch believes that the government’s efforts to stop the drug trade and combat drug abuse should not include the denial of much needed public assistance to people who grapple with poverty, regardless of whether they have prior convictions because of drug offenses or offenses arising from drug addiction.

We welcome your leadership on lifting barriers to aid for poor people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. We hope that your work on this issue will prompt Congress to lift restrictions for all those who are in need of government assistance, be they victims of Katrina, or simply struggling with other hardship in their lives.

Sincerely,

Corinne A. Carey
Researcher
U.S. Program