By refusing to hire people who have been convicted of crimes, employers may be adding billions of dollars to the total cost of the country’s ballooning food assistance program. Citing data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, estimated that about 2 million workers are shut out of the economy each year as a result of a felony conviction or a prison record. Assuming these ex-offenders then rely on food assistance, and that half of them have an average of two kids, their economic struggles cost taxpayers about $4 billion a year in food stamps alone. Baker acknowledged that this estimate is crude, and said the weak job market overall is what’s largely responsible for a recent jump in federal food stamp spending. But the true number of ex-offenders receiving food stamps might be even higher; Baker’s calculations don’t account for the many ex-offenders who do find jobs but earn such low wages that they rely on food stamps anyway. Republicans in the House of Representatives are trying to reduce spending on the program, but they haven’t yet succeeded in passing legislation. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a bill that would deny food stamps to people convicted of certain sexual and violent crimes.

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