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Stalled Progress For Women In State Legislatures

By Rebecca Beitsch, (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In 2015, female candidates for state legislative seats are just as likely to win as their male competitors. The challenge is getting them to run.

A quarter of the nation’s state legislators are women. That’s up dramatically from the 5 percent figure of the early 1970s. But the percentage hasn’t budged much in more than a decade, prompting many to question what can be done to encourage more women to seek state elective office.

Party leaders are less likely to recruit female candidates — and women are less likely than men to run without being asked. Many younger women worry about balancing a political career with family obligations. And because Republicans have been less successful in recruiting female candidates, their recent dominance at the state level has contributed to the stalled progress.

It may not take a woman to speak up on issues that are important to women, but state legislators and researchers who have studied the issue say regardless of party, women often bring a different working style and more varied life perspectives to the legislative arena, in addition to a stronger focus on women, children and family issues.

“Women bring different perspectives and considerations,” said Kira Sanbonmatsu, a Rutgers University professor who studies women in politics.

Many political observers have credited women with helping to end the 2013 federal government shutdown, generally describing women as better at setting aside egos to get work done.

But even with the good qualities they may bring to politics, women tend to be more hesitant to seek office.

“Women just don’t wake up one day and look at themselves in the mirror the way men quite frankly do and say, ‘I should run for office,’” said Liz Berry, who recruits many candidates through her role as state president of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington.

Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, agreed. “Women don’t assess themselves the same way when deciding if they’re qualified for office,” she said. “They perceive themselves as being less qualified.”

Many women agree to run after being recruited, but that requires parties and state legislators to reach out to them. Most party leaders and legislators are white men, and when they look for recruits, they turn first to people like them.

“Women are less likely to run unless they’re recruited, and they’re less likely to be recruited,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Another challenge is that it takes more time to convince female recruits to take the plunge, which means recruiters have to be determined — and patient.

“When women first think about running up until the time that they actually run is about three years. For men, it’s about three weeks,” said Washington state Sen. Christine Rolfes, who helps recruit Democratic candidates in her state.

Many recruited women delay candidacies because they worry about how their families will be affected, especially if their children are young. Even as men take on a greater share of family responsibilities, research shows that in most households, women still bear the heavier load. Convincing them that they can balance their legislative, professional and family duties — not to mention addressing their concerns about unpleasant political realities like negative campaigning and constant fundraising — takes time.

Some state legislatures are full-time while others are part-time, but the structure of the legislature doesn’t have much impact on the percentage of female members. Either way, it’s a time commitment that many women are reluctant to make.

When she was first approached to run for office, Rolfes’ children were toddlers, and she said the thought of leaving them “made me sick to my stomach. But when they were a little older I was ready.”

Rolfes, whose children are now in high school, is one of the few female Washington state legislators with children at home. For women who want to rise through the political ranks, delaying a run until their children are older can be costly, because they don’t have as much time to earn the seniority that delivers real power — and often the chance to run for a higher office.

The percentage of female state legislators varies widely from state to state — but in no state do women make up close to 50 percent.

Walsh said women tend to do better in states where recruiting is focused more at the local, rather than the state, level, but there are geographic and cultural differences as well.

The Northeast and the West have had more success in getting women to serve as lawmakers. The Northeast has more citizen legislatures, where legislators represent fewer people, and the role isn’t viewed as a profession, so people cycle in and out more, Walsh said. In the West, the relatively high percentage of female lawmakers may have its origins in a settlers’ culture in which women and men worked side by side. Western states also were among the first to grant voting rights to women.

States legislatures in the conservative South, where traditional gender roles hold greater sway, have the lowest percentages of women.

Until recently, Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy was the only woman in the South Carolina Senate. Shealy said most of her colleagues have been respectful — but not all of them. Shealy’s said her neighbor on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Tom Corbin, often made comments to her, once joking about her wearing shoes, saying women should be barefoot and pregnant. During a dinner where reporters were present, he referred to women as a “lesser cut of meat.”

“I always told him to stop, and I didn’t treat it like a joke, but I didn’t say anything else because I didn’t want to come off like I was whining because I was the only girl in the room, and I can’t take care of myself,” she said. But once his comments became public, “I had to respond because you have to say something for all the women that will come behind you.”

Shealy later addressed the Senate, saying, “These type remarks are never acceptable in public or in private. … (W)hether the person speaking them thinks they are in jest or not, these words are hurtful and disrespectful. We are all created equal and, as such, deserve respect.”

A second female senator, Democrat Margie Bright Matthews, recently joined Shealy. Matthews was elected to replace state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in last June’s mass shooting at a Charleston church. Shealy said she has reached out to Matthews to work on some of the children’s issues Shealy is most passionate about, hopeful that partnering on legislation will help it get passed.

Cary Brown, director of Vermont’s Commission on Women, credits the small size of the state’s districts for its relatively high percentage of female legislators. In tiny Vermont, women can campaign among their neighbors and don’t have to travel far to get to the Capitol. Nevertheless, few women there have been elected to a statewide or federal office.

“We have over 40 percent women in the state Legislature, but we’ve never sent a woman to Washington, so we’ve still got work to do,” Brown said.

In Washington, the percentage of female legislators has dropped, from 40 percent in 2001 to 33 percent now. “We stopped putting so much effort into recruiting, and it was a big mistake,” said Berry, of the women’s political caucus.

Sixty percent of female state legislators are Democrats, while 40 percent are Republicans. More than a third of Democratic state legislators are women, compared with less than a fifth of Republicans. Given those disparities, Republican gains at the state level over the past decade may be one reason the overall percentage of women in state legislatures has been stuck at 25 percent.

More women are registered as Democrats, but the GOP also has been less active in recruiting female candidates and has lagged behind the Democratic Party in providing trainings, PACs and support targeted to women, Walsh said.

©2015 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: 112th United States Congress via Wikipedia


States Find Their Voice On Federal Land Use

By Rebecca Beitsch, (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It’s a battle long fought, but seldom won: States want to gain control of federal land within their borders.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies control vast swaths of the land in some Western states, as much as 80 percent in Nevada. But local residents are often frustrated with federal policies governing preservation, recreation or natural resource development. In particular, many question the federal government’s commitment to preventing natural disasters like forest fires.

When states do manage to recapture federal land, it tends to be smaller parcels the federal government cuts loose for a specific purpose, such as building a road or an airport. Occasionally Washington will sell a parcel that is surrounded by private property or serves no public purpose.

In 2015, all 11 Western states considered measures calling for the transfer of federal land to state control. But only a handful of bills passed, and none resulted in a transfer of land.

Those long odds, and a reluctance to spend state money on land management, have spurred some states to try a different approach. Instead of taking on the federal government in a futile fight for ownership, they are arming counties with money and expertise to help them convince federal officials to hew more closely to residents’ interests.

Colorado is one of the states at the forefront of this new approach. This year, state lawmakers there approved $1 million in grants for counties that want to influence federal land use decisions. County leaders can use the money to hire consultants to evaluate data, provide scientific research or attend BLM coordination meetings. The law authorizing the grants also requires state agencies to provide additional expertise and assistance to counties when they ask for it.

Democratic state Rep. KC Becker, a former attorney for the BLM, said many county leaders in Colorado don’t realize how much influence they can have with federal officials. She pointed to a “consistency provision” in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, a 1976 law governing BLM oversight of public land, which requires management that conforms, at least generally, to what local leaders want.

Becker and her Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Bob Rankin, said they wrote the bill to promote cooperation, rather than confrontation, with the federal government.

“Some people just want a takeover, but a lot of those state laws are more symbolic. I don’t want to make a point, I want to make a difference,” Becker said.

Rankin said the grants are useful to counties even in cases where local leaders are fundamentally opposed to federal policy. He pointed to oil drilling as an example. “Say they’re discussing the impact of a new drilling permit. Maybe the county is for it or maybe they’re against it, but they can have a consultant for the process,” he said. Rankin said the outside help can be used to better understand the process, provide outside analysis, and help draft county responses to federal proposals.

The first grant awarded under the Colorado program was for just under $25,000 to Gunnison County, home of the Gunnison sage-grouse.

The county is challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to place the bird on the federal endangered species list, arguing that its own conservation efforts on private land are sufficient.

The wildlife service’s designation also has prompted the BLM to make some changes. The agency is proposing amendments to the management plans covering the Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in multiple counties near the Utah-Colorado border.

Jim Cochran, the wildlife conservation coordinator for Gunnison County, said even as the lawsuit proceeds, the county is using the grant money to hire outside experts to track the 11 proposed amendments, which would likely effect grazing and recreation on public land.

Cochran, a wildlife biologist, said soil and range conservation experts are analyzing how land and soil is affected by animal and recreational use and are helping the county draft responses to the BLM proposals using that analysis.

“We’re partners in many things. But they’re federal, and we’re local, and we have different constituents,” Cochran said. “We’re working with them, but we’re very much concerned about protecting our interests.”

The BLM said its processes are meant to encourage public involvement.

“The BLM supports state and local efforts to engage with the BLM,” the agency said in a statement.

Utah is using multiple methods to get what it wants from federal land managers.

The state has not abandoned its attempt to get federal land into state hands. A 2012 state law called on the federal government to transfer to the state all public land that is not designated as a national park or wilderness area or owned by Native American tribes — about 30 million acres in total, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. State Rep. Ken Ivory, a Republican, said because the federal government did not comply with the 2012 law, the state has set aside $4 million for a lawsuit challenging federal control of the land and is assembling a legal team.

But at the same time, the state is pursuing other avenues to get what it wants. This year the state passed a law requiring every county in the state to develop a resource management plan.

State Senate Republican Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, who sponsored the legislation, said the new requirement not only helps create a statewide plan, but it also prepares counties to deal with the federal government and argue that federal plans should be consistent with theirs.

Some Utah counties have long coordinated with the federal government on land issues, but other areas that are more sparsely populated never had the money to develop thorough plans.

The state office of public land policy could serve as a resource for interested counties, but the onus is now on counties to have a plan in place — and the state will cover half the cost.

Mike Worthen, the natural resource management specialist for Iron County, said not all counties are aware of how involved they can be in the federal planning process or of government regulations requiring consistency. He said it’s important for counties to have a plan in place before any federal level changes are proposed.

“Otherwise they falter when they don’t have an adequate county resource plan to explain what they want, and then they have nothing to fall back on when the federal government comes back with a proposal,” Worthen said.

Okerlund said counties should generally have a vision for the land within their boundaries, but requiring the plans helps them make decisions about how land and natural resources should be used before the federal government does.

“Local governments ought to be involved in the process, but to do that they need a plan that shows how the resources in their jurisdiction are important to them and how to use them,” he said.

Photo: States want to gain control of federal land within their borders. (Chris Adams/MCT)

After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, States Reconsider Domestic Partner Benefits

By Rebecca Beitsch, (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, some states that offer health and retirement benefits to their employees’ domestic partners are considering changing those policies, in large part to save money or avoid discrimination lawsuits.

Before the ruling, 34 percent of state and local governments allowed unmarried same-sex couples to receive health care benefits, while 28 percent did so for domestic partners of the opposite sex, according to a study of public sector benefits by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Based on what happened in states that legalized gay marriage on their own, those numbers are about to dwindle.

Maryland ended domestic partner benefits for state employees, which it offered only to same-sex couples, just a few months after it legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. Arizona did the same after its legalization in 2014. Alaska still offers same-sex domestic partner benefits to the roughly 6,000 state employees it covers, but it is now reviewing that policy. The majority of Alaska state employees get their health insurance through state-funded union health trusts, and the state’s largest union, the Alaska State Employees Association, ended same-sex domestic partner benefits for the more than 8,500 state and municipal employees it covers.

Connecticut and Delaware never offered domestic partner benefits to their workers, but they did allow those in civil unions to add their partners to their health and retirement plans. The two states scrapped those benefits once same-sex couples could marry.

Of the 13 states that prohibited same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court’s June ruling (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas), only Michigan offered anything similar to domestic partner benefits, as employees could add to their plan one adult they were not related to. Matthew Fedorchuk with the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which oversees state benefits, said the fate of those benefits could be hashed out in ongoing labor negotiations.

Government workers are likely to see more changes than those in the private sector.

Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), cited a survey of 153 companies by Mercer, a health care advocacy group, which found that although some companies had plans to get rid of their domestic partner benefits, many were not planning changes. Of the 19 percent that offered domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, 23 percent said they would drop the option in the next year, while another 23 percent said they would do so over the next two or three years. The majority of companies offered domestic partner benefits to both homosexual and heterosexual couples, and 62 percent of those said they were not planning any changes.

Elliott said domestic partner benefits may be more vulnerable within state and local government, where competition over employees isn’t as fierce as in the private sector and where leaders have been under pressure to keep finances in check since the recession.

Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, said the group is encouraging public and private employers to keep offering domestic partner benefits. But she said employers that offer domestic partner benefits exclusively to same-sex couples should extend them to heterosexual couples to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

That risk is part of the reason the capital city of Annapolis, Md., decided to end its domestic partner benefit program.

“We had added it because the law didn’t treat people equally,” Paul Rensted, former human resources manager for the city, said of the program, created in 2010. Now all city employees must be married to add an adult to their benefits package, and Rensted said couples were given six months’ notice, with four employees ultimately marrying.

Many in the gay rights community say keeping domestic partner benefits would continue to benefit some in the gay community as well as other nontraditional families. But straight couples would continue to be the biggest user of the benefits, they say.
“Millennials are waiting longer to get married, but that doesn’t mean they’re not living together — they’re not all living with mom and dad,” said SHRM’s Elliott.

Nancy Polikoff, a family law professor at American University Washington College of Law, said she likes “plus one” policies that allow employees to take care of their families, whether it be a spouse, a partner or an aging relative.

“The purpose of providing benefits is to help employees fund the financial and emotional obligations in their homes, and marriage is not always a part of that,” she said.

She pointed to Salt Lake City’s plan as a model. City employees can add any adult to their plan as long as they live together.
Jodi Langford, who oversees the benefits program for the city, said it has been used to cover parents, siblings and unmarried children older than 26 who would otherwise age out of their parents’ health insurance plans. Of the 60 people on the plan before same-sex marriage was made legal, only about 10 have switched to spousal benefits.

“If we stop, we would have parents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends who would be without benefits,” Langford said. While the program is secure for now, she said there’s been some talk about reviewing it within the next year.

In Florida, public universities are planning to review their domestic partner benefits. Because only spouses are eligible for state-funded benefits, state universities had to come up with creative solutions to offer benefits to gay employees’ domestic partners. It was an anonymous gift that covered the additional cost of adding an adult beneficiary to a health plan at Florida State University (FSU) starting in 2014, while the University of North Florida (UNF) began covering the additional cost to employees through its fundraising foundation in 2006.

Spokesmen for both universities said the programs played a role in attracting talent. UNF is winding down its program, which had only been offered to same-sex couples, said Vice President and Chief of Staff Tom Serwatka.

“When we went to this, we did so on the basis that heterosexual couples had a choice whether they wanted to marry and understood the full implication of that choice. Homosexual couples didn’t have that choice.” Now that they do, Serwatka said, it makes less sense for the university to raise private funds to pay for the benefits.

“The university wasn’t trying to change the idea of marriage as the policy for the state, and state funding required marriage,” he said.

FSU is reviewing its program, which only paid for health insurance for domestic partners who could not get insurance through their work, said spokesman Dennis Schnittker.

“The gift was made under the belief of the donor that the state would be funding the benefit in the near future,” he said.
In some states, however, domestic partner benefits are likely to continue.

California’s domestic partner benefit statutes remain intact, and in Massachusetts the policy is part of a still-standing executive order. Maine and Vermont, which was the first state to offer domestic partner benefits, are not planning to change their programs.

“We wouldn’t just get rid of it because same-sex marriage has come about,” said Tom Cheney, deputy commissioner for Vermont’s Department of Human Resources. “The state of Vermont has long seen the value in offering domestic partner benefits to couples of all types. It’s a useful recruitment and retention tool for the state as an employer.”

Elliott believes it’s too early to know what most employers — both public and private — will do with domestic partner benefits.

“Once we get past this year into next year’s open enrollment, we’re going to see some real change. The tea leaves haven’t dried yet,” he said.

Photo: Paola Perez, left, and her partner Linda Collazo, dressed as bride and groom, kiss as they march in the annual Gay Pride parade in Greenwich Village, in 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

States Rethink Restrictions On Food Stamps, Welfare For Drug Felons

By Rebecca Beitsch, (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Johnny Waller Jr.’s 1998 felony drug conviction has haunted him since the day he left a Nebraska prison in 2001.

Waller, now 38, applied for 175 jobs without getting one. He had trouble getting a federal loan for college because of his drug conviction, so he started his own janitorial business, in Kansas City, Mo. And when his toddler son, Jordyn, was diagnosed with stomach cancer and needed full-time care, Waller’s record disqualified him from receiving food stamps.

“I really needed assistance there,” Waller said of the time in 2007 he had to give up his job to care for Jordyn. But he couldn’t get it, he said, because of a conviction “when I was 18 years old that didn’t have anything to do with my son.”

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are serving time for drug offenses — nearly a half-million according to the latest numbers available, from 2013. For many like Waller, leaving prison with a felony conviction on their record adds to the hurdles they face re-entering society. A 1996 federal law blocks felons with drug convictions from receiving welfare or food stamps unless states choose to waive the restrictions.

The bans, which don’t apply to convictions for any other crimes, were put in place as part of a sweeping reform of the nation’s welfare system, and at the height of the war on drugs. Now many states are rethinking how to help felons become productive citizens and reduce the likelihood they will return to prison.

Since 1996, 18 states have lifted restrictions on food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and 26 allow people with certain types of drug felonies to get those benefits — leaving six states where a felony drug record disqualifies a person from receiving them.

States have been more restrictive when it comes to extending welfare benefits through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families: 14 have lifted the restriction, 24 have some restrictions and 12 have full restrictions barring felons with a drug conviction from receiving cash assistance.

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, which advocates reforming the laws, said banning people from getting food stamps runs contrary to policies designed to ease inmates’ re-entry to society and to curb recidivism.

“This increases the odds they will commit new crimes by virtue of the fact that you’re creating a significant financial obstacle,” Mauer said.

This year, Texas and Alabama became the latest states to lift blanket bans on receiving food stamps.

“If we want people to stay out of trouble we’ve got to give them a hand up, not a foot down,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat who pushed for the repeal in Texas. She said providing help is much less expensive for the state than paying for repeated incarcerations.

While Texas’ food stamp program is now open to anyone convicted of using or selling drugs, those who violate their probation or parole are ineligible for benefits for two years. If they are convicted of another felony, drug-related or otherwise, they are barred for life.

Alabama scrapped its ban for food stamps and cash assistance.

Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst for Alabama Arise, which lobbied in favor of the change, said it is especially important for formerly incarcerated mothers, who often struggle to feed their families when they return home.

But even as many states have scaled back their bans, others have considered re-establishing them.

A Pennsylvania bill would deny welfare benefits to anyone who served more than 10 years for a drug offense. State Rep. Mike Regan, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said it would target major drug dealers and save finite state resources for those who are more deserving of help. Regan, a retired U.S. Marshal, said that during his time in law enforcement he saw many dealers who were receiving food stamps. He sees his measure as a deterrent and a way to curb abuse of the system.

While states can make changes to welfare and food stamp policy, it’s up to the federal government to remove the stumbling blocks that released drug felons face in receiving education and housing assistance.

In 2006, the federal government opened college grants and loans to those convicted of a drug felony, reversing a 1998 policy. However, those convicted of a drug crime while receiving aid will lose it until they complete treatment or prove sobriety.

All current inmates also are ineligible for federal Pell Grants (which are for lower-income people and do not have to be repaid) to help pay for college courses while they are in prison. However, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the Obama administration wants to change that, and will propose a pilot program that would allow prisoners to access nearly $6,000 a year.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development places a lifetime public housing ban on those who have been convicted of making methamphetamine in subsidized housing. It also imposes a three-year ban from public housing on those evicted from public housing for drug-related activity.

The department has encouraged local housing authorities to consider how long it has been since the conviction and whether applicants have gone through drug treatment programs when weighing public housing applications from felons. But local housing authorities have wide discretion in whether to accept someone with a record, particularly when there has been a pattern of drug use.

Felons also face discrimination in seeking housing on the open market, though some states are moving to ease that, too.

In Texas, for instance, the legislature this year passed a law that gives landlords liability protection from negligence suits for knowingly renting to convicts who commit crimes in their apartments.

Texas Rep. Thompson said the law gives landlords peace of mind while helping ease discrimination on anyone who has returned from prison, whether they were recently released or they are looking for housing years later.

Waller has hit several roadblocks at one time or another since leaving prison. And changes in the laws often came too late to help him.

Initially unable to finance school or get a job, Waller moved in with his mother in Kansas City, though his presence was tough on her financially. She asked him to apply for food stamps to help out, but the food stamp office told Waller he’d be denied.

Waller said the restrictions put him on the brink of a breakdown, and he considered whether he might be better off returning to prison, which was a world that made sense to him. Then he had Jordyn, and he decided he was done with crime and prison.

“I’d been a gang member, I’d been shot in the head, and I’d gone to prison. There wasn’t anything else out of that lifestyle to get,” he said.

So over the next few years, he started his own janitorial service and eventually hired seven people. He made good money, drove a nice car and felt like he had gotten his life together.

But in 2007, he learned Jordyn, then 2, had stomach cancer, which required multiple rounds of chemotherapy and then round-the-clock care. Jordyn was initially treated in Kansas City, but Waller thought Jordyn’s chances would be better at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

So the single father closed his business, packed his car and headed to Memphis. But with no income, Waller soon ran through his savings. His bills piled up and his car was repossessed. He needed help with food, as doctors required him to make fresh food for Jordyn every meal to avoid bacteria. But his past kept him ineligible for food stamps both in Tennessee and Missouri, where Waller and his son eventually returned.

Missouri changed its law last year to allow people like Waller to qualify for food stamps as long as they complete a treatment program or prove their sobriety with a urine test, which they have to pay for.

Missouri’s change of heart didn’t come soon enough for Jordyn, however. He died in 2008 while waiting for a bone marrow transplant, just days before his fourth birthday.

Since burying his son, Waller has continued to raise his other two children — daughter Alexandria, 8, and son Kendall, 7 — on his own. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s slowly made progress.

After returning to Kansas City from Memphis, he moved in with his mother because his criminal record kept him from renting an apartment, though he tried several times. After Waller had lived six years with his mother, her building’s landlord gave Waller a trial run, giving him a short lease on another unit. This year, he was finally able to sign a yearlong lease.

Once federal education finance laws changed, Waller enrolled at Rockhurst University in Kansas City and earned a bachelor’s degree in business management. In 2011 he was pardoned for his drug crime by former Republican Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, which helped him get a job with a medical equipment company that doesn’t review pardoned crimes as part of its background check.

But Waller said he’s gotten used to watching others go through life without the same barriers, and he has learned to accept there are some things he’ll never be able to do.

“I want to change apartments to a nicer place in a better school district,” he said. “I live on the fringe of just being able to live a normal life. I’m right up against the glass.”

Photo: Food stamps, which can be used to pay for vegetables like yams, are often denied those who have a drug record. In many states, policies are changing to reduce recidivism and because incarceration costs are so high. U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr