Veterans Affairs' Childcare Amendment Targets Employees With Drug Convictions

Just days after President Donald Trump spoke about criminal justice reform during his State of the Union address, the House of Representatives amended the Veterans' Access to Childcare Act of 2019 to prohibit participation in the program if a facility or provider employs someone convicted of a drug felony.

Sponsored by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-New Jersey), the amendment would prohibit Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities and childcare providers from employing people who have been convicted of drug felonies – lumping these people together with those convicted of a sex crime, an offense involving a child victim, a violent crime, or other offenses that the secretary of veterans affairs “deems appropriate.” The amendment received overwhelming bipartisan support with a 401-19 vote.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) tweeted about why he didn’t vote in favor of the amendment “just three days after a #SOTU touting criminal justice reform. “Only 19 of us, Republicans and Democrats, think a 65-year-old grandma shouldn’t be prohibited from working an office job at a Veterans Affairs child care facility simply because she had a marijuana conviction at age 18,” he continued in a subsequent tweet.

During his State of the Union speech, President Trump spoke about the First Step Act, which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses and give judges more discretion when sentencing for these crimes. Provisions in the law would also improve prison conditions and address laws that have increased racial disparities in the federal prison system. Additionally, the law requires prisons to provide programs that reduce recidivism and give prisoners better opportunities to reduce their sentences.

To Amash’s point, a report from the Center for American Progress has shown that “once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person’s recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population.” Yet, recidivism often results from multiple factors that prevent people who are exiting prison from entering back into society. These issues include difficulties with finding employment — including employers who are reluctant to hire people with criminal records and laws, such as the amendment in the VA bill, that limit the kinds of jobs that are available.

Neither Sherrill or Amash responded to multiple requests for comment from The North Star. In a statement on her website, however, Rep. Sherrill lauded the multiple amendments that she sponsored, which included one that would provide counseling to victims of military sexual assault. The statement also featured excerpts from her speech on the House floor.

“As a working mom, I know all too well how important it is to know that your children have a safe and healthy environment while away from home,” she said. “Ensuring our veterans have access to childcare at VA facilities is the least we can do for the men and women who have stood up to serve our country.”

About the Author

Anthony Rivas is a journalist from Brooklyn who writes primarily about health disparities, minority health conditions and LGBT issues. His writings have appeared in several outlets, including Newsweek, Prevention, BuzzFeed News, and ABC News.