February 2, 2024

5 Reasons Why Florida Lawmakers Should Lift the Lifetime Ban on SNAP and TANF for People with Past Felony Drug Convictions

People who have been incarcerated face numerous barriers to economic mobility and have an overwhelming need for basic support. However, Floridians who have been convicted in the past of drug trafficking are prohibited by state law from ever participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This is because a 1996 federal law  — part of the country’s “war on drugs” — requires states to impose a lifetime ban on SNAP and TANF for people with a previous drug felony conviction unless the state opts out. Florida has opted out of this ban, except for when it comes to people with drug trafficking offenses.

This short-sighted lifetime ban impacts the ability of returning citizens to meet critical needs, such as food and housing. It also increases their likelihood to re-offend and return to prison, costing the state millions. Further, because of systemic racism embedded in the historical laws and regulations that form the state's criminal justice system, the ban disproportionately affects Black and brown Floridians. Repeal of this ban[1] would go a long way toward addressing the disproportionate barriers to fiscal stability that Floridians who are reentering their communities face after being incarcerated.

1. SNAP and TANF provide important food and cash assistance services.  

Both SNAP and TANF are modest yet critical safety net programs that bolster the ability of Floridians with low income to meet basic needs. SNAP helps households buy food, while TANF provides financial assistance to families who care for children. In Florida, the average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $180, while TANF averages $237 per month for the entire family. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of SNAP benefits that Florida provides to eligible households. For TANF, the state receives a fixed block grant from the federal government, although the state must also contribute some of its own funds to the program.

2. Lifting the ban on SNAP and TANF is critical to helping ensure that people reentering communities have basic necessities.

Making food and cash assistance available to eligible Floridians who have completed their sentences would help individuals get back on their feet. When people reenter communities after being incarcerated, many have little access to the resources needed for housing, food, and other basic needs. At the same time, criminal records create significant barriers to employment, or exclude Floridians from the workforce altogether. For example, individuals with past convictions are subject to arbitrary requirements such as “moral character,” a statutory clause that grants professional licensing boards the power to use an applicant’s moral character standing as a basis for qualification. In addition, formerly incarcerated Floridians are five times more likely to be unemployed than others, all of which puts their economic well-being and rehabilitation at risk.

Making food and cash assistance available to eligible Floridians who have completed their sentences would help individuals get back on their feet.

3. Lifting the ban lessens the likelihood of recidivism.

Over 19,000 people in Florida have already been subjected to the lifetime ban on participating in SNAP and TANF. In FY 2021-22 alone, Florida released 24,000 people, 22 percent of whom (5,250) were incarcerated for some sort of drug offense. An analysis of Florida’s drug trafficking ban in the SNAP program finds that people subject to the ban on receiving SNAP are 9.5 percentage points more likely to be reincarcerated than people who can access assistance. This same study, which looked at, among other factors, the expense of future incarceration and costs to taxpayers, suggested that the ban had already cost Florida a minimum of $70 million as of 2016. 

4. Lifting the ban will stop its disproportionate and harmful impact on Floridians of color.

Denying food and cash assistance under Florida’s ban disproportionately affects people of color due to the well-documented history of uneven enforcement of drug laws in these neighborhoods. Black individuals comprise almost half (47 percent) of incarcerated individuals in Florida  yet only 16 percent of the state’s population.   

5. Most states have eliminated the ban. 

As of now, roughly 29 states have completely opted out of SNAP ban, while 27 have completely opted out of the TANF ban. Although Congress is considering a bipartisan repeal of the ban at the federal level, Florida should preemptively exercise its flexibility and repeal the ban on the state level.


[1] The Florida Legislature has the opportunity to repeal the ban during the 2024 legislative session. Lawmakers have introduced two bills – HB 409 and SB 776 – to abolish the state’s lifetime ban on receipt of SNAP and TANF by people with past felony drug convictions.

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