November 5, 2021

New Bill Would Ease Reentry Woes by Lifting Permanent Ban on SNAP and TANF

This post was last updated on September 29, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

When people who have been incarcerated return home, they face numerous roadblocks to economic mobility, the most prominent of which is finding gainful employment. As Florida Policy Institute has previously highlighted, occupational licensing restrictions deter entry to 56 of the 102 low- and moderate-income occupations.

Even more concerning is that some Floridians with past convictions are barred from ever receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits if the offense occurred after August 22, 1996. This is because a federal law passed in 1996 — one of the draconian “War on Drugs” laws that is, unfortunately, still on the books today — requires states to impose a lifetime ban on food and cash assistance for people with a previous drug felony conviction unless the state opts out. Florida has opted out of this ban, except for some drug trafficking offenses.

Thankfully, Rep. Vance Alopius and Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez have sponsored legislation (HB 6079/SB 762) that would lift this outdated state ban on SNAP and TANF for people with past drug trafficking convictions, a move that would reduce these individuals’ chances of reincarceration, help ensure a smoother transition into their communities, and save millions in taxpayers dollars.

Both SNAP and TANF are modest but critical safety net programs that help people with low income meet basic needs. SNAP helps households buy food, while TANF provides families who care for children with short-term financial assistance. In Florida, the average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $127, while TANF averages $237 per month for the entire family. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of the 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.

Since 2015, at least 18 states have lifted or modified their bans for one or more programs, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

Florida’s stance on criminal justice needs sustainable change. Ending the lifetime ban would be an important step in fostering fiscal stability for returning citizens and helping them contribute to their communities upon reentry.

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