November 5, 2021

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

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 Ana Maria Rodriguez have sponsored legislation (HB 6079/SB 762) that would lift this outdated state ban on SNAP and TANF for people with past drug trafficking convictions, a move that would reduce these individuals’ chances of reincarceration, help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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