FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 6, 2023
Many States Still Deny SNAP and TANF Benefits to People with a Drug Felony, According to a New Report
Washington, D.C. — Almost half the states still exclude thousands of Americans with a drug felony in their past from receiving essential public benefits, according to a new nationwide study released today by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) with support from Arnold Ventures.
A provision in President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform law imposed a lifetime ban on eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for anyone convicted of a drug felony. However, the federal law permitted states to opt out of one or both bans or to modify them with their own conditions.
CCRC’s report, “Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws,” offers a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the differing ways states have responded to this federal ban, including relevant sections of statutory text to facilitate analysis and comparison.
Today, 25 states, plus the District of Columbia, have opted out of both bans on SNAP and TANF. But a surprising number of states remain committed in some fashion to this outdated artifact of the War on Drugs.
CCRC’s report focuses on those states that have modified the federal ban by enacting their own conditions on access to benefits – 18 states for TANF and 20 states for SNAP. In many cases these so-called “modified opt-outs” require applicants for benefits to participate in drug treatment programs and frequent drug-testing independent of any conditions imposed by the sentencing court and regardless of individual need.
“Research has found that conditions on benefits that require compliance with state-imposed behavioral requirements are counterproductive, and hardly less punitive than an outright ban,” said Margaret Love, CCRC’s Executive Director and the report’s co-author.
Some states limit the kinds of drug convictions that qualify for benefits, so that lifetime bars remain in place for drug trafficking convictions no matter how dated. Other states require waiting periods before benefits begin that frequently run from release from prison, a time when a person’s need for support is greatest.
“There is strong evidence that bans and restrictive conditions on public benefits do not improve community safety and, to the contrary, may increase crime and harm school achievement and wellbeing outcomes for children of impacted people with records,” said Juliene James, vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures. “This report is a great resource for advocates and lawmakers who are interested in reforming this ineffective practice.”
The report also found that in just in the last four years eight states have taken steps to move from full or modified bans to a full opt out for both types of benefits. Pennsylvania is the only state during this period that moved the other way, from full opt out back to modified bans for both SNAP and TANF that are among the toughest in the country. In Congress, Sens. Cory Booker and Raphael Warnock have introduced a bill to repeal the SNAP ban, but there has been no similar effort in Congress to jettison the ban on TANF.
The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization that researches laws and policies relating to restoration of rights and criminal record relief throughout the country, whose work makes it possible to see national patterns and emerging trends in efforts to mitigate the adverse impact of a criminal record. For more information visit https://ccresourcecenter.org/.
ABOUT ARNOLD VENTURES
Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. Driven by a mission to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice, it invests in sustainable change, building it from the ground up based on research, deep thinking, and a strong foundation of evidence. Arnold Ventures is headquartered in Houston, with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. For more information about Arnold Ventures, visit www.arnoldventures.org.