Time to Lift the Lifetime Bans on Safety Net Benefits

By Randi Hall

A new brief from CLASP shows how people convicted of a drug-related felony are affected by lifetime bans from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. The lifetime bans, which disproportionately affect people of color because of unequal enforcement of drug laws, disconnect individuals and their families from safety net supports that would aid their transition back to society.

Parents who are arrested for non-violent drug felonies often feel pressured to plead guilty to avoid longer prison sentences that would keep them from their families.  But when they return home to their children, they often have difficulty meeting their basic needs.  Although ex-offenders can apply for safety net benefits for their children, the bans significantly reduce the amount of cash or food assistance received by the whole family and blocks them entirely from other support services.  Individuals denied benefits may also lose access to employment and training programs or child care subsidies.  By removing access to basic resources, lifetime bans harm individuals who have paid their debt to society and are seeking to stabilize their lives and support their families. 

As of August 2014, only eight states had full bans in place for both SNAP and TANF benefits.  Over time, many states have lifted their ban entirely or made modifications, such as applying the ban only to people convicted of selling drugs or allowing individuals to receive benefits after they have completed drug treatment.  Just this year, California lifted its SNAP and TANF bans, while Missouri modified its SNAP ban to require people with drug-related felonies to participate in treatment as a condition of eligibility.

On October 14, The Sentencing Project will host a webinar featuring California and Missouri advocates to highlight the impacts of felony drug bans and discuss political and communications strategies that state advocates and policymakers can use to drive reforms.  For more information and to register for the webinar, click here.