On Saturday Alabama joined most U.S. states by allowing people with a past felony drug conviction to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, as well as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance, according to a news release by Alabama Arise.
The lifetime ban on SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, and TANF benefits for drug offenders grew out of a 1996 federal welfare reform law enacted by former President Bill Clinton, though the law does allow states to request a waiver.
Though most other states requested a waiver before, Alabama included reinstating the benefits in a 2015 prison reform law sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) with a floor amendment offered by Sen. Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham).
Restrictions still apply to drug offenders seeking benefits, including the completion of their sentence and probation requirements. Further, persons with a drug offense in the past five years may be required to pass a drug test to receive TANF benefits.
People previously denied Snap or TANF benefits because of a drug offense can apply at a local Department of Human Resources office after Monday. Further, households already receiving benefits but have a household member not included because of a drug conviction can report the “newly eligible person” to the household’s caseworker.
“The end of Alabama’s SNAP and TANF bans is good news for state budget and for families,” the Arise news release said. “The policy change will help cut corrections costs in the cash-strapped General Fund budget by making it easier for released prisoners to reintegrate into the community, which will help reduce recidivism. Importantly, restoring SNAP and TANF benefits also will help prevent hunger and homelessness among some of Alabama’s most vulnerable families.”
Officials with Alabama Arise estimate that 30,000 to 80,000 Alabamians would become eligible for SNAP benefits under the change, with TNF benefits being harder to monitor because they are more difficult to secure.
Both programs are funded by federal dollars, so the influx of new beneficiaries will add no new costs to the state.