Welfare is a government assistance program for those that have run out of virtually every option. It’s there for those in dire need and has helped hundreds-of-thousands of people survive when things get really bad. But the question is, can felons get welfare? The answer isn’t as clear cut as you’d like, but it’s both a “yes” and a “no”.
The Primary Points Covered in this Article:
- The Welfare Program Today – How It Has Changed
- The Implementation of Welfare Bans: Making Some Changes
- Modifications of Bans
- Where You Can and Cannot Apply for TANF
- Where You Can and Cannot Apply for SNAP
The Welfare Program Today – How It Has Changed
Felons can apply and get welfare in certain states. However, felons with drug convictions may be banned from getting the assistance they need. Many lawmakers in the past believed that individuals convicted of drug trafficking or similar offenses used the food stamps they received and swapped them for drugs.
However, this kind of assistance today is available on an electronic card via the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), thereby making it almost impossible for anyone to make this type of switch. In fact, in 2008, Texas reported that it had not seen any fraud in its current “food stamp” or SNAP program.
The Implementation of Welfare Bans: Making Some Changes
In 1996, when a landmark law on welfare was put into effect, the move was designed to rescind some of the more punitive measures of legislation. These measures included the denial of food stamps and welfare benefits to felons convicted of drug crimes.
Former provisions, as noted, were put into place to prevent the trading or selling of food stamps for drugs. However, large recidivism rates caused state governments to rethink their stance, especially when they faced rising prison costs and high rates of unemployment.
As a result, some lawmakers believe that certain welfare and “food stamp” restrictions can be counterproductive and are encouraging other lawmakers to remove bans. Felons can find it hard to obtain a job even in a good economy. Therefore, lifting imposed welfare bans can be a boon to a felon who is trying to find work or get his or her feet back on the ground after re-entry.
Felons who do not get the chance to apply for welfare can slide back into a mode of economic insecurity, all which makes it all the more stressful to obtain a job. The denial of welfare assistance, according to economists, takes away a felon’s right to basic economic stability. As a result, recidivism can result, especially if economic circumstances causes a felon to return to the use of drugs or a criminal activity.
Certain organizations, such as the H.I.R.E. Network, overseen by the Legal Action Center, work to increase job opportunities for people with criminal records by advocating the end of public policies or employment mandates that penalize felons who have already served time. Due to the influence of groups of the Legal Action Center, some of the states in the U.S. have opted out of banning felons with a drug conviction from gaining welfare assistance.
Currently, one of the states that imposes a food stamp ban is Georgia. In Georgia, the recidivism rate is one of the highest in the nation. Therefore, placing a ban on obtaining public assistance seemingly has it limitations. While children of felons remain eligible for welfare or food stamps, the restrictions placed on felons convicted of drug-related crimes means that the overall benefits are reduced for everyone in the household.
Modifications of Bans
Today, a large number of states allow felons to apply for SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and TANF – the welfare program, which, when spelled out, translates to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Some states have modified their welfare bans for drug felons, making them less punishing. Because the federal government offers monetary assistance for food stamps or SNAP, permitting felons to receive the stamps will not burden or impact state budgets.
The law, Section 115 of Public Law 104-193, or 1996’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (welfare legislation) bars anyone who is convicted of a felony that is drug-related (after August 22, 1996) from the receipt of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or food stamps through SNAP. While states may modify or opt-out of the legal ban, the law has created, in essence, a lifetime ban for drug convictions.
Where You Can and Cannot Apply for TANF
You cannot apply for TANF if you have a felony drug conviction in the following states:
Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.
You can, however, apply for TANF, in the following states:
Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming.
The following states will allow you to apply for TANF, provided you have completed alcohol or drug treatment:
California, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah
In the states of Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota, assistance is offered to felons who have been convicted of possession while a ban is imposed on felons who have been convicted of selling, manufacturing, or drug-trafficking.
In Louisiana and North Carolina, you are eligible to apply for TANF, provided you do nothing to violate the terms of your supervision or are convicted of another crime.
Felons who complete drug-testing requirements and pass are eligible for TANF benefits in the states of Minnesota, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Where You Can and Cannot Apply for SNAP
In addition, Section 115 of 1996’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act prohibits states from supplying food stamps or SNAP benefits to drug felons unless legislation is passed that extends these benefits.
The thirteen states that ban SNAP to drug felons include:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
The District of Columbia and the following states allow drug-convicted felons to apply for SNAP:
Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.
The states below will allow felons to apply for SNAP, provided they meet certain requirements, such as completing an alcohol or drug treatment program:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.