Can Felons Get Welfare?

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Living after release from prison is certainly challenging. For some, this may mean some financial assistance, often in the form of some government help or welfare.

The question is whether felons can get welfare. We’ll look at this issue.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the following:

  • What Is Welfare?
  • Qualifications for Welfare
  • SNAP With a Felony?
  • Easing the Restrictions
  • Recommended Action

What Is Welfare?

Just as the name implies, welfare is government-sponsored assistance for individuals and families in need. These include programs such as health care assistance, food stamps, and unemployment compensation.

Some form of welfare has been in existence since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Welfare is usually funded by taxes and administered through the federal and state government. Assistance for these programs typically takes the form of some payment to qualified applicants on a monthly or even twice monthly basis. 

The federal government provides grants to each state through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This was enacted in 1996 to assist those with extreme financial needs.

Welfare can take various forms, including grants, food stamps, vouchers, Medicaid, healthcare, and housing assistance.

The most common form of welfare is aid for food, or food stamps. This is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is a federally funded program that helps millions of low income Americans with nutrition assistance.

This program is run by each individual state and provides vouchers to low-income households to buy food.

Qualifications for Welfare

As you might expect, the qualifications for welfare, whether it is for food stamps (SNAP) or even for direct financial aid, focuses on low-income individuals and families. First, you must have a valid Social Security Number. 

Qualifications look at financial status as compared to the average state levels of income. Depending on your household size and monthly income, the government determines the amount of monthly benefits you can get.

For each family, the amount of the monthly benefits is set aside in an account that is connected to a SNAP benefit card that can be used in the majority of grocery stores. The amount is renewed each month that a family is eligible.

There is a rather strict limit on how long you can remain on this program. The typical length of time for eligibility is for a three-month period in three years.

However, the SNAP guidelines allow this time period to be continued if you meet certain qualifications that are based on work-related criteria.

These stipulations state that if you do not have a disability you must be 18 to 49 and able to provide evidence that you either have a job for at least 80 hours per month or that you are part of an education or work training program for a minimum of 80 hours per month. You must also be compliant with a workfare program.

Then, you must complete an application that requires you to have a state ID or a medical card, birth certificate or other form of ID that has your name on it.

After submitting the application, approval for the SNAP program takes as little as 30 days.

SNAP With a Felony?

While all of that sounds great, can you get food stamps with a felony conviction?

Yes, you can qualify for the food stamp program with a felony offense on your record. However, there are some restrictions that apply.

If you have a drug-related conviction, you may not be eligible for food stamps. With any other type of felony, you will probably qualify.

So, why is there a restriction on drug offenses?

Prior to 1996, felons were not restricted from qualifying for welfare. That changed in 1996 as a reaction to the “war on drugs” that saw a number of policies adopted or adapted to the scene in the U.S. at that time, including the legislation passed under the Clinton Administration.

The concern was that if felons receive welfare in the form of food stamps or a monetary allowance, many of them who were hooked on drugs or involved in dealing drugs would take the food stamps and just trade them for drugs for themselves or to sell.

The other side of the coin that is tough to reconcile or dismiss is that such a large percentage of felons released from prison are considered to not have reliable access to the food they need to survive.

Life after prison is challenging enough without the added burden of worrying about having enough money or food to make it. 

That speaks to the recidivism rate that is so high among felons after prison. As many as 2/3 of felons return to prison within the first two years after their release.

After this legislation was passed, all persons with a drug conviction were not eligible to receive the SNAP benefit.

Easing the Restrictions

Over the years since 1996, many states have gradually eased the restrictions on welfare for felons.

Currently, three states continue to have a permanent ban in place on all felons with a drug-related conviction. These are Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia. 

There are 23 states that have certain restrictions still in place for drug felonies. Mostly, these require drug testing and even proof of completion of a drug rehabilitation program in order to qualify.

These states include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana 
  • Nebraska 
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina 
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah 
  • Virginia 
  • Wisconsin

For felons residing in any of these states, remember that with any other type of felony, it is possible to qualify for SNAP as long as you meet the income and work-related guidelines.

Recommended Action

So, if you are recently out of prison or even if you have been out for a longer time, you must think of the needs of yourself and your family. You must make sure that you don’t remain food challenged.

As long as you meet the qualifications for welfare, it is possible to receive welfare.

Certainly, providing for yourself and your family is important. You want to take care of them.

Don’t let your pride get in your way. If you and your family are in need of food or other welfare assistance, take the time you need to look into the SNAP program in particular.

It is part of leading an honest lifestyle to look for assistance in an appropriate and responsible manner. You have made mistakes, but you don’t need to allow them to continue to hold you back.

Be defined by how you respond to those mistakes, and take care of your family and their needs.

So what do you think about this blog post about whether a felon can get welfare? Have you or someone you know been in that situation? What was that like and what happened? Please tell us in the comments below.

About the author

After earning his MBA from Benedictine University, Ron was looking for a new challenge and stumbled on the idea of helping the formerly incarcerated.

Using what he learned, Ron developed this website as a free resource and has worked with his team​ to continue answering questions for those in need.