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Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

Legal Action Center Toolkit: Opting Out of the Federal Ban on Food Stamps and TANF

  • Organization: Legal Action Center
  • Date Created: Tuesday, January 31, 2006
  • Submitted: Tuesday, January 31, 2006
  • Attachment(s): LINK

The Unfair Roadblock: The federal welfare law imposes a lifetime ban on anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving federally funded food stamps and cash assistance (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF). This law prohibits receipt of benefits - for the rest of their lives - even by those individuals who have completed their sentence, overcome an addiction, been gainfully employed but were subsequently laid off, or earned a certificate of rehabilitation or other form of clemency. Denying them food, clothing, and shelter makes it much more difficult for them to support themselves as they leave the criminal justice system and reenter society, and much more likely that they will return to criminal activity and drug use instead of attaining sobriety and gainful employment.

How to Remove the Roadblock: The federal law does give states the option of passing legislation to limit the ban or eliminate it altogether. Given the importance of food stamps and public assistance to individuals leaving prison or jail - enabling them to sustain themselves and their families and obtain needed drug treatment and other essential services - states should "opt out" of, or eliminate, the ban completely, or at least modify it to ensure that those who "do the right thing" can receive life-sustaining benefits.

This tool kit provides materials that advocates can use to seek passage of state laws to "opt out" of or modify the lifetime ban on food stamps and TANF for people with drug-felony convictions.

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