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Six States Where Felons Can’t Get Food Stamps

Few holdouts remain, as drug-war-era bans on benefits are lifted.

For almost two decades, Alabama residents convicted of a drug-related felony were barred for life from receiving food stamps or welfare payments. Starting this month, the ban will officially be lifted.

Alabama is not the only state that is backing away from the ban, which was established in 1996 under President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform law and blocks only drug offenders from receiving assistance, not any other felons.

Eighteen states have completely abandoned the federal prohibition on drug offenders receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps. Twenty-six other states have partly eased those restrictions, often by providing the benefits only if the recipient complies with parole, does not commit a second offense, enrolls in treatment, etc. At least three more states — Georgia, Nebraska, and Indiana — are now considering similar reforms.

Only six states continue to fully enforce the War on Drugs-era ban. Here’s a state-by-state look:

The state of food stamps for drug felons
Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts, Legal Action Center

States have been somewhat less willing to lift the ban on drug offenders receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), otherwise known as welfare. Thirteen states continue to fully prohibit anyone with a drug-related conviction from getting welfare benefits, and 23 others maintain a partial ban.

The state of welfare for drug felons
Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts, Legal Action Center

Unlike food stamps, which are paid for in full by the federal government, welfare is partly funded by the states. That means it is significantly more expensive for states to expand access to welfare, which may be part of the reason this ban has been slower to fall.