Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
May 18, 2023 – Washington, D.C. – Today, the RESTORE Act–legislation that would immediately repeal the lifetime federal ban on individuals with felony drug convictions from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and in the House by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) with Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL) as a cosponsor. Initial Senate co-sponsors include Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN).
In response, Grant Smith, Deputy Director of the Office of Federal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, released the following statement:
“Everyone should be able to access basic needs, especially food, regardless of felony drug convictions. As Congress takes up reauthorization of the Farm Bill and the federal food stamp program known as SNAP, it must include the RESTORE Act to repeal the lifetime ban on people with felony drug convictions. This incredibly foolish and cruel law denies people critical assistance getting food for themselves and their families simply because of a past drug conviction.
“This ban continues to be a painful reminder of the extensive harm Congress inflicted on communities–especially Black, Latinx, Indigenous and low-income communities–with the ‘tough on crime policies of the 80s and 90s. They gave no thought to the generations of harm this senseless policy would wreak on families and passed this ban after only two minutes of debate in 1996.
“Many people face poverty and food insecurity following release from incarceration. By denying help with food, the lifetime SNAP ban is counterproductive to successful reentry and efforts to reduce recidivism. It also disproportionately harms women and people of color, who are statistically more likely to be convicted of a felony drug violation. And it perpetuates stigma against people who use drugs, which can deter them from seeking treatment and emergency help for overdoses.
“Congress has worked in recent years on a bipartisan basis to repeal counterproductive lifetime consequences of a conviction, such as this, that undermine successful reentry. We urge Congress to once again take action to repeal the lifetime SNAP drug felony ban by including the RESTORE Act in this year’s Farm Bill.”
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ):
“Denying individuals food assistance based on past drug convictions serves no public safety purpose and only perpetuates cycles of hunger, poverty, addiction, and recidivism,” said Senator Booker. “We know that when people receive SNAP assistance, they are better able to successfully reenter their communities after incarceration and not return to the criminal justice system. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the RESTORE Act, which would repeal this harmful SNAP ban and reduce recidivism.”
Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN):
“Thousands of people released from state and federal prisons each year re-enter society and find significant challenges, including lifetime bans on receiving food assistance. The RESTORE Act would repeal the 1996 ban on people with drug felony convictions receiving SNAP, and it would allow them to apply for the program before their release so that they can meet their basic needs on day one, reducing the likelihood of recidivism and increasing the quality of life for people hoping to reintegrate into their communities. I am pleased to be working with Congressman Rutherford and Senators Booker and Warnock on this needed reform.”
The Drug Policy Alliance has been leading federal advocacy efforts to repeal the lifetime federal ban on individuals convicted of a drug felony from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In 1996, Congress imposed the lifetime SNAP ban as a part of the welfare legislation signed by President Clinton. Although states can opt-out of enforcing this ban, state policymakers must affirmatively do so, and 22 states continue to limit SNAP eligibility for people with felony drug convictions. The RESTORE (Re-Entry Support Through Opportunities for Resources and Essentials) Act fully repeals this federal ban and eliminates the ability of states to continue to deny SNAP eligibility due to a felony drug conviction. The legislation also codifies a USDA administrative waiver to SNAP state agencies that allows individuals to apply for SNAP 30 days prior to their release from incarceration.
This lifetime ban disproportionately harms women who are incarcerated for drug crimes at higher rates than men as well as people of color disproportionately targeted by drug enforcement and incarcerated at much higher rates for drug crimes than whites. Individuals made ineligible by the ban already struggle to find and maintain employment because of a criminal record. Research has shown that newly released individuals are extremely likely to experience food insecurity. Barring access to basic nutritional assistance as individuals return to communities undermines successful transition to the community following involvement in the criminal legal system, especially now during this time of national crisis. Repealing the drug felony ban enables returning individuals to focus on securing employment and housing during this difficult time rather than having to figure out how they will put food on the table for themselves and their family.
The Drug Policy Alliance previously released a report, The Drug War Obstructs Public Benefits—as part of its Uprooting the Drug War initiative—detailing the way drug war policies have restricted access to public benefits.