Michigan could lift ban on food assistance for drug felons


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The lifetime ban from receiving food benefits for those with more than one drug-related felony conviction could be lifted under a bill that passed the Michigan Senate on Wednesday.

The current law punishes offenders long after they’ve served their sentences and increases the chance they will commit more crimes, according to supporters of the legislation. Federal law allows states to permanently ban residents with drug-related felonies from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

The bill now goes to the House. If signed into law, Michigan would join 26 other states in lifting the ban, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy, which supports the bill.

Drug users can’t rehabilitate without access to a healthy meal, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat, said in a media release.

“Holding food assistance out of reach as a way to continue penalizing those who have already served their sentence is unnecessarily cruel,” Ananich said. “Instead of keeping people down for life, we should be making sure they have opportunities to recover and get their feet underneath them.”

The coronavirus pandemic and unemployment it’s caused has amplified the need to change the law, said Alex Rossman, Michigan League external affairs director. He said the bill would help reverse some of the harm of U.S.’s war on drugs, which perpetuated a cycle of incarceration that disproportionately impacted minorities and people with mental health challenges or disabilities.

“You look at the challenges and individual faces when they return home after incarceration and getting on solid footing, finding a place to live in, finding a job and being able to put food on their table for their families,” Rossman said. “The severity of a lifetime ban in any regard, certainly in relation to food assistance essentially continues to punish an individual after they’ve served their sentence for their actual crime.”

Rossman estimates that 10,000 people with more than one drug felony would benefit from a change in the law and that positive impact would also help families since 61% of SNAP participants are in families with children.

The Michigan Legislature, in partnership with the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, repealed the ban with the 2021 budget, which takes effect Thursday. The new legislation would make it permanent.

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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