The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony March 15 on a bill that would remove the state’s lifetime ban on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility for individuals with certain drug-related convictions.
Under current Nebraska law, individuals with three or more felony convictions for the use or possession of a controlled substance, and individuals with one or more felony convictions involving the sale or distribution of a controlled substance, are ineligible to receive SNAP benefits. Individuals with one or two felony convictions for the possession or use of a controlled substance are eligible only if they are participating in an approved treatment program.
LB88, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would remove the lifetime ban and allow individuals with felony convictions of a controlled substance to receive SNAP benefits if they have completed their sentence or are serving a term of parole, probation or post-release supervision — which includes drug treatment.
Hunt said the current ban on SNAP eligibility does not apply for any other criminal conviction. She said 24 other states have opted to remove the lifetime ban and called Nebraska’s law “selectively moralistic.”
“When people reenter society after time in a correctional facility, their first and most basic need is food,” Hunt said. “For many, it takes time to get established with housing and a career — none [of which] can happen for a person who’s going hungry.”
Spike Eickholt from the ACLU of Nebraska spoke in support of LB88, saying a Harvard study showed recidivism rates among convicted drug felons in states that have ended the lifetime ban fell by nearly 10 percent in the first year.
“This is a component of some of the reentry reforms that we need to have in this state,” he said.
Eickholt also noted that 943 SNAP applications were denied in Nebraska in the last three years due to a disqualifying drug conviction. That is a significant number of people who otherwise would be eligible, he said, many of whom have dependents at home.
Proponent Kayla Tobey shared her experience as a Nebraskan ineligible to receive SNAP benefits due to past drug convictions. Tobey said the ban does nothing to help individuals like her whose felonies occurred over 17 years ago.
“We keep getting punished for our crimes after serving our time,” Tobey said. “We need to help people get back on their feet, and access to food is a big part of that.”
Testifying in opposition to the proposal was Shannon Grotrian, interim deputy director of the state Department of Health and Human Services Division of Children and Family Services. She said removing the substance abuse treatment requirement for SNAP eligibility would be counterproductive.
“The department is supportive of those striving to overcome substance addiction and believes completing treatment is one of the ways to do this,” Gotrian said. “The goal of the treatment requirement is to help individuals return to productive functioning within their family, workplace and community.”
The committee took no immediate action on LB88.