SNAP benefits

INDIANAPOLIS — In the wake of an ongoing drug epidemic in Indiana, some people previously convicted of drug crimes will be eligible for food stamps for the first time.

Indiana was one of just four states in the U.S. to permanently ban people with drug convictions from receiving benefits from SNAP, commonly known as food stamps.

The bill was approved back in the 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly, but the change wasn’t scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2020.

Instead of what effectively became a lifetime ban from benefits, the law now allows for people who have successfully completed their sentence or are currently in compliance with post-conviction monitoring such as probation, parole or community corrections to receive SNAP benefits.

But if the person violates the terms of his or her release, SNAP eligibility is taken away.

“Individuals who have a drug felony will be asked to sign and complete a form attesting to their current status,” according to an advisory put out by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. “The state form will be provided to the client by DFR at the time of the interview. The form will not be distributed to the public. If the individual fails to return the form at all, they will be considered ineligible until the completed form is submitted. If turned in at a later date, the form will be processed as a case change.”

FSSA Communications Director Jim Gavin said he couldn’t know how many Hoosiers might benefit from the change, but noted that the department sent self-attestation forms to currently ineligible drug felons connected to current SNAP cases, which totaled about 4,000 individuals.

In the four-county area, 3,867 households were enrolled in SNAP benefits as of November 2019, the most recent data available from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The average household benefit for those families was around $245 per month.

About 258,000 Hoosier households receive SNAP. That numbers has fallen off considerably from 10 years ago, when about 341,500 households were receiving benefits in January 2010 in the midst of the Great Recession.

SNAP benefits can be used to purchase most items at the grocery store including both fresh and processed foods. SNAP cannot be used to purchase items such as alcohol or tobacco products, vitamins and supplements, ready-to-eat hot foods, or non-food items such as pet food, toiletries, cosmetics or other household items.

The ban on SNAP benefits for drug convictions has been in place since federal welfare reform was adopted in 1996, but the law allows states to opt out of the provision.

Many states had pulled back on enforcement years ago, but Indiana was one of just a handful of straggling states that hadn’t opted out.

Advocates of drug rehabilitation had labeled the SNAP ban as counterproductive to the goal of returning drug offenders to normal life. Since people with felony convictions may have a harder time finding employment, or finding good employment with a good wage, denying offenders SNAP could actually have the effective of driving impoverished people to re-offend.

The change in Indiana comes at a time where the federal government is slashing funding for SNAP.

A recent rule change approved by President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to reduce SNAP funding by $4.2 billion over the next five years.

The rule change is expected to cause 700,000 people nationally to lose benefits. Approximately 36 million Americans — about 11% of the total population — receive SNAP benefits to help bolster their pantry.

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