Despite the documented failure of the “War on Drugs”, many states, including Florida, continue to impose restrictions on eligibility for public benefits on those who have felony drug convictions. Research has demonstrated these restrictions or bans do little to prevent drug use and may actually increase crime and recidivism rates.
Restrictions on public benefits for drug felony convictions
As a part of the failed “War on Drugs”, former President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1994 that provided a lifetime ban on those with felony drug convictions from accessing certain public benefits, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). TANF provides nominal monthly cash support to needy families with children, and SNAP provides money for food assistance formerly known as food stamps.
States were allowed to opt out of the federal ban. However, many states still have restrictions or outright bans in place. In Florida, individuals with felony drug convictions can’t be denied for TANF unless their convictions were for drug trafficking. However, they must meet substance abuse treatment requirements imposed by the TANF program to receive benefits. However, the state’s Department of Children and Families has taken the position that those with felony drug convictions are restricted from both TANF and SNAP benefits even though the law states otherwise, raising another collateral consequence faced by people with drug charges to think about.
These types of state laws are unduly punitive and prevent needy people from accessing the benefits they require to make ends meet. When someone is paroled from prison, they might be at a point at which they are the neediest. Cutting off someone’s ability to access food assistance and monthly TANF benefits might lead them to turn to alternative means to try to make ends meet, including crime. States that have these types of laws should rethink their positions and consider rescinding the restrictions.