In North Carolina, people with Class G and Class H felony drug convictions are barred access to TANF and SNAP benefits for a minimum of six months. 2 In order to regain eligibility, they must comply with certain requirements, including drug treatment. 3 People with felony drug convictions above Class G are barred access to SNAP and TANF benefits for life. 4

The North Carolina legislature should repeal N.C.G.S. § 108A-25.2 and opt out of the federal
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Doing so will
have the following immediate positive material effects:

● Food-insecurity-related crime will decrease. 5
● People with felony drug convictions will be more economically stable and food-secure. 6

Moreover, aside from the benefit to criminal-justice-involved people, there are many other
reasons to repeal and opt out of banning access to public assistance (hereinafter “the ban”):

The ban increases recidivism7

  • The ban subjects criminal-justice-involved people to collateral consequences that amount
    to extrajudicial punishment.8 The ban takes effect outside of the traditional sentencing
    framework, and as a result operates largely beyond public view, yet has very serious,
    adverse consequences for the individuals affected.
  • The ban blocks access to treatment and social services, which are necessary precursors to economic and social stability. The ban thus creates a systemic revolving door to prison, because people are more likely to reoffend to support themselves and their family.9

The ban is not an effective deterrent to drug use, welfare fraud, or drug crime. 10

  •  Most people are unaware of the civil penalties that result from criminal convictions.
    Survey data suggests that, even if they had known of the ban, drug felons would not have
    been deterred by it—economic necessity and addiction are stronger motivating forces.

The ban is likely to negatively impact public health and safety. 11

  • After almost 30 years of implementation, no state has conducted a study to demonstrate
    any positive outcomes from the ban in comparison to states that have fully opted out.

The ban has a disparate effect on women, children, and communities of color. 12

  • In 2009, 85.9% of adult TANF recipients were women; women are also about twice as
    likely as men to receive SNAP benefits at some point in their lives.
  • In TANF-eligible households with children, the monthly grant allotment is reduced for
    the ineligible parent, a reduction that creates substantial additional hardship on the child.
  • The ban exacerbates racial disparities produced by the “war on drugs.” Black Americans
    are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans, and
    persons sentenced for drug offenses face an even higher rate of unexplained racial
    disparity.13 This translates into disproportionately lower access to food for people of color
    who have been charged with drug felonies as compared to their white counterparts.14

The ban is out of sync with national trends.

  • The majority of states have opted out of the ban. As of August 2021, Washington D.C.,
    the Virgin Islands, and 28 states have fully opted out of the felony SNAP ban; 26 states
    have fully opted out of the felony TANF ban. 15
  • The US Sentencing Commission recently reduced prison terms retroactively for certain
    drug offenses as part of an effort to reduce the federal prison population.16 This suggests
    retributionist collateral punishment like the ban is inappropriate, as these crimes are now
    seen as less blameworthy and less harmful to society.

The ban exacerbates food insecurity caused by the COVID pandemic.

  • Since the beginning of the pandemic, food insecurity has nearly doubled for U.S.
    households with children. 17High unemployment has produced long lines at food banks.
    Interruptions in supply chains have left some shelves empty, and have increased food
    prices elsewhere. School closures made it more difficult for the 30 million children who
    depend on the National School Lunch program to access low-cost or free meals.
    Conclusion

In Conclusion

By making SNAP and TANF benefits accessible to people formerly incarcerated for felony drug
convictions, states will reduce recidivism and decrease burgeoning social costs associated with
recidivism and intergenerational poverty and food insecurity.18

If states want to eliminate food insecurity, reduce incarceration, help people overcome addiction,
and to encourage economic growth in historically marginalized communities, providing tangible
benefits and support is crucial. 19
Food access is a critical component of success among people returning home from prison. People
who have paid their debt to society and who have served their prison sentences should not be
subjected to double punishment. Food access is a fundamental human right.
Every North Carolinian who qualifies for SNAP and TANF assistance should be entitled to
exercise that right. Providing unfettered access to these benefits will provide
criminal-justice-involved people access to the rehabilitation and dignity they deserve.
Now is the time to lift the SNAP felony drug ban in North Carolina.

Footnotes

  1. Rema Hanna, Dispelling the Myth of Welfare Dependency, Harvard University Evidence
    for Policy Design website (2019),
    https://epod.cid.harvard.edu/article/dispelling-myth-welfare-dependency. Originally
    published by Project Syndicate
    https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/the-myth-of-welfare-dependency-by-rema-han
    na-2019-08.
  2. N.C.G.S. § 108A-25.2.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Darrel Thompson and Ashley Burnside, No More Double Punishments: Lifting the Ban
    on SNAP and TANF for People with Prior Felony Drug Convictions, Center for Law and
    Social Policy (CLASP) (2021),
    https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2021/02/2021Aug_No%20More%2
    0Double%20Punishments.pdf
  6. Id.
  7. Id.
  8. Marc Mauer and Virginia Calmont, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony
    Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits, The Sentencing Project (2013),
    https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/A-Lifetime-of-Punishme
    nt.pdf
  9. Claire K. Child, Stephanie A. Clark, Snap Judgments: Collateral Consequences of Felony Drug Convictions for Fed. Food Assistance, 26 Berkeley J. Crim. L. 1, 2 (2021)
  10. Marc Mauer and Virginia Calmont, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony
    Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits, The Sentencing Project (2013),
    https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/A-Lifetime-of-Punishme
    nt.pdf  
  11. Id.
  12.   Id.
  13. Ashley Nellis, The Color of Justice, The Sentencing Project (2021),
    https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparit
    y-in-state-prisons/
  14. Marc Mauer and Virginia Calmont, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony
    Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits, The Sentencing Project (2013),
    https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/A-Lifetime-of-Punishme
    nt.pdf
  15. Darrel Thompson and Ashley Burnside, No More Double Punishments: Lifting the Ban
    on SNAP and TANF for People with Prior Felony Drug Convictions, Center for Law and
    Social Policy (CLASP) (2021),
    https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2021/02/2021Aug_No%20More%2
    0Double%20Punishments.pdf
  16. Crystal S. Yang, Does Public Assistance Reduce Recidivism?, American Economic
    Review: Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 107, No. 5 (2017)
  17. COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbated Food Insecurity, Especially in Families with Children,
    News Release from New York University’s School of Public Health, Sep. 22, 2021 
  18. Claire K. Child, Stephanie A. Clark, Snap Judgments: Collateral Consequences of
    Felony Drug Convictions for Fed. Food Assistance, 26 Berkeley J. Crim. L. 1, 2 (2021)
  19. Id.