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Palm Beach Daily News

Restore rights to food assistance

By Palm Beach Post,


With the recent announcement that President Joe Biden will convene a food insecurity conference this year, this issue is at the forefront of the public consciousness. But under Florida law, some people cannot access the assistance they need to keep food on the table.

An outdated law bans people with drug trafficking convictions from participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

In Palm Beach County, SNAP provides monthly assistance to 144,554 people to buy groceries, while TANF provides cash assistance to 932 families with children to help pay for necessities, like diapers and utility bills. Statewide the average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $127; TANF averages $239 per month for a family. Both programs require that many participants work or be in an education or training program, depending on their circumstances. Only people with very low income can receive TANF or SNAP.

Although a bill to repeal the state’s lifetime ban on receiving assistance was filed with bipartisan support during the 2022 legislative session, it was never heard in committee, even though it costs Florida millions of dollars to keep the law on the books. A study looking at the law says that, by 2017, the ban on receipt of SNAP had already cost Florida more than $70 million due to high re-arrest rates. After all, people who are hungry or unable to meet the basic needs of their children have more difficulty reintegrating into their communities, which increases their likelihood to re-offend and return to prison.

Reducing recidivism is not the only benefit of opening SNAP and TANF. Besides giving people a meaningful shot at a second chance, these programs go a long way to improve health and reduce poverty. Denying food and cash assistance under this ban also disproportionately affects people of color, because of uneven enforcement of Florida drug laws. Black individuals make up almost half (47 percent) of incarcerated individuals in Florida yet only 17 percent of the state population.

People released from prison face enough barriers, like finding work, housing and transportation, without having to worry about how to put food on the table or keep a child in diapers. That’s why at least 18 states have lifted or modified similar bans since 2015, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

Our state should follow suit in 2023. Florida needs to be serious about its commitment to providing critical support to people re-entering their communities. We will all be better off.

Cindy Huddleston is a senior policy analyst & attorney at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute.

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