Testimony in Support of HB 1777 – Opting Out of Ban on SNAP Benefits for Returning Citizens

Date: January 31st, 2024
To: Representative Rudy Viet, Chairman, and Members of the House Committee on Corrections and Public Institutions
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
RE: Support for HB 1777

As the largest and oldest anti-poverty non-profit in our state, Empower Missouri is committed to improving the quality of life for all Missouri residents through advocacy. Since our inception, Empower Missouri has focused on the criminal justice system and its impacts. Our Community Justice Coalition consists of community advocates and organizations from across the state who work with those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Many coalition members are formerly incarcerated or have currently incarcerated loved ones, and all are connected by a vision for a future without mass incarceration.

We are providing testimony today in support of HB 1777, sponsored by Representative Perkins, which would opt Missouri out of an optional Federal provision- a provision that many other states have already opted out of. This bill would also offer protections for incarcerated pregnant individuals, something we wholeheartedly support.

Currently in Missouri, in most cases, when someone has a drug felony on their record, even after they have served their time and are now trying to return and become a productive member of society, they are unable access the support of the SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides support for the most basic of human needs, food, for the rest of their lives. When originally passed, this federal law was intended to be a get-tough-on-crime measure, but it has failed to consider the reality of addiction or the notion of second chances. 29 other states, including Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Florida, have opted out of this federal law and extended SNAP benefits to those with old drug felonies, and it is time for Missouri to join their ranks. According to a report released by the nonprofit Collateral Consequences Resource Center, Missouri has “one of the nation’s most stringent bans for receiving SNAP benefits.”

The current ban means that people who have served their time, trying to succeed and become productive members of society can not access this vital basic needs support. It is well known that those returning from prison need support to succeed; they have a more difficult time obtaining employment and housing. Helping them with a basic necessity such as food will help reduce recidivism and support them in their success. When transitioning from jail or prison, people with convictions often face levels of food insecurity far higher than the general public. Ninety-one percent of people released from prison reported they experience food insecurity, according to the National Institutes of Health. One recent study found that access to SNAP and TANF significantly reduced an individual’s risk of being reincarcerated by up to 10 percent.

This old law is not helping anyone. It is increasing recidivism, hurting individuals and families and not offering folks a second chance. Empower Missouri urges this committee to take action to pass HB 1777 into law. Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.

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