Senate committee approves bill that would allow drug felons to get food stamp benefits

Indiana one of only four states that has ban

INDIANAPOLIS--  The Senate Committee on Family and Children Services voted 7-0 Thursday in favor of legislation that would lift a ban on Hoosiers with certain drug felony convictions from receiving food stamp benefits.

Fifteen groups testified in support of Senate Bill 11 Thursday afternoon, including Goodwill, United Way, MidWest Food Bank, Indiana Institute for Working Families, Indiana Catholic Conference and the Indiana Township Association.

The Indiana Township Association testified drug felons turned away from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) often end up asking township trustees for financial assistance, which comes out of your property tax dollars.

“This (bill) would give us some relief,” said Debbie Driskell, executive director at the Indiana Township Association.

Currently, Indiana is one of just four states that prohibits individuals with a prior drug felony conviction from receiving SNAP, even if they are otherwise eligible.

“Food security will increase public safety,” testified Greg Keesling, president of RecycleForce, a nonprofit that helps felons with employment. “We can reduce crime with a tiny bit more food security.”

Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) filed Senate Bill 11, which would require the SNAP recipient successfully complete probation, parole, community corrections or other post conviction monitoring program.

Currently, about 636,500 individuals are on SNAP in Indiana.

Supporters said it would reduce the risk of offenders re-offending and save taxpayers money.

“This would move more individuals to sustainability rather than reliance on government subsidies,” said Tim Brown with Indy Chamber. 

Supporters said for every $5 spent on SNAP, another $9.20 goes back into the economy, totaling about $27.5 million in economic impact for the state.

“Additionally we believe this will reduce recidivism in an extremely cost effective way,” said Jessica Fraser, director of the Indiana Institute for Working Families. “The monthly cost to incarcerate an adult in 2016 was $1660, while the monthly benefit per recipient on SNAP is only $118.”

The Indiana Catholic Conference emphasized this applies to people who have done their time.

“We believe that persons who have paid their debt and are attempting to rectify their past mistakes should be given the opportunity to prove themselves and be eligible for support to affirm their human dignity,” said Glenn Tebbe with the Indiana Catholic Conference.

No one spoke in opposition of the bill.

Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem) said she previously had concerns about the legislation, but she voted yes.

Supporters told Call 6 Investigates an amendment was added to emphasize drug felons will not be eligible if they violate their parole, and could become eligible if they come back into compliance with the terms of their post-conviction program.

The Indiana Institute for Working Families estimates that people with prior felony conviction earn on average only, $11,000 a year, that's an average monthly wage deficit of $627.  

The bill will now go onto a second reading.

If passed into law, the change would take effect January 1, 2019.

In 2016, Call 6 Investigates found dozens of Hoosiers receiving SNAP that did not appear to need the benefits.

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