When convicted felons are released from prison, reassimilating into regular American life is one of the toughest challenges they face. The longer they were incarcerated and the more serious the crime, the worse this is. People may shun them and employers may refuse to hire them. This causes many Americans who are released to struggle financially despite their best efforts to make an honest living.
Some are able to lean on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other welfare benefits until they get back on their feet, but that depends on the state they live in. PBS reports that more than 20 years ago, a federal law passed to prevent access to food stamps and welfare when people had felony drug convictions. Since then, many states have loosened laws to reduce this, but some others hold fast to the original ruling.
In 2016, West Virginia was one of seven states that had yet to relax the law. Some of the others included Nebraska, Mississippi, Arizona, Indiana and South Carolina. While most states acknowledge that food is a basic human need, others remain hesitant about offering cash assistance. Only D.C. and less than a dozen states had lifted the ban for convicted felons at the time the PBS article was written.
Fast-forward to 2020 and some changes have taken place. By spring of last year, West Virginia Metro News reported that some residents would become eligible for food stamps and other benefits even with a felony drug conviction. Unfortunately, people whose felony charges meet the following criteria are still ineligible:
- Related to SNAP fraud
- Resulted in the injury of another person
- Led to the loss of life
In 2016, West Virginia apparently denied 2,100 applications from people who had felony drug charges on their records. As of spring 2019, when the ban partially lifted, 15,000 additional West Virginians became eligible for SNAP benefits.