Senate passes bill to end Alabama’s lifetime SNAP, TANF bans for people with felony drug conviction

People convicted of a drug-related felony could regain their eligibility for food assistance or cash welfare benefits in Alabama under a bill that the state Senate passed 18-8 Thursday. SB 303, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, moves to the House.

SB 303 would allow otherwise eligible people to receive food assistance or cash welfare benefits even if they have a prior felony drug conviction, as long as they have completed their sentence or are complying with their probation terms, including court-ordered drug treatment. The Senate amended the bill Thursday to say its provisions would expire in three years unless lawmakers renew them.

Alabama is one of 10 states where people convicted of a drug felony face a lifetime eligibility ban under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Alabama also is one of 12 states to apply a similar ban to benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The bans apply even to people with a decades-old offense.

Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, said SB 303 could help people as they try to overcome a drug addiction and become productive workers. “It’s important to encourage people and try to give them support to be able to make good personal decisions,” Pittman said. “People who have paid their debt … will be able to get modest amounts of money that hopefully will get them on a better path.”

Other legislation affecting SNAP, TANF recipients also wins Senate approval

The Senate’s action Thursday came one day after the chamber voted 25-4 for a bill that would require drug testing for TANF applicants who had a drug conviction in the last five years. The Department of Human Resources (DHR) would pay for initial drug tests under SB 63, as well as any later required tests that the applicant passes. The bill would allow someone else to receive benefits on behalf of other family members if an applicant fails two or more drug tests. The provisions of SB 63, sponsored by Pittman, would expire in 2017 unless reauthorized.

People would have to apply for at least three jobs before applying for TANF under legislation the Senate passed 25-6 Wednesday. SB 115’s sponsor, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, amended the bill at Alabama Arise’s suggestion. One change would ensure that a TANF’s applicant’s cohabiting partner must have a legal obligation to support the applicant’s children before that partner’s income would count in determining TANF eligibility. The other change deleted an obligation for TANF recipients to continue applying for three jobs every week to stay eligible. Instead, recipients would have to comply with DHR’s requirements for job search preparation, education and other employment activities.

TANF recipients could not use EBT cards in bars, liquor stores, casinos, tattoo parlors and adult entertainment establishments under SB 116, sponsored by Orr. The bill, which the Senate passed 25-0 Wednesday, also would prohibit using TANF benefits to buy alcohol or tobacco.

DHR could not continue to request waivers of federal SNAP work requirements for able-bodied, working-age adults with no dependents under a bill that senators passed 25-5 Wednesday. SB 87, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, could limit Alabama’s ability to provide SNAP benefits to some single adults during economic downturns or after natural disasters. The bill that passed in the Senate is far narrower than the original version was.

SB 303 and the other proposals will be among the bills awaiting House consideration when lawmakers return Tuesday for the 20th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.

By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst. Communications director Chris Sanders contributed to this report. Posted Feb. 27, 2014.