TOPEKA — Despite being 1,230 days clean, Andy Hubbard, a self-professed addict and a three-time felon, cannot receive food assistance benefits in Kansas.
The state prohibits any persons convicted of a felony drug offense from being able to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Hubbard offered his journey Wednesday as an example to House lawmakers, noting how he would spend many days eating a single meal after working a full shift on an empty stomach.
Hunger does not stop drug possession or addiction, but it can incite irrational decisions leading to the opposite, Hubbard said.
“We know the lack of food becomes a mental health issue,” he said. “Stand up. Say that every Kansan, no matter where they are in this journey called life, that they are deserving of access to food.”
House Bill 2215, under consideration in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, would repeal this ban. The measure would also remove SNAP requirements related to drug testing or drug-related convictions.
According to Department for Children and Families estimates, the passage of the bill would increase the food assistance caseload by an average of 50 per month. The current average monthly caseload for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is approximately 95,000.
Food assistance benefits paid to individuals are 100% federally funded, so benefits paid would have no fiscal effect on the state.
According to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, federal law has prevented anyone with a state or federal felony drug conviction — even a simple possession conviction — from receiving SNAP benefits since 1996. Since then, every state but one has exercised the option to opt-out of the ban either in whole or in part.
Although Kansas is among the 18 states that have partially opted out of the full federal ban, the modified ban implemented in its place is among the strictest in the country.
“For an individual to successfully reintegrate into society, it requires a person to be able to secure basic needs such as housing, employment, food and health care, yet they always seem like the biggest hurdles,” said Marquetta Atkins, executive director of Destination Innovation Inc., which oversees the juvenile justice program Progeny. “Denial of basic needs creates barriers that inhibit people from getting back on the right track and becomes a catalyst for recidivism.”
Atkins noted the National Institutes of Health estimates 91% of people released from prison face food insecurity. In her work with Progeny, she created an emergency fund for young people affected by the system to have access to money for basic needs, including food.
Hunger puts youth into survival mode, survival mode leads to risk-taking, and those risks typically lead to reincarceration, Atkins said.
In a statement to the legislative panel, Black Lives Matter Topeka said the policy disproportionately affects communities of color.
“These types of purchases are the way people correct the paths of their lives,” the group stated. “For people who have histories of chemical use, abuse and dependency, freeing up resources to make these types of investments can have transformational impact.”
Steven Greene, with Opportunity Solutions Project, was the only person to testify in opposition to the measure. He noted exceptions to the law already exist if an individual submits to a drug-testing plan.
Greene said the Opportunity Solutions Project could not support the bill for effectively providing blanket assistance without requiring the completion of a treatment program.
“We believe it is important for policymakers to consider the importance of work and treatment-related requirements as a condition to receiving public assistance,” Greene said.