In today’s day and age, it’s hard just to make ends meet. From paying the rent to buying groceries, it might seem like you’re never going to catch a break.
If you’re recently out of prison, things can be even more of a challenge.
Getting back on your feet after your prison stint can be difficult, so you’ll probably be trying to access as many resources as possible. Welfare will more than likely be one of them. The welfare process for felons is different than it is for other people, and it’s just one of the many ways in which your life will change after you’ve been to prison.
Find out if you’re eligible to receive this form of financial assistance – and if so, how to go about it.
What is welfare?
Welfare is a type of governmental assistance to its citizens. This support can be given to any person, regardless of income, and is considered to be a safety net. Welfare can be in the form of food and/or shelter.
U.S. Welfare Benefits
The U.S. federal government provides grants to states with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF includes food stamps, medical insurance, housing, and unemployment. TANF is mainly targeted towards citizens who have low incomes.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is the United States’ federal nutrition program. Through SNAP, qualified applicants can receive food stamps, which can be used as places like the grocery store and gas station.
You can get the following types of food on SNAP:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Poultry, meat, and fish
- Dairy products
- Bread and grains
- Snack foods
- Non-alcoholic drinks
- Seeds and plants that would allow you to grow your own food
Medicaid is a form of health insurance provided by the states and federal government that is given to low-income Americans. Coverage is now available to all low-income Americans under the age of 65 due to the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
State governments can provide their citizens with unemployment benefits. These benefits can be used to pay for any monthly costs the beneficiary needs to be covered until they find employment.
Qualifying for Welfare
In order to get welfare, you have to meet federal (and sometimes state) guidelines. Listed below are some of the common guidelines shared by state governments for welfare assistance:
- U.S. citizen or legal alien
- Low income
- Underemployed, unemployed, or about to become unemployed
To apply for any kind of welfare benefits, you will usually need to submit documentation that shows that you are eligible. You might have to submit pay stubs or proof of unemployment. You will also have to submit proof of citizenship, like a driver’s license or birth certificate. Other requirements vary by state and municipality.
Felons and Welfare
Can I receive welfare as a felon?
Many states, with the exception of a few, have reduced or completely abolished bans of felons accessing TANF benefits in recent years. The following states listed below still have bans on welfare benefits, such as food stamps.
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Are you a felon convicted of a drug-related crime? If so, you may still not be eligible for welfare benefits.
These bans are typically exclusive to drug felons, which is the case in many of the states listed above, as well as 17 others. Drug testing and proof of rehabilitation completion is a requirement for these states. If your felony or misdemeanor is a drug-related case, that may automatically deny you of welfare benefits in your state.
This restriction happened in the 1990s, as felons were able to apply for welfare without any restrictions prior to 1996. The 1996 “War on Drugs” came about due to the assumption that drug addicts would trade their food stamps for drugs.
It may sound odd that people who were convicted of drug-related felonies may not apply for welfare benefits in many states -but those who have convictions for more violent crimes can. Unfortunately, antiquated laws remain in place that make it difficult for people with drug-related felonies to get back on their feet.
Trump’s First Step Act
As mentioned earlier, many states still had bans enacted until the passing of President Trump’s First Step Act. This law’s intent is to enhance criminal justice outcomes and cause a reduction in the size of U.S. prison populations. Other enactments are listed as follows:
- Help in housing assignments
- Good conduct credit for up to 54 days
- Expanding of inmate placement in halfway homes or home confinement
- Greater assistance for felons applying for state and federal benefits
The First Step Act has had a strong influence on states with hefty bans on felons being able to qualify for welfare. Although you still might not qualify, depending on the nature and history of your felony, there’s nothing wrong with applying.
However, it is important to note that now, only seven states have bans on drug felons receiving food stamps. These states include Indiana, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Florida. Most legislators argued in favor of reducing restrictions for drug felons because allowing drug felons to receive federal assistance would make them less likely to veer toward recidivism (the likelihood of committing another crime that would get them sent back to prison).
Most states have been less willing to lift restrictions on other forms of welfare, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or cash assistance. Luckily, there are 11 states that have done so.
Keep yourself apprised of all the updates related to welfare and convicted felons. Things can change quickly – particularly with new legislators and lawmakers in office – and those changes can make a world of difference for you and your family.
How to Apply for Food Stamps as a Felon
If you’re interested in applying for food stamps or some other form of welfare as a felon, you should contact your local SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) office. You can find local offices, along with your state’s unique application, on the USDA national map of services.
They are also listed in the local government or state government pages of your phone book. Often, they can be found under “food stamps,” “social services,” “public assistance,” and “human services.”
Each state has its own application form and different requirements. Don’t call the federal offices with your questions about food stamps. Because the requirements vary so much from state to state, they might not be able to give you much helpful information. Do keep in mind, for tax and other reporting purposes, though, that SNAP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Program.
For a household of one, the income limit is usually $1,354 (gross income, not net). For two people, that income limit is $1,832, while for three, it’s $2,311. Remember, your gross income is what you’re bringing in before taxes and other garnishments are taken out. Your net income is lower. The eligibility limit for one person is $1,041, while for two people, it is $1,410. For three people, it is $1,778.
When you apply, remember that it’s not just you that counts when you are applying. Anyone who lives together and prepares and purchases meals together counts as a single SNAP household. Most children and spouses are included in the same SNAP household. You are not eligible for SNAP benefits if an institution gives you most of your meals (like at a halfway house).
However, there are certain exceptions in place if you are elderly or disabled. If you meet either of these conditions, be sure to look into the intricacies in your state.
You won’t know if you’re eligible until you try! Worst case scenario, you’ll be denied – but best case, you’ll spend a few hours of your time and be rewarded with the help you need to get you through these trying times.
Don’t be afraid to still apply for benefits. This is especially important for felons who have families to support at home. Having welfare benefits can help a felon fresh out of prison significantly. Don’t be too prideful to apply for SNAP and other benefits because you may feel less than. They are available to you, so you should feel free to use them if you think you might be eligible.
And in the meantime? If you’re struggling to find work or to stay employed with your history of a felony, consider checking out this link. You’ll get all the help you need to stay afloat in this trying time.