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WV Law Praised for Lifting Ban on SNAP Benefits

Until lifting it last week, West Virginia was one of only three states to maintain a ban on accessing SNAP benefits for people with drug felony convictions. (WV Center on Budget and Policy)
Until lifting it last week, West Virginia was one of only three states to maintain a ban on accessing SNAP benefits for people with drug felony convictions. (WV Center on Budget and Policy)
May 28, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Recovering addicts say a change in West Virginia food-assistance rules will help them stay clean and out of trouble. Last week, a new law went into effect allowing people with drug felony convictions to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

Nakesha Cabbell said she's staying sober now after serving a sentence for delivery of a controlled substance. She said the change this is going to make in her life is fairly straight-forward.

"Well, I wouldn't have to break any laws to try to put food in my stomach. It's pretty transparent,” Cabbell said. “I wouldn't have to fall back into old addict behaviors, which could cause me to relapse and go back to prison again, to try to put food on the table."

The ban on felons getting SNAP benefits was the result of a 1990s welfare-reform movement intended to be tough on crime - part of the broader war on drugs. The Legislature passed House Bill 2459 lifting the ban, during the last regular session. West Virginia had been one of only three states that still had the rule in place.

Lida Shepherd, program director with the American Friends Service Committee, said the recovering addicts she hears from say much the same thing. She said most of them are poor and have trouble getting work with a felony conviction on their record. She said they have to fight to stay away from bad habits.

"This helps them stay clean. This actually helps as a crime deterrent,” Shepherd said. “In West Virginia in particular, I think it's incredibly important because so many people have caught a drug felony."

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, more than 2,000 West Virginians were denied SNAP benefits in 2016 because of a drug felony conviction.

Information on benefits available for residents of West Virginia is available here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV