WASHINGTON – Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) on Thursday pressed to expand food-stamp benefits to people who have been barred, saying that such a step will help diminish hunger.
A Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the 2023 Farm Bill focused on family safety nets including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, often referred to as food stamps. Congress must decide how much to spend on SNAP as part of the Farm Bill, which comes up for renewal every five years.
One change Booker and Warnock said they hope to see is an expansion of these benefits to people previously incarcerated for drug-related and non-violent crimes.
Booker told his colleagues that in his other committees, senators have discussed removing barriers for formerly incarcerated people, noting that providing basic food needs is necessary for many reentering society and help prevent the recurrence of crimes.
“Hunger and food insecurity are significant challenges that formerly incarcerated individuals face after release,” Booker said during the hearing. “The SNAP ban is not just one obstacle that diminishes their prospect of having a good life, but it actually increases the chance that they will recidivate.”
Warnock noted legislative decisions have affected people who were convicted of minor offenses during what was called the war on drugs in the 1990s, who served their time and are now still facing repercussions.
“At a time when we understand much more than we did 30 years ago about drug use… those convicted of drug-related felonies are being denied, having paid their debt to society, being denied food assistance,” Warnock said.
Stacey Dean, USDA deputy secretary, said that the Biden administration “enthusiastically” supports removing the ban because it worsens food hardship.
“When an individual is leaving incarceration we want to support successful reentry and denying food undermine that goal,” Dean said.