Thousands of people with previous drug convictions in Alabama are now eligible for benefits such as food stamps.
Beginning in February, those with felony drug convictions previously denied access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program can reapply, AL.com reports.
If they meet eligibility requirements, they will be allowed to receive assistance. Requirements for TANF include passing a drug test if convicted within the past five years.
"The end of Alabama's SNAP and TANF ban is good news for state budgets and for families," Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst for ARISE Citizens Policy Project, told AL.com. "The policy change will help cut corrections cost in the cash-strapped General Fund budget by making it easier for released prisoners to reintegrate into the community, which will help reduce [relapse into criminal behavior]."
In 1996, federal law mandated individuals with drug convictions not ever receive either SNAP and TANF benefits.
Many states sought to override this ban with their own laws. Alabama lifted its ban after a comprehensive prison reform bill was passed in 2015.
Alabama was the 40th state to lift the ban, according to WSBT, and Indiana may soon also follow suit. The state’s legislature is debating over a new bill that would allow those with drug convictions to receive assistance.
"It's hard enough as a felon to get a job," Therese Morales, a social worker for Hope Ministries, told WSBT. "There's no money to feed me. What do you think they're going to do? You're going to fall back on what you know."
About nine years ago, Morales was imprisoned for selling cocaine. And while she was able to get a job, she says that her life as a social worker doesn’t pay enough for her to support her family.
"Without the food stamps, I couldn't afford a lot of things," Morales said.
"There was a lot of times I had to eat stuff that I shouldn't have just so that [I could eat]," she added.