2014 legislative update: Alabama House could vote next week on bill to end lifetime SNAP, TANF bans for people with felony drug conviction

The Alabama House could vote as soon as Tuesday on a bill that would allow people convicted of a drug-related felony to regain eligibility for food assistance or cash welfare benefits. A House committee Wednesday approved the bill, which the Senate passed last month. SB 303, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, awaits consideration by the full House.

SB 303 would allow people convicted of a drug-related felony to regain eligibility for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if they successfully comply with their conditions of probation or parole and are otherwise eligible for assistance. The bill’s provisions would expire in three years unless lawmakers renew them.

Alabama is one of 10 states where people convicted of a drug felony face a lifetime SNAP eligibility ban. Alabama is also one of 12 states to apply a similar ban to TANF benefits. The bans apply even to people with a decades-old offense.

Other legislation affecting SNAP, TANF recipients also wins House committee approval

The House State Government Committee also approved a bill Wednesday to require drug testing for TANF applicants who had a drug conviction in the last five years. The Department of Human Resources (DHR) would pay for initial drug tests under SB 63, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, as well as any later required tests that the applicant passes. The bill would allow someone else to receive benefits on behalf of other family members if an applicant fails two or more drug tests. As with SB 303, SB 63’s provisions would expire in three years unless reauthorized.

People would have to apply for at least three jobs before applying for TANF in Alabama under another bill that won committee approval Wednesday. SB 115, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was amended in the Senate at Alabama Arise’s suggestion to ensure that a TANF’s applicant’s cohabiting partner must have a legal obligation to support the applicant’s children before that partner’s income would count in determining TANF eligibility. SB 115 also would order recipients to comply with DHR’s requirements for job search preparation, education and other employment activities.

TANF recipients could not use EBT cards in bars, liquor stores, casinos, tattoo parlors and adult entertainment establishments under SB 116, which the committee endorsed Wednesday. SB 116, sponsored by Orr, also prohibits using TANF benefits to buy alcohol or tobacco.

The House committee Wednesday also approved a new version of SB 87, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville. The substitute bill would prohibit DHR from seeking a statewide waiver to provide extended SNAP benefits to able-bodied, childless adults. However, the bill would allow DHR to continue to seek local waivers in counties with extremely high unemployment rates.

The new SB 87 would authorize DHR to seek a federal waiver to participate in a pilot program to develop and test employment and training programs for SNAP participants. It also would require the department to implement a work and training program for SNAP recipients.

SB 303 and the other proposals will be among the bills awaiting House consideration as the session winds to a close. Lawmakers will return Thursday for the 24th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.

By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst. Posted March 12, 2014.