By: Kristen Powers, Executive Director
On March 1, families across North Carolina will lose out on additional supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP) made available during the height of the pandemic. As North Carolinians struggle to adjust to this loss at a time of intense inflation and rising food prices, thousands more will continue to be locked out of food assistance entirely.
In 1996, the federal government rode the “tough on crime” wave and banned people with felony drug convictions from accessing SNAP and TANF, thinking it would deter drug-related harm. The law gave states the power to opt-out of this ban to improve food access. The North Carolina General Assembly has not fully opted out of this ban, which would ensure its citizens can put dinner on the table.
As a result, thousands of North Carolinians and their children are denied life-affirming food assistance, from six months to a lifetime, after being convicted of a Class I drug felony and higher. This ban has a devastating impact on people, especially formerly incarcerated women in rural areas, who already experience financial hardship and transportation challenges. The ban was thought to deter drug use and crime; instead, it’s driving people to commit more crimes to end their hunger.
As the executive director of Benevolence Farm, I see firsthand how difficult it can be for families to access healthy and nutritious food. Working with dozens of women returning home from prison, we provide safe housing, living wage employment, and access to essential needs like food assistance. And it’s clear the SNAP ban is leaving behind working families who want nothing more than to build a better life for themselves.
For the past three years, we provided women with tens of thousands of dollars of our own supplemental food benefits in the form of grocery store gift cards. These gift cards ensure women have access, autonomy, and the dignity to purchase their own food. Benevolence Farm has stepped in where lawmakers have refused to act. Unfortunately, when they leave the Farm, women with drug convictions and their children will continue to struggle to meet their basic needs. But there’s still time for our legislators to act.
We all deserve a fighting chance to build a better life for ourselves and our families, which is already hard enough and even more difficult for people with a record. North Carolinians expect lawmakers to ensure everyone has a second chance, a shot at redemption. Instead, lawmakers failing to act will quite literally take food off the tables of working families. As we witness the impacts of this loss of pandemic-era food assistance, we can no longer leave behind people with drug convictions. It’s time for the North Carolina General Assembly to demonstrate what it looks like to be a leader in the South and completely opt out of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act ban.
Tell your North Carolina legislators to opt out of the SNAP ban. Find their contact info here.
To financially support the Benevolence Farm Food Assistance Program, donate here.