Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Making Essentials Available and Lawful Act, or the MEAL Act. This legislation would repeal a lifetime ban that prevents formerly incarcerated individuals convicted of felony drug offenses from accessing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or assistance under programs funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants. Earlier this year, Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) introduced companion legislation in the House.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 600,000 individuals are released from local and federal prisons every year. However, due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act established in 1996, many formerly incarcerated individuals do not have access to critical programs such as SNAP and TANF.  Meanwhile, studies have shown that access to public assistance like SNAP and TANF is associated with a reduced risk of recidivism among returning citizens.

“For formerly incarcerated individuals trying to reenter society, the lifetime ban on SNAP and TANF benefits poses unnecessary barriers that we know increase the risk of recidivism,” said Senator Booker. “Those who have repaid their debt to society shouldn’t have to suffer from a lifetime of continued punishment. The MEAL Act will repeal this decades-old lifetime ban and ensure that people convicted of felony drug offenses can meet their basic needs and safely reintegrate into their communities.”

 

“I am pleased to be working with Senator Booker and Representatives Gwen Moore, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Jahana Hayes on these commonsense and humane re-entry reforms,” said Congressman Cohen. “Thousands of people released from state and federal prisons each year re-enter society and find major, and unnecessary, challenges, including lifetime bans on food assistance and TANF. The MEAL Act would repeal the 1996 ban on people with drug felony convictions receiving SNAP and TANF, and it would allow them to apply for SNAP before their release so that they can meet their basic needs on Day One, reducing the likelihood of recidivism and increasing the quality of life of those aiming to reintegrate into their communities.” 

Specifically, the Making Essentials Available and Lawful, or the MEAL Act, would amend the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity of 1996 and the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 by allowing formerly incarcerated individuals convicted of felony drug offenses to have access to receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or assistance under programs funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants.

The following Senators endorsed this legislation: Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM). 

The full list of endorsing organizations can be viewed here

The full text of the Making Essentials Available and Lawful, or the MEAL Act, can be viewed here.

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