Conference committee scales back SNAP benefits bill for people leaving prison

By: - March 16, 2022 12:01 am

(Alex Potemkin/Getty Images)

Disagreements between the House of Delegates and the Senate scaled back the scope of a bill that would have allowed people who are incarcerated to apply for food assistance before being released. 

The legislature on Saturday approved conference committee changes made to Del. Mark Sickles’ HB 1270, which means the Department of Social Services will be required to assign a workgroup to develop a proposal for a program allowing people imprisoned in state and local facilities to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits prior to reentering society. The findings and recommendations are due to Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the General Assembly by Nov. 1. 

Sickles said the bill got watered down into a workgroup “unfortunately, because the Social Services department says it costs more than I think a reasonable person would think it would cost.”

The original legislation would have made the Department of Social Services responsible for submitting a waiver to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow incarcerated people to apply for assistance that they could have received upon their release. If the waiver had been approved, Social Services would also have had to create the application process and send information about the system to the Department of Corrections and the State Board of Local and Regional Jails. 

“When people leave incarceration, they have two problems, mainly housing and food, and this allows the food problem to be immediately addressed,” Sickles said at a committee meeting last month.

But the House rejected an amendment made by the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee stating that the bill would not have been effective unless a provision to support it was included in the state’s budget, which is still being hashed out. 

Two years ago, the General Assembly got rid of the ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and SNAP benefits for people convicted of a drug-related felony. Currently, 21 states have bans on eligibility for the programs for people with prior convictions.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Jackie Llanos Hernandez was a Virginia Mercury intern while studying journalism and anthropology at University of Richmond. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian.