STATE OPT OUT OF FEDERAL TANF BAN FOR FORMER DRUG OFFENDERS

Restores eligibility for ex-felons, whose offense was solely drug possession, for federal benefits needed to appropriately care for family members (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or “TANF”).

SALT urges an end to the lifetime ban on TANF for two major reasons: 1) it punishes both the ex-offender and his or her family and 2) it reduces the chance of the person’s successful re-entry into society upon release. The proposed bill promotes public safety by a) allowing constructive reintegration of ex-offenders, b) reducing the burden placed on family members and local communities, c) increasing the chances of gainful employment of ex-offenders, and d) decreasing the likelihood of recidivism.

Transitional Assistance Fiscal Impact. With over 2,400 fewer TANF cases from January to October 2014, this bill will expand the service population for TANF by 284 individuals.  The declining caseload means that additional general funds will not be required to finance this legislation.  The average increase in assistance payments will be $66 per month for one additional person per family unit.  The fiscal impact estimate assumes that most individuals added to the TANF caseload currently have children with active cases.  In July 2005, the department implemented these provisions for the Food Stamp program, with no discernable administrative cost increase.

  • We seek legislation to opt out of the TANF ban on formerly incarcerated persons found guilty of drug possession offenses. Because drug addiction is a medical and mental health issue, we oppose bans that preclude former drug offenders from receiving any type of social service, particularly when it punishes innocent family members. Having our government penalize individuals and their families for medical or mental health conditions is unworthy of a civilized society.

  • In 1996, Congress enacted welfare reforms designed to promote work by welfare recipients. At the same time, it provided for TANF block grants to states, grants for temporary financial assistance necessary to provide support for families.

  • The federal law provides that these temporary federal TANF benefits are not available to ex-offenders convicted of drug felonies, unless the state “opts out” of this ban. Many states have already done so, and Virginia has already opted out for other key federal benefits (eg. Food Stamps in 2005).

  • The Opt Out would eliminate this ban for those whose offenses solely involved possession (rather than distribution) of drugs. Under existing law, offenders convicted of more serious violent crimes are eligible for TANF benefits on release, so as a matter of fairness, benefits should also be available to former drug offenders.

  • Parents reentering their communities after incarceration often need public benefits to reunite with their families, pay rent, and buy food, clothing, and other necessities. Denying assistance to such families struggling to rebuild their lives is both punitive and counterproductive.

  • By strengthening families and providing transitional assistance, the Opt Out advances the Governor’s announced goal of successful reentry and decreased recidivism while reducing the $29,000 annual cost to taxpayers for incarceration per inmate.

CLOSING COMMENTS: Strong families are as important to Virginia’s future as schools and roads. With the TANF caseloads declining, excess federal funds are available to finance this initiative.  We should not miss the opportunity to take prudent steps to mitigate poverty and shield these families from unwarranted suffering.

If you have questions or would like further information, please contact John Horejsi, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..                                                               (January 8, 2015)