Advocates, past drug offenders call for end to lifetime ban on receiving food stamp benefits

By: - February 11, 2024 9:24 pm

A sign noting the acceptance of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards that are used by states to issue benefits is displayed at a convenience store on Dec. 4, 2019 in Richmond, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Eighteen years ago, Kayla Tobey, then 22, was convicted of a Class 4 felony, possession of a controlled substance.

She completed her probation long ago, but Tobey said she’s still being punished by a Nebraska law that imposes a lifetime ban on her, as a drug offender, from obtaining food stamps, now known as the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” or SNAP.

“SNAP would be such a great stepping stone to help me get the stability I need to keep my kids happy and to move forward in my career,” said Tobey, a working mother of two children and a part-time student who lives in Lincoln.

“We need to help people get back on their feet. And access to food is a big part of that,” she said.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha.  (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

On Friday, Tobey joined others at a press conference in calling on the Nebraska Legislature and Congress to pass bills to lift the ban on people who have moved on from past drug use.

“We continue to see the harm that results from the unnecessary lifetime SNAP ban,” said Eric Savaiano, a program manager at Nebraska Appleseed, which advocates for the poor.

The ban, he said, not only prevents community members from accessing nutritious food for their families, but also causes “other negative consequences.”

Under Legislative Bill 88, introduced by State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, persons convicted of a felony involving the possession, use or distribution of a controlled substance would no longer be ineligible for SNAP if they have completed their sentence. The ban would also be lifted for those serving out a term of parole, probation or post-release supervision.

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (Courtesy of Bacon campaign)

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., is a co-sponsor of a federal proposal, the Restore Act, that would do the same thing.

At a press conference, Tommy Newcombe of Norfolk joined Tobey in speaking of the “stigma and internalized shame” of the lifetime ban that hampered his road to sobriety.

“When you’re told you can’t access SNAP, it makes it all the easier to stop seeking help overall,” he said.

Jasmine Harris of RISE, which helps inmates transition back to society, said there is no public safety or crime-deterrent value from the lifetime ban.

“Instead, enforcement of the ban only compounds hunger and poverty that contribute to enormous barriers to successful transition to the community,” she said.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.