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RELEASE: Advocates Call for End to Harmful Lifetime SNAP Bans

***For Immediate Release***
Friday, February 9, 2024 

Contact: Sierra Salgado Pirigyi
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
Office: (402) 438-8853 ext 116
Mobile: (402) 612-0241
sierrasp@neappleseed.org

RELEASE: Advocates Call for End to Harmful Lifetime SNAP Ban
2024 legislation at the state and federal level could end the harm caused by Nebraska’s lifetime ban on food assistance for those with certain past drug convictions.

OMAHA, NE – Today, impacted community members, community leaders, and advocates came together to share the harmful impacts of the lifetime ban on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) access for Nebraskans with certain drug felony convictions. The press conference, co-hosted by Heart Ministry Center, RISE, and Nebraska Appleseed, was held at Heart Ministry Center’s campus in North Omaha. The event also included the release of a video in which directly impacted community members shared the impact of the SNAP ban on their lives.

Speakers included Nebraskans who are currently impacted by the SNAP ban, local leaders from RISE, Heart Ministry Center, and The WELL, and James Wright, NE-02 District Director for the Office of US Congressman Don Bacon. Advocates urged action by state and federal lawmakers to lift the ban through Nebraska’s LB88, introduced by State Senator Megan Hunt, and the federal RESTORE ACT cosponsored by Rep. Don Bacon, which would both eliminate the ban.

Jasmine Harris, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at RISE, a Nebraska nonprofit focused on habilitative programming in prisons and reentry support, underscored the lack of reasoning behind the ban:

“There is no connection between a drug law violation and food and other forms of assistance provided by SNAP. Denying food and basic assistance because of a past drug conviction has no public safety or crime deterrent value. Instead, enforcement of the ban only compounds hunger and poverty that contribute to enormous barriers to successful transition to the community.”

Damany Rahn, CEO of Heart Ministry Center, whose mission is to provide food, healthcare, and a way forward to people severely affected by poverty in the Omaha area, talked about the importance of treating our fellow Nebraskans with dignity, compassion, and respect:

“At Heart Ministry Center we serve people who have felonies on their records and employ people who have felonies on their records. Everyone deserves a chance to turn their life around and they need support to make that happen.”

Kayla Tobey, a Lincoln resident impacted by the SNAP ban, shared how her nearly two decade-old convictions have affected her ability to provide for and create a better life for her children:

“Lifting this ban would alleviate a lot of the financial stresses of being able to provide for my children on my own. 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. This ban doesn’t help people like me whose felonies are nearly 18 years old and who keep getting punished for their crime after already serving their time. We need to help people get back on their feet and access to food is a big part of that. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, nobody should go hungry.”

Tommy Newcombe, a Norfolk resident who has been in recovery for more than a decade, shared how the SNAP ban negatively impacted his journey to sobriety by making access to basic needs, like food, harder:

“One of the worst things about the ban is the stigma it perpetuates. There is so much stigma and internalized shame present when it comes to drug-related charges and convictions. When you’re told you can’t access SNAP, it makes it all the easier to stop seeking help overall. Being denied SNAP because of this ban is like being told that you are not worthy of getting food, that you somehow don’t deserve to eat because you made a past mistake. SNAP is designed to help people get back on their feet, I hope we can lift this ban and help many more Nebraskans just that.”

Dana Wockenfuss, Director of Development for The WELL, a substance use and mental health treatment agency based in Norfolk, reiterated how the stigma and restrictions that come with having a criminal record and previous struggles with addiction create barriers for Nebraskans in recovery who are trying to rebuild their lives:

“This is an inhumane ban that withholds a resource designed to ensure everyone in need, living in America has the nutrition they need to survive. Food is a basic human right and this ban treats food like a privilege. The SNAP benefits ban for drug convictions is not just a policy issue; it is a matter of basic human dignity. By addressing this arbitrary and unjust practice, we can build a more compassionate and equitable society—one that upholds the values of fairness and well-being of all its members.”

Eric Savaiano, Program Manager for Food and Nutrition Access at Nebraska Appleseed, which fights for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans, issued the following statement: 

“We continue to see the harm that results from the unnecessary lifetime SNAP ban that results from certain drug felony convictions. The ban prevents community members from accessing nutritious food for themselves and their families, causing other negative consequences. To address these harms, Nebraska’s leaders must pass LB88 and the RESTORE ACT in Congress, which would eliminate the ban on the state and federal level.” 

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