Virginia Senate Passes Senator Favola’s Bill to Expand TANF to Ex-Offenders of Drug Possession Felonies
A bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) that will expand eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits to ex-offenders convicted of drug-possession felonies passed the Senate today with bipartisan support. The bill bears striking similarity to a 2005 law introduced by then-Delegate Bob McDonnell that provides the same expansion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Sen. Favola commented on her bill, saying, “The children of these ex-offenders are being forced to share the consequences of their parents’ past mistakes, and are unfairly starting their life off at a disadvantage. These individuals and their families need the opportunity to start on a new track and work toward a stable, productive life.”
Both Governor McDonnell’s 2005 food stamp law and Sen. Favola’s legislation are steps toward making social services more compassionate and fair by widening the safety net to include this group of ex-offenders. Under current law, someone who was convicted of murder in the first degree would be eligible to receive TANF benefits, yet a possession of marijuana felony would permanently bar someone from receiving help in times of need.
The federal government gives states the ability to opt out of this lifetime ban on receiving TANF for those convicted of drug possession felonies. According to the Legal Advocacy Center, as of December 2011, only twelve states, including Virginia, fully implement the ban and withhold TANF benefits for these needy individuals. Senator Favola’s bill aims to bring Virginia up to speed with the majority of the nation’s treatment of this group of ex-offenders.
If passed, families will be eligible to receive TANF benefits provided the ex-offender complies with all obligations imposed by the court and the Department of Social Services, is actively engaged in or has completed substance abuse treatment, and participates in periodic drug screenings.