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by LIZ CRAMPTON

If they finish their sentences and comply with any terms of parole, Texans convicted on felony drug charges soon will be able to receive food stamps, though another strike will put them back under a lifetime ban.

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 200 — a sunset law partially consolidating the state’s health and human services system — which included an amendment making people with felony drug convictions eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Previously, a drug conviction meant a lifetime ban from food stamps.

Many states that opted to bar drug felons from SNAP for life when it was created in 1996 are now reversing course.

The change prevents people “from being held hostage for a crime that they did and paid for decades ago,” said Rachel Cooper, senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Beginning Sept. 1, Texans who have completed their sentences and complied with the terms of parole can receive SNAP benefits two years after being convicted. If they re-offend, the lifetime ban will be reinstated, regardless of the crime committed.

About 3.6 million Texans receive food stamps through SNAP, according to the state Health and Human Services Commission. Neither the commission nor the Texas Food Bank Network could determine how many more people will become eligible.

Celia Cole, CEO of Texas Food Bank Network, said the change faced little opposition because of its broad coalition of support. At a House Human Services Committee meeting in April, representatives from the Christian Life Commission and Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, among others, testified in favor of the bill. No witnesses stood in opposition.

“We’re hopeful that this will help part of the vulnerable population get on their feet and be successful,” Cole said.

LIZ CRAMPTON reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

COVER: GRAPHIC by BECCA AARONSON AND TODD WISEMAN/THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

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