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Megan Hunt

Sen. Megan Hunt

District 8

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LB 121 Advances to Select File

On Tuesday, March 22nd, during floor debate my priority bill LB121 advanced from General File to Select File with 25 yes votes, 17 no votes, and 3 present not voting. Select File is the second stage of debate where a bill is considered by the full legislature. To advance from Select File, a bill must receive 25 yes votes.

LB121 would remove the lifetime Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ban that denies food assistance to Nebraskans that have had certain drug-related convictions. Under current statute, an individual with a drug-related conviction is ineligible to receive SNAP benefits for life. This ban is counterproductive to the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals.

* vote count from General File, the first stage of debate *

Voting NO: Albrecht, Brewer, Briese, Clements, Erdman, Flood, Halloran, Hansen B., Hilgers, Hughes, Jacobson, Lindstrom, Lowe, Moser, Murman, Sanders, Slama

Present – Not Voting: Aguilar, Arch, Linehan

Voting YES: Blood, Bostar, Brandt, Cavanaugh J., Cavanaugh M., Day, DeBoer, Dorn, Geist, Gragert, Hansen M., Hunt, Kolterman, Lathrop, McCollister, McDonnell, McKinney, Morfeld, Pansing Brooks, Stinner, Vargas, Walz, Wayne, Williams, Wishart

Why LB121 is so important

The intent of this bill is to remove a major barrier to successful reintegration for formerly incarcerated people, while also reducing hunger for affected people and their families. This is my priority bill this year because this bill is very personal to me and I know the effects will be so important for Nebraskans today and for Nebraskans in the future. The population utilizing SNAP is very diverse. I relied on SNAP benefits when I was struggling after a divorce as a young mother. I turned to public assistance for a temporary hand-up, just as thousands of other parents have done in Nebraska for a variety of reasons not in their control. So I’m very personally familiar with the process of applying and qualifying for SNAP and what the requirements are to receive it.

This ban is not in place for any other felony convictions in Nebraska. Currently, 43 states have opted out or modified food stamp access bans, 18 of which have eliminated their ban entirely. These states include our neighboring states of Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. Providing SNAP access for people reintegrating back in society reduces recidivism rates. Many of the individuals affected by this ban have children that are negatively impacted. In Nebraska, 17.4% of children are considered food insecure. We could reduce this rate by removing barriers to receiving SNAP benefits. These people have served their time and their families should not continue to be punished.

Often individuals impacted by this ban offended decades ago and have worked hard to change their lives. To even be eligible for snap, recipients must submit to drug testing and workforce training. Even if some people are still actively struggling with addiction, they should not starve. Successful reentry into society from the criminal justice system requires being able to meet basic needs such as food, health care, and housing as well as access to employment and training services. Lack of access to these essential needs have been exasperated by Covid-19. Passing LB121 costs nothing to the state of Nebraska, as the program is federally funded. LB 121 has broad support from Omaha Police, Nebraska Catholic Conference, Appleseed, ACLU, OpenSky, NSEA, Center for People in Need, Food Bank of Lincoln, and RISE. We must pass LB121 to help struggling Nebraskans and their families.

Here are some real stories from Nebraskan’s that would greatly benefit from the passage of this bill:

Ronald, Lincoln NE: Ronald is a formerly homeless veteran who became addicted to morphine after a spinal injury related to a car accident. He received a distribution conviction when he let a friend, who he knew used the same doctor and had the same prescription, take one of his morphine tablets because he had missed his appointment that day. He served 3 years for the conviction. Ronald is on a fixed income, receiving SSI, has an apartment, pays his bills, and would get a job except for his disability. He has been clean for 12 years and is still ineligible for SNAP due to the ban. Ronald feels like he served his time and says he wouldn’t eat if not for the Food Bank of Lincoln.

Melinda, Lincoln NE: Melinda is an expecting mother who moved to Nebraska to start a new life. She is 5 years sober and has recently moved to Lincoln to start a job at Signia as a telemarketer. She lives with her daughter who receives SNAP but since she’s not counted in her SNAP household, it’s often hard to buy enough food, especially during her pregnancy. Melinda believes that people have the power to change their stories and she is living proof. She’s passionate about getting rid of the SNAP ban for drug felonies because she’s seen a lot of folks go back to their old behaviors out of desperation and she wants people to get the help they need to make a new start in life.

Derrick, Omaha NE: Derrick, who now works for the Food Bank of Lincoln, served time for a distribution conviction from 2009 and was released in 2012, his first and only conviction. After being homeless for a time, showering twice a week and eating bananas and water for meals, Derrick got a job in construction. He slowly earned enough to get his own place. During visitations with his daughter he would go without meals to provide for her. In recent years, Derrick’s health has deteriorated with cancer and other issues. He’s been put on a Mediterranean diet that he can’t afford. He currently works at the Food Bank of Lincoln in the operations and child services department. He also serves on nonprofit boards whose causes he believes in. Derrick would like to see LB121 pass because it could help people like him all across the state.

Unfortunately these stories are not few and far between. Real Nebraskans are struggling to feed themselves and their families due to the current statute. Nebraskans deserve better. Banning people from food assistance for life is counterproductive.

Articles about LB121 in the News 

Omaha World-Herald: Bill to increase food assistance for Nebraska drug offenders advances
Times Union: Nebraska advances bill to lift SNAP ban for drug offenders
KLKN-TV: New bill would allow those with prior drug charges to receive SNAP benefits
Unicameral Update: SNAP eligibility expansion advanced
US News and World Report: Nebraska Advances Bill to Lift SNAP Ban for Drug Offenders

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Sen. Megan Hunt

District 8
Room 12th Floor
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2722
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