UPDATE: Bill would lift lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for drug-related felons in W.Va.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP/WSAZ) -- UPDATE 2/12/19 @ 3:40 p.m.
Drug-related felons in West Virginia will once again be allowed to apply for food stamps under new legislation.

Pixabay / MGN

House Bill 2459 lifts the lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for felons convicted of drug charges.

The bill unanimously passed in the state Senate Tuesday, but with an amended title. The House of Delegates must concur with the amendment before the bill can become law.

The House unanimously approved the bill on Jan. 24.

According to the ACLU of West Virginia, the state was one of only three in the U.S. with a ban like this.

This legislation is part of a larger package of criminal justice reform legislation, according to the ACLU. The goal is to have fewer incarcerations and a lower recidivism rate.

“West Virginians who have served their time for drug-related crimes should not be perpetually punished," said Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. "We cannot expect anyone to successfully reintegrate into society and avoid recidivism when they’re exiting the criminal justice system with both hands tied behind their back. The passage of the SNAP Bill is a prime example of the policy foresight we need to address the addiction epidemic from all angles. Today, we applaud the legislature for its compassionate, common sense approach to reform, but it’s imperative we do not rest on this bill alone. We must use this as momentum and continue to reform the broken criminal justice system.”

Some lawmakers in West Virginia want to end the state's lifetime ban on food stamps for people convicted of drug-related felonies.

The Huntington Herald-Dispatch reported that West Virginia is one of three states that ban people convicted of drug-related felonies from receiving help buying food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The lifetime ban is a federal law, but states can opt out of it. Every state except West Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina have opted out of the ban.

Republican state Del. John Shott, who is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has sponsored House bill 2459 that would exempt West Virginia from that law.

Shott says this is meant to help people in recovery.

"It is pretty obvious that West Virginia has one of the more severe drug addiction problems in the country. In our efforts to try and help those people recover, we found that during the course of various meetings regarding those efforts that this one obstacle for those people trying to get back on track," Shott said.

Delegate Shott, who said this is an imbalance of law, said, "Essentially you are disqualified primarily by having a drug related felony. You could be a murderer or a rapist and still get the benefits."

The House bill went through the judiciary committee, came to the House and was passed overwhelmingly, and now it has been sent to the Senate for review.

If passed, convicted drug felons will still have to follow the rules of the SNAP program, meaning they have to work at least 20 hours a week, do community service, or be involved in a rehabilitation program.

Delegate Shott says, if passed, there are about 2,000 people living in West Virginia who will be eligible for the first time.

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