By Jon King /

The lifetime ban from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for those with more than one drug-related felony conviction could be lifted under a bill that passed the Michigan Senate on Wednesday.

Supporters of the bill say the current law punishes offenders long after they’ve served their sentences and increases the chance they will commit more crimes. Julie Cassidy, senior policy analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy, noted the ban has distinct impacts on people with disabilities, who already are disproportionately affected by hunger and the criminal-justice system. She said access to SNAP and other public assistance supports a successful return to the community. "They may have gotten involved in the drug trade out of economic desperation or maybe simply struggling with an addiction," said Cassidy. "We view this as a really outdated and unfair and unjust policy. It's not smart on crime; it's just tough on crime."

State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat, introduced SB 1006 to repeal the ban. He contended it's a matter of fairness, as no other crime triggers such a denial. "Dangling food over a person's head and taking it away potentially from their family, their children or themselves as they're trying to reform themselves and get out of a dangerous cycle seems to me to be unusually cruel and unnecessary," said Ananich.

Data show full eligibility for SNAP benefits reduces the probability that someone with a drug conviction will return to prison within a year by 13%. Federal law allows states to permanently ban residents with drug-related felonies from receiving SNAP benefits. The bill now goes to the House. If signed into law Michigan would join 26 other states in lifting the ban, according to bill supporter Michigan League for Public Policy.

Public News Service contributed to this story.

Picture - Mike Mozart/Flickr