Shriver Center Lawsuit Brings Policy Change to Ensure Food Access for Everyone.
November 3, 2020
Everyone should have access to healthy and affordable food. Still, many states restrict the ability of individuals with drug felony convictions to receive government food assistance.
Michigan’s law, which provided for a lifetime ban after two convictions, was one of the most restrictive in the country. That all changed this month when Michigan repealed any limitations on those with drug convictions’ access to food assistance, prompted largely by a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Michigan pursued by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, in collaboration with the Michigan Poverty Law Program and University of Michigan Law School Veterans Legal Clinic.
Since 2011, Michigan had prohibited individuals with multiple drug felony convictions since 1996 from receiving Food Assistance Program (FAP) benefits for the remainder of their lives. Michigan maintained these restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, even while relaxing other requirements for FAP eligibility.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bill Bennett, a veteran with a disability on a fixed income who could not receive FAP benefits because of two drug possession convictions from 2005. The lawsuit challenged the Michigan restrictions as violating Mr. Bennett’s constitutional rights to due process under the law and to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines.
The suit also alleged that the restrictions discriminated against Mr. Bennett on the basis of his disabilities. With Michigan’s removal of the restrictions, Mr. Bennett has again qualified for Food Assistance Program benefits and will no longer have to constantly wonder how he will find his next meal.
Still, other states continue to enforce harsh restrictions limiting the ability of individuals with drug convictions to access food assistance. Not only are such restrictions inhumane, but have shown to do nothing to affect recidivism.
It is essential that such restrictions be lifted every where so that no one be forced to live in hunger.
Note: Eric Sirota, who recently joined the Shriver Center on Poverty Law as our Director of Housing Justice, helped initiate this case while working as a supervising attorney with the Michigan Law School Veterans Legal Clinic and continued working on the case after joining the Shriver Center.