Former addicts in West Virginia say making it easier for reformed felons to receive public benefits would help them stay free of drugs. (lechenie-narkomanii/Pixabay)

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Reformed drug felons in West Virginia are blocked from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and some want the Legislature to fix that.

West Virginia is one of only three states that has a lifetime SNAP ban for anyone convicted of a drug-related felony.

That applies to Debbie Kolbe of Huntington, even though she has finished her sentence and broke her addiction to methamphetamine more than two years ago.

Kolbe says it’s unfair that no matter how long she stays clean, or how long she keeps her job, she can’t get the help any other kind of felon can take the day he or she leaves prison.

“Murder and armed robberies and all that stuff, and you can get help all day long,” she points out. “If I needed help with food, they absolutely will not. Even if I had young children, I could not get food stamps. They could, but I can’t.”

The lifetime ban was put in place as one of several measures designed to get tough on drug crime.

Kolbe says she and other reformed felons want the Legislature to reconsider it in the next session.

Advocates say the ban may be counter-productive, forcing people back into crime just when the state should be helping them get their lives back together.

Kolbe says it’s enough of a struggle to become an ordinary taxpaying citizen again – hard to get work or an apartment and extremely difficult to build up any financial security.

“You’ve already suffered the consequences to your actions, which I have,” she stresses. “And you’ve got numerous years of clean time, and you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do.

“I just don’t think it’s fair that drug-convicted felons are labeled like we are.”

In recent years, the state has expanded drug courts and day reporting centers, making it easier for offenders to avoid prison time. Lawmakers also have made it easier for nonviolent felons to clean up their record, to make them more appealing to employers.

Advocates say ending the benefits ban would add to that.

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