Jordan's story: Need consistent SNAP benefits during reentry

Apr 11, 2022   |  By Quiana Pugh

Jordan, a Center for Employment Opportunities participant in San Diego, didn't think he'd need access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While transitioning back home, Jordan's sober living facility provided meals. Even if he had been eligible, Jordan didn't want to apply for a benefit he didn't need. But like so many, Jordan was negatively impacted by a SNAP policy that penalizes people for getting employment training.

Jordan began paid employment training at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) as part of his reentry process. At the same time, Jordan moved into a new sober living home where he was required to pay monthly rent. This added expense was the beginning of food insecurities for Jordan. He applied for SNAP and was only approved for a $20 monthly benefit due to his income at CEO.

That benefit amount wasn't enough to allow him to focus on employment training and have adequate food at the same time. He explained, "I've learned to try to budget and prepare food prep. Sometimes I buy as much rice as I can and microwave it. I try to stretch it as far out as I can." But the fact is that Jordan shouldn't have to choose between housing and food assistance or employment training and food assistance.

Access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an essential part of the reentry transition for many individuals returning from incarceration. More than 600,000 individuals return home from prison each year in the United States; almost half cannot secure full-time employment in the first few years after leaving incarceration despite working hard to start a career. Many justice-impacted individuals rely on SNAP benefits to purchase food during the first months following incarceration to meet basic nutritional needs.

One policy change that Congress can make is to exempt temporary training income from SNAP eligibility tests. Congress recognized the value of "earn and learn" training for SNAP recipients by authorizing paid work-based learning in SNAP Employment & Training (E&T). Receiving daily pay at CEO allows individuals to be more secure while building their skills for a career. But in 20 CEO locations, individuals receiving minimum wage for 40 hours of paid work with a SNAP E&T partner will lose access to SNAP E&T before training completion due to income more than 30% over the federal poverty line.

Individuals returning home should have food security, housing, and employment training, leading to a quality job and genuine economic mobility. As Jordan said, "I hope that lawmakers can take into consideration that people coming out of incarceration are trying to get back on their feet. I'm paying child support, and I'm paying rent. It's nice to have help with food so that I can have energy and work well to provide for myself and the ones I love."

CEO and our participants advocate against barriers to employment. That includes ensuring individuals have access to SNAP and SNAP Employment & Training during training.

To learn more about CEO's policy advocacy, visit our Policy & Advocacy page.