SNAP Offers Critical Support for Returning Citizens but Improvements Are Needed

Jan 24, 2022   |  By Eric Borsuk

Isaac talks on a cell phone outside of a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) training center in Detroit, Michigan, during his lunch break. Despite the cold weather, he insists that the fresh air is gladly welcomed. After being incarcerated for over four decades, he is taking the reentry process “day-by-day.” While acknowledging his strong support system of family members, he admits that the transition hasn’t been without its difficulties.

“Having a support system is crucial; trying to do it by yourself is very difficult. Even just operating this cell phone has been a learning process,” Isaac explains, chuckling. “Luckily, my family has been very patient with me.”

Upon release, Isaac was living in a transitional housing center in Detroit. He immediately enrolled in work and job training with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). For four days out of every week, Isaac worked on a maintenance crew performing landscaping duties; on the fifth day of the week, he would attend CEO’s job training courses which provided him with employment interview preparation and résumé-building skills.

Unfortunately, in order to catch the bus on time in the morning, Isaac was forced to miss out on breakfast at the transitional housing center, and was ineligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits while living in transitional housing. During lunch service, he was at work, missing yet another meal. Finally, seeing that dinner was served at 4 PM, right in the middle of Isaac’s commute back from work, there were no opportunities during the day for him to eat at home.

Fortunately, Isaac was eventually enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides benefits to supplement food budgets for individuals in need of food security. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice, each year more than 600,000 individuals return home from prison in need of employment[1]; SNAP is an essential resource for those returning citizens to provide food security. However, Isaac explained that SNAP could work better to assist individuals during reentry and set them up for success.

When Isaac ultimately transferred from transitional housing to a permanent residence, his SNAP benefits suddenly disappeared. To this day, he is unsure of what happened, but believes there was an error with the paperwork, as he never received the documents, even though he had properly informed officials of his address change.

“If it weren’t for CEO paying me daily, I wouldn’t have had any money to eat,” he says. “I was very blessed to have the funds to take care of myself; it helped tremendously.”

Isaac says that if it weren’t for staff members at CEO’s Detroit office working diligently to get his SNAP benefits reinstated, the process would have been extremely difficult, and it probably would have taken him many months to get resolved.

In terms of improvements, Isaac feels that SNAP benefits should be provided throughout reentry, as you find your permanent home and earn a temporary wage with a SNAP Employment & Training partner, like CEO. He explained that the SNAP program should implement a more thorough evaluation process. Isaac was never contacted prior to his benefits being revoked and insists that this is a major problem. For many individuals, especially returning citizens, SNAP benefits are a vital component of everyday life. Isaac says that an improved evaluation process prior to benefit cancellation would reduce hardship for individuals such as himself.

Through a CEO stipend, Isaac is currently enrolled in a CDL training course in Detroit. Once completed, he will be certified to operate a semi-trailer commercial freight truck, at which point he will receive job placement through CEO.

After that, Isaac has no intention of slowing down. He is looking forward to moving on to the next phase of his life. Eventually, he intends to enroll in computer training courses, as he recognizes the study to be a vital proficiency in a technologically advancing world. For individuals who have been incarcerated for lengthy sentences, Isaac explains, their knowledge pertaining to technology can be very limited upon release. He hopes that one day this is common training to help returning citizens, such as himself, reintegrate more fluidly into society.

CEO and our participants advocate for the removal of barriers to employment, including ensuring individuals have access to SNAP and SNAP Employment & Training during training. To learn more about CEO’s policy advocacy, visit https://ceoworks.org/policy-advocacy