AUSTIN (KXAN) – Two bills have been filed in the Texas House and Senate that would make it easier for incarcerated people leaving the criminal justice system to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits upon release. 

SB 727, filed by Democratic Senator Royce West, and HB 1743, filed by Republican House Rep. Jeff Leach, both have the same aim – to set people leaving the criminal justice system up for success by having access to food. 

“Ensuring access to food assistance upon release means that Texans leaving the criminal justice system can focus on finding a job and reuniting with family,” Leach said in a press release. “This is a simple policy change that would support the reentry process, reduce recidivism, and could help lower incarceration costs for the state.”

The SNAP program helps lower-income people buy food to stay healthy. Over 3 million Texans get food assistance by using SNAP. 

The two bills do not expand access to the program for incarcerated people but make the enrollment process easier. When a person applies for SNAP, the state has 30 days to determine if they are eligible. Staffing shortages across the state may delay this even further, Feeding Texas said. This new law would allow incarcerated people to apply for benefits before they exit a facility, letting them leave with their food assistance card. 

“What happens is, once people are released, they often find themselves without any money for food [or] without a job – they face all sorts of challenges [like] connecting with their families and reintegrating into society. And so SNAP is one way to take that worry off their plate, and make sure they have food to feed themselves in any family members that are reuniting with,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. 

Cole said there is bipartisan support for these bills and, as far as she knows, no opposition.

“Hunger is a bipartisan issue. I think we all can agree that people shouldn’t go hungry. It’s not good for people. It’s not good for communities and it’s not good for our society,” she said.