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The Impact of Safety-Net Benefits on Reentry

A poster on a store window reads "WE ACCEPT EBT" with an icon of a shopping bag full of groceries

This project examines whether people convicted of drug felonies have enrolled in CalFresh and CalWORKs following a 2015 policy change that made them eligible, and if there are positive, downstream social impacts from this enrollment.


People can face countless barriers to rejoining society after leaving incarceration, including challenges with securing employment and housing. Safety-net programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, or CalWORKs in California) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or CalFresh in California) can help support people during reentry from prison, yet in at least 22 states, formerly incarcerated people face a lifetime ban on enrolling in these programs. California was one of several states that imposed a lifetime ban on cash and food assistance for individuals convicted of drug felonies. However, in 2015, the California legislature repealed this prohibition for individuals who were convicted in state or federal court after December 31, 1997, of a drug-related felony.

Research Project

Status: ongoing

The project will measure if people who were formerly incarcerated for drug felonies have enrolled in CalFresh and/or CalWORKs, and whether there are downstream social effects from receiving these benefits, for example, whether enrollment impacts future contact with the criminal justice system. It will also measure whether there are ongoing barriers that people face to enrolling in these two programs – despite the repeal of the ban.

To estimate the impact of the program, CPL will leverage the random selection of voucher recipients through a lottery and linked administrative data from eight agencies providing services to low-income residents of Sonoma County. 

Research Team

Dr. Johanna Lacoe (Co-Principal Investigator), Professor Abhay Aneja (Co-Principal Investigator), Molly Pickard, and Nikta Akhavan



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