Panel Paper: Snapping Back: Food Stamp Bans and Criminal Recidivism

Friday, November 3, 2017
Field (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Cody Tuttle, University of Maryland

I estimate the effect of access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps) on the probability that a convicted criminal returns to prison after being released. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) was signed into law drastically changing America’s safety net programs. One little discussed piece of PRWORA is a provision that imposes a lifetime ban from SNAP on people who commit drug felonies. The Florida state legislature modified this ban so that it only applies to drug traffickers who commit their offense on or after August 23, 1996. Using inmate-level data from Florida, I exploit this sharp cutoff date and find that the SNAP ban increases recidivism among released drug traffickers by about 10 percentage points or 60 percent on average. The increase is primarily driven by crimes that are financially motivated suggesting that the cut in SNAP benefits may cause ex-convicts to turn to financial crimes to make up for the lost transfer income. This result speaks to an ongoing policy discussion about these bans and contributes to the empirical literature on the myriad benefits of safety net programs.