AG James to Trump Admin: Now is Not the Time to Let 3.1 Million People Go Hungry

Leads Coalition Asserting that USDA Rule Would
Cut SNAP Benefits for the Most Vulnerable Amid COVID-19 Crisis

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 22 attorneys general and the City of New York demanding that the Trump administration immediately suspend its efforts to stop food assistance for 3.1 million people. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the coalition urged the agency not to finalize a proposed rule that would disqualify millions of low-income Americans from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Trump administration is trying to make it harder to qualify for food benefits by imposing significant burdens on states. The states and New York City warn that it is deeply irresponsible to move forward with these changes during a global pandemic and deepening economic crisis in which hundreds of thousands of people are ill and millions have lost jobs.

“With tens of millions of individuals out of work and with the nation in the middle of a public health crisis, now is not the time to let 3.1 million people go hungry,” Attorney General James said. “Families and states are already seeking to make ends meet because of the global pandemic, and this rule would push them into an even more precarious position. It is unconscionable to move forward with trying to implement this policy, and we demand that the Trump administration immediately suspend the rulemaking process. We must all be working together to get through this.”

The Trump administration’s proposed rule “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” would limit needy families’ access to SNAP, the country’s most important anti-hunger program, which is often referred to as food stamps. SNAP provides low-income people the opportunity to buy nutritious food that they otherwise could not afford. SNAP is a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty — and it is a crucial lifeline that could prevent families from going hungry at a time when more than 20 million residents across the nation, including more than 1.2 million New York residents, have lost jobs and filed for unemployment in the five-week period ending April 11.

USDA’s proposed rule would eliminate a long-standing policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility” (BBCE). This policy allows states to make low-income families automatically eligible for SNAP benefits if they have already qualified to receive certain other types of public assistance. Through BBCE, states can extend SNAP benefits to low-income families that slightly exceed the program’s income and asset limits if they also have significant critical expenses, like childcare, housing, or education expenses. BBCE is used by 39 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the coalition asserts that USDA must immediately suspend rulemaking because if the proposed rule is finalized, it would:

  • Take food assistance away from 3.1 million people during the pandemic. If the proposed rule is finalized now, over 3.1 million low-income people could lose critical nutrition assistance. These cuts would hit especially hard at a time when approximately 95 percent of Americans are under stay-at-home orders, millions of people are out of work, and there are fully signed Presidential Disaster Declarations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Impair the national response to COVID-19. To prevent the further spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than 42,000 people in the United States, including more than 13,000 New Yorkers, it is necessary for people to comply with stay-at-home orders in their jurisdictions and continue social distancing. In order to do so, they must be able to feed themselves, whether or not they are still employed, searching for employment, or able to work from home. Additionally, many essential workers — grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, among others — who are keeping the country running during the public health emergency rely on food stamps. These workers should not have to worry about how to feed their own families, too.
  • Impose major administrative burdens on states that are desperately fighting COVID-19. The Rule would impose substantial additional administrative burdens on states, at a time when they are acting as frontline public health and economic responders and focusing every possible resource on keeping residents safe. BBCE was intended to reduce administrative costs and burdens by allowing states to qualify families for multiple benefit programs at once, rather than having to assess the same families multiple times and using separate qualification processes for each program. By eliminating BBCE, the Trump administration would force states to duplicate efforts as they evaluate residents for programs that they desperately need.

The coalition also argues that implementing the proposed rule would run counter to guidance from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget directing federal agencies to “prioritize all resources to slow the spread of COVID-19.” They emphasize there is no plausible argument that implementing the proposed rule would help slow the spread of COVID-19 and urge USDA to focus on supporting families throughout this crisis instead of denying needed assistance.

The letter was led by New York Attorney General Letitia James and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine and joined by attorneys general from California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York.