January 16, 2020
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today joined a group of 13 Attorneys General and New York City in a lawsuit to stop the federal government from eliminating food assistance for nearly 700,000 Americans. The lawsuit challenges a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that would limit states’ ability to extend benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, beyond a three-month period for certain adults.
Nessel and her colleagues assert that the rule directly undermines Congress’ intent for the food-stamp program, and that the USDA violated the federal rulemaking process. Furthermore, they argue that the rule would impose significant regulatory burdens on the states and harm states’ residents and economies. The coalition is urging the court to declare the rule unlawful and issue an injunction to prevent it from taking effect.
“This proposed rule is entirely unacceptable and exhibits a blatant disregard for more than 10 percent of SNAP recipients in Michigan,” said Nessel. “I am horrified that the federal government feels comfortable not only in depriving adults of the essential assistance needed to put food on their tables, but also denying 58,743 Michigan children from eating lunch at school and consequently impacting their ability to learn.”
SNAP has served as the country’s primary response to hunger since 1977, and a critical part of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty. The program provides access to nutrition for millions of Americans with limited incomes who would otherwise struggle with food insecurity. While the federal government pays the full cost of SNAP benefits, it shares the costs of administering the program on a 50-50 basis with the states, which operate the program.
Congress amended SNAP in 1996 with the goal of encouraging greater workforce participation among beneficiaries. The changes introduced a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed individuals aged 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising children—"able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs). Congress understood that states were best positioned to assess whether local economic conditions and labor markets provided ABAWDs reasonable employment opportunities. As a result, the law allows a state to acquire a waiver of the ABAWD time limit for areas where the unemployment rate is above 10 percent, or if it presents data demonstrating that the area lacks sufficient jobs for ABAWDs. States also were given a limited number of one-month exemptions for individuals who would otherwise lose benefits under the time limit and were permitted to carry over unused exemptions to safeguard against sudden economic downturns.
Over the last 24 years, Congress has maintained the criteria for states to obtain waivers and to carry over unused exemptions. It has reauthorized the statute four times without limiting states’ discretion over these matters. House Republicans considered adding restrictions on waivers and carryovers in the 2018 Farm Bill, but a bipartisan coalition expressly rejected them in the final legislation.
Shortly after President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, USDA announced a proposed rule seeking changes almost identical to those Congress rejected. USDA received more than 100,000 comments in total—the majority of which reflected strong opposition from a broad range of stakeholders. Regardless, USDA’s final rule went even further in restricting state discretion over waivers and exemptions than what it had initially proposed.
In the lawsuit, the states collectively argue that the administration’s rule:
Nessel joins the Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia along with New York City in filing this lawsuit.