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Nessel Opposes Proposed Federal Rule That Would Deprive 144,000 Michiganders of Critical Food Assistance

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel last week joined 23 other Attorneys General to oppose the federal government’s proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would strip away benefits from 144,188 individuals in 79,901 Michigan households.

The Attorneys General filed a comment letter against the rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would end states’ ability to set rules for SNAP eligibility based on the unique needs of their communities. The letter argues that the rule would violate federal law and harm the states, their residents, their local economies, and public health.

“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. ”  

The USDA’s proposed rule – “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” – would affect the SNAP program, the country’s most important anti-hunger program referred to as “food stamps.” The program provides residents with limited incomes access to nutritious food they otherwise would not have. SNAP is a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty.

Based on federal guidelines, each state designs its own process for how low-income residents apply for SNAP benefits. The states must track whether participants meet the income and asset requirements for the program on a monthly basis.

The federal government’s proposed rule would eliminate a long-standing policy known as “broad based categorical eligibility” (BBCE). BBCE allows states to consider local economic factors like high costs of living or costs of childcare when determining eligibility for SNAP. It also allows states to adopt less restrictive asset limits so that families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities can attempt to save money without losing food aid. BBCE is used by 39 states including Michigan, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Attorneys General argue in their comment letter that the proposed rule harms the states by:

  • Taking food assistance away from 3.1 million vulnerable people: If finalized, the proposed rule would cause 3.1 million low-income individuals – including working poor families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities – to lose critical nutrition assistance. According to the administration’s own calculations, the rule would cause low-income Americans to lose at least $10.5 billion in SNAP benefits over four years. 
  • Causing 265,000 children to lose free school meals: Children in households that receive SNAP are eligible for free meals at school. This rule change would mean an estimated 265,000 children nationwide would lose access to free school meals, leading to food insecurity and malnourishment. According to studies, food insecure (the disruption of food intake or eating patterns due to the lack of money or other resources) children are more likely to have learning difficulties and reduced academic performance, stomachaches, frequent headaches and colds, iron deficiency anemia, asthma, and mental health problems.
  • Disproportionately taking SNAP benefits from seniors: According to estimates, this rule change would have a disproportionate impact on seniors. More than 13 percent of all SNAP households with elderly members would lose food assistance, which could potentially force low-income seniors to choose between paying for necessary medication and food.
  • Harming public health and increasing healthcare costs: States’ medical, disability and other systems will be burdened when people who lose SNAP benefits become food insecure or malnourished. Food insecurity is linked to some of the most potentially costly health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and complications in pregnancy. Studies have shown that SNAP is associated with better health and, correspondingly, reduced health care costs.
  • Harming state economies: SNAP benefits are provided to low-income individuals with immediate spending needs, and SNAP boosts local economies by increasing consumer demand, injecting money directly into the economy, creating jobs, and supporting national and local retailers and the food industry generally. If 3.1 million people lose SNAP benefits, these cuts will have negative ripple effects across the nation’s economy.
  • Increasing administrative burdens on states: The Government Accountability Office has consistently found that polices like BBCE can save state and federal resources and improve productivity. The proposed rule will eliminate these efficiency gains and increase administrative costs—and every dollar that states spend on administrative costs is money taken away from needy families.

The Attorneys General also argue that the proposed rule violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which governs how federal agencies implement rule changes. Among other violations of the APA, the proposed rule fails to provide a legitimate justification for changing longstanding USDA policy, conflicts with the clear intent of Congress, and exceeds USDA’s authority. 

Nessel joins the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin in submitting the letter to the USDA.

A copy of the letter is available here.