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AG Nessel Joins Coalition Demanding Trump Administration Halt Rule That Would Leave 3.1 Million Americans Hungry During Pandemic

LANSING – Attorney General Dana Nessel today joined a coalition of attorneys general and the City of New York demanding that the Trump administration immediately suspend rulemaking that would cut food assistance for 3.1 million people, including an estimated 144,000 Michiganders.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the coalition urges the agency not to finalize a proposed rule that would take Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from millions of low-income Americans. The rule would also make it harder to qualify for food benefits and imposes significant new administrative burdens on states. The states and New York City warn that it is irresponsible to move forward with these changes during the global pandemic involving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and deepening economic crisis in which hundreds of thousands of people are ill and millions have lost jobs.

“Food insecurity has been a concern for millions of people across the country for a long time, and even more Americans now are struggling to feed their families as the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed them of their incomes,” Nessel said. “This proposed rule, if finalized, would only make it worse, and the USDA must reconsider adoption of it to avoid exacerbating an already terrible situation.”

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 gross income and asset limits if they also have significant critical expenses, like child care, 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 multistate 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 about 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 36,000 Americans, including more than 2,400 Michigan residents, 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 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 the states, at a time when states are acting as front-line public health and economic responders and focusing resources on keeping residents safe. BBCE was intended to reduce administrative costs and burdens by allowing states to qualify families for multiple benefits 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 USDA would force states to duplicate efforts as they evaluate residents for programs.  

The coalition also argues that implementing the proposed rule would run counter to guidance from the 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.

Joining Nessel in signing this letter were the attorneys general from the District of Columbia, New York, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, 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.

A copy of the letter is available online here.