Attorney General Ford, 21 States Urge Trump Administration to Halt Rulemaking to Cut SNAP Benefits During Pandemic

April 21, 2020

 Carson City, NV – Today, Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford called on the Trump Administration to immediately suspend rulemaking that would cut food assistance for 3.1 million people. In a letter to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), AG Ford urges the agency not to finalize a proposed rule that would take Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits of low-income Americans. The rule would also make it harder to qualify for food benefits and imposes significant new administrative burdens on states. AG Ford joined by a coalition of 22 attorneys general in this action.

“Many Nevadans have lost their jobs and are trying to find ways to make ends meet,” said AG Ford. “At its core, SNAP is a federal and state effort to help lift people out of poverty and provide a lifeline to families going to bed hungry. At a time when more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs, we should be focusing on supporting families throughout this crisis instead of denying needed assistance.”

The Trump Administration’s proposed rule “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” would limit families’ access to SNAP, the country’s most important anti-hunger program, which is often referred to as “food stamps.” SNAP provides people with limited incomes the opportunity to buy nutritious food that they otherwise could not afford.

The 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 childcare, housing, or education expenses. BBCE is used by 39 states including Nevada, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the multi-state coalition asserts that the USDA should 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 individuals 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 36,000 Americans, 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 the states at a time when they are acting as front-line 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 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 Trump Administration would force states to duplicate efforts as they evaluate residents for programs that they desperately need.

In addition to Nevada, other states participating in this letter include: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, 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 attached.