Food Stamps Shakeup Couldn’t Be Timed Worse, AGs Warn

Outside a yoga studio in San Diego, a sign encourages pedestrians to take what they need from a table piled with food and other goods. (Photo by Barbara Leonard/Courthouse News Service)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Nearly two dozen attorneys general and New York City warned Agriculture Secretary George Perdue on Tuesday that the government is set to leave 3.1 million people in the U.S. hungry during a pandemic.

“It would be deeply irresponsible to impose this rule change during a global pandemic and deepening economic crisis,” New York City­­­­ Corporation Counsel James Johnson said in a statement this afternoon, announcing the move. “Hundreds of thousands of people are ill; tens of thousands have died; and more than 20 million have lost jobs. This rule will force our most vulnerable residents to make the harshest of choices: choose food or choose other critical human needs, including housing and medicine.”

Johnson, whose city represents the nation’s epicenter of Covid-19 infections, brought the letter along with attorneys general from his state, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

“It is vital to our national response to this crisis that people who are supposed to stay home be able to have food on the table at home,” they wrote. “Those who are working from home, or are staying home and unable to look for work, or are staying home from school or daycare, still need to eat.” 

According to the letter, the Department of Agriculture’s own projections estimate the rule would make some 1.7 million households containing 3.1 million people ineligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by the end of the fiscal year.

“Moreover, Congress recently passed emergency legislation appropriating billions of dollars of additional funds for SNAP to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, and also waiving benefit time limits during this public health emergency that would have otherwise caused approximately 700,000 individuals to lose vital food assistance,” the letter states. “This proposed rule threatens more than four times that number of people with hunger, including hundreds of thousands of children.”

The SNAP program has faced several challenges from the Trump administration, including one proposal to treat immigrants who would need such assistance as so-called “public charges” and another that would have cut 700,000 from the program.

A federal judge in New York blocked the public-charge rule initially, but the Supreme Court reinstated it pending a ruling on that issue. Another federal judge in Washington issued a blistering ruling last month on the other attack on the program.

“Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential,” Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell wrote in a March ruling that the attorneys general cited in Tuesday’s letter.

These cuts would hurt people in need any time, the attorney generals note, adding now that is true more than ever.

“The present crisis is precisely the wrong time to be imposing additional burdens on the States in their efforts to ensure that all families are safe and nourished — and home to the extent they can be,” they wrote.

The Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

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