01/16/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/16/2020 19:01
15 Attorneys General and New York City Allege the USDA Attempted to Circumvent Congress with Unlawful Food Stamp Rule Change
Carson City, NV - Today, Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford joined a group of 15 attorneys general and New York City in a lawsuit to prevent the Trump Administration 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. AG Ford and his 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.
'SNAP has served as our country's primary response to hunger since 1977, including my own when I was a young, single father and college student,' said AG Ford. '46,000 Nevadans stand to lose their food stamp benefits if this rule moves forward, including nearly 2,000 Nevadans in our rural communities. My office is taking a stand against the Trump Administration's attempt to cut this important safety-net program proven to help people lift themselves out of poverty.'
The SNAP program provides access to nutrition for millions of Americans with limited incomes who would otherwise struggle with food insecurity. Many Nevadans rely on SNAP benefits, including nearly 2,000 Nevadans in our rural counties of Esmeralda, Lyon and Nye. 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:
In addition to Nevada, other states participating in this action include: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, along with the City of New York. The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The States filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction concurrently with the complaint to enjoin the rule from going into effect on April 1, 2020.
The filed complaint is attached.