- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Demands Suspension of Rulemaking That Would Cut Food Assistance amid COVID-19 Crisis
Boston — Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 22 state attorneys general and the City of New York demanding that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) immediately suspend rulemaking that would cut food assistance for 3.1 million people.
In a letter to the 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 makes it harder to qualify for food benefits and imposes significant new administrative burdens on states.
“This is an incredibly difficult time for people across Massachusetts, including many residents relying on SNAP to help feed their families,” said AG Healey. “We cannot allow this cruel proposal to cut millions of people from this critical food assistance program.”
The proposed rule, “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” would limit families’ access to SNAP, the country’s most important anti-hunger program. SNAP is a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty—and it is a crucial lifeline that could prevent families from going hungry at a time when more than 20 million Americans, including more than 570,000 Massachusetts residents, have lost jobs in the last month.
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 also 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, 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 nationwide and 90,000 people in Massachusetts during the pandemic: If the proposed rule is finalized now, over 3.1 million low-income people, and 90,000 Massachusetts residents, 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: Individuals under stay-at-home orders 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 SNAP benefits.
- Impose major administrative burdens on states fighting COVID-19: The proposed rule would impose substantial additional administrative burdens on states, at a time when states are acting as front-line public health and economic responders and focusing every possible resource on keeping residents safe and healthy. BBCE was intended to reduce administrative costs and burdens by allowing states to qualify families for multiple benefits programs simultaneously, rather than requiring states to assess the same family multiple times using separate qualification processes for each program. Eliminating BBCE would force states to duplicate efforts as they evaluate residents for programs that they desperately need.
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.
AG Healey has repeatedly fought to protect SNAP benefits for some of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents, most recently in January, joining a lawsuit to protect the SNAP benefits of over 700,000 people across the country. For Massachusetts residents seeking food assistance and other support during this crisis, the AG’s COVID-19 resource page offers information and guidance.
The letter AG Healey signed on to today was led by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and New York State, and also joined by California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, 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.