AG Racine Leads 22-State Coalition Urging USDA To Remove Red Tape Threatening SNAP During Pandemic

Waiving Burdensome Administrative Requirements Will Enable States to Expedite Critical Food Assistance to Vulnerable Residents

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a group of 22 states and New York City in urging the Trump administration to waive certain administrative burdens so that states can expedite the distribution of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to residents during the pandemic, including approximately 133,000 District residents. In a letter to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the coalition makes clear that adjustments to administering SNAP—such as allowing virtual interviews with SNAP recipients and extensions on reporting deadlines—help tens of thousands of SNAP recipients receive food assistance by allowing states to safely and efficiently recertify eligibility and process applications. While FNS approved these waivers at the beginning of the pandemic, the agency has recently started denying some requests without sufficient explanation. The coalition urges the Administration to provide guidance on what is required for approvable waivers, expand the flexibility of waiver options, and continue granting waivers during the pandemic.

“Tens of thousands of people who rely on food assistance could go hungry if the Trump administration refuses to waive burdensome requirements for states administering SNAP benefits during a pandemic with limited resources,” said AG Racine. “Our coalition of state Attorneys General urges the USDA to follow the law and allow states the flexibility to ensure that vulnerable Americans receive the food assistance they need.” 

SNAP, commonly known as “food stamps,” is our country’s most important anti-hunger program and a critical part of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty. The program provides people with limited incomes the opportunity to buy nutritious food that they otherwise could not afford. As of August 2020, approximately 133,000 District residents received SNAP benefits.

In March 2020, as states began declaring public health emergencies, FNS approved waiver requests that helped ease regulatory burdens on state SNAP agencies so they could focus their resources on issuing SNAP benefits even as caseloads drastically increased and state budget constraints prevented the agencies from hiring additional personnel. These waivers included allowing virtual interviews with SNAP recipients instead of requiring in-person meetings and providing extensions on reporting deadlines.

However, in a move to return to pre-pandemic operations, FNS recently told states that waivers would be approved only on more limited bases. The criteria for obtaining waiver approvals appears to have become increasingly strict, and it is unclear how FNS is evaluating these criteria state-by-state. A lack of clear, public guidance on the criteria for these waivers and FNS’s lack of explanation for denials have left some states scrambling to formulate requests. Without waivers, states cannot process large backlogs of applications and eligibility recertifications in time to prevent families from temporarily losing benefits.

The coalition urges FNS to help states secure longer-term waivers by:

  • Posting clear guidance and criteria for how waivers are approved: FNS has not posted guidance on its website about what information states should include in waiver requests despite being required to do so by the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act. Without this guidance, states cannot easily determine why some states’ requests have been approved while others have been denied. Posting this guidance publicly will allow states to see what data must be supplied to request adjustments and whether FNS is fairly assessing the economic and public health conditions in those states.
     
  • Increasing duration and flexibility of waiver options: FNS is currently requiring states to apply for most of the available waivers on a monthly basis even though all states and the federal government continue operating under public health emergency declarations and the pandemic is likely to continue for many more months. This requirement for monthly applications has placed a significant regulatory burden on the states at a time when most state SNAP agencies are overwhelmed with increased caseloads. The coalition urges FNS to allow states to liberally apply for multiple multi-month waivers of all commonly requested adjustments.

The letter is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/Multistate-SNAP-Letter-FNS-Operational-Adjusments.pdf

AG Racine is leading today’s letter and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York.

Defending Access to Anti-Hunger Programs
This multistate letter is just the latest in AG Racine’s work to protect low-income District residents from federal efforts to gut the social safety net. AG Racine won a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit he led to stop the Trump administration from unlawfully taking nutrition assistance away from more than 700,000 Americans, and led efforts opposing USDA rule changes, including a 24-state comment opposing the proposed categorical eligibility rule. AG Racine also joined a coalition of five Attorneys General in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s “Public Charge Rule,” which was designed to discourage hardworking eligible immigrants and their families from accessing programs like SNAP.

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