Prepared Remarks: Multistate SNAP ABAWD Lawsuit

Prepared Remarks


Attorney General Karl A. Racine
Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia
Multistate SNAP ABAWD Lawsuit Press Call
January 16, 2020


Thank you all for joining us today.

New York Attorney General James and I organized this call to announce that we are co-leading a coalition of 15 states and New York City in a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration’s unlawful effort to strip food assistance from nearly 700,000 vulnerable Americans.

Under well-settled law, the executive branch does not get to push forward with policies that Congress has specifically rejected.

But that is exactly what the administration is trying to do.

In 1996, Congress introduced a three-month time limit on access to benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP.

This applied to so-called able-bodied persons without dependents, with the goal of pushing more people into the labor force.

But legislators understood that not everyone is out of a job because they don’t want a job—and no one should be punished with hunger because they cannot find a job.

Congress therefore granted states the ability to acquire a waiver from this three-month time limit.

Specifically, Congress, has reauthorized this statute on four occasions without any changes… Even rejecting proposals to curtail the criteria for waivers—on a bipartisan basis, under a Republican majority, no less—as recently as 2018.

Now, the United States Department of Agriculture is trying to write those changes into their regulations.

That’s right: USDA is seeking to mandate rules that Congress has specifically rejected.

The Trump administration is attempting an end-run around Congress—discarding over two decades of policy guidance and contravening SNAP’s intent without any reasonable justification.

If the rule takes effect, it will force Americans searching for jobs to go hungry.

This will only make it harder for them to acquire the skills and training they need to find jobs. That is unlawful, and unacceptable.

In the District of Columbia, over 13,000 residents are at risk, many of whom are stuck in the middle of a skills gap.

The vast majority of job openings in the District require degrees and training that these D.C. residents simply do not possess.

That means D.C. residents are left competing over a small slice of low-paying jobs with unreliable hours. And many are simply locked out of employment.

If the administration locks them out of food assistance, too, that will not encourage them to work.

It will abandon them to despair, hopelessness, and desperation.

It will expose these residents to malnutrition and other health hazards—while raising the District’s healthcare costs.

It will force them to choose between food on the table or a roof over their heads—while weakening the District’s economy… And concentrating those impacts within overburdened lower-income communities.

We do not intend to let that happen.

Legislating is not the job of the executive branch. It is the job of Congress.

And it is the job of state Attorneys General to hold the administration accountable. That’s what we’re doing today.

We are bringing this lawsuit to protect SNAP recipients nationwide, to stop the administration from circumventing Congress, and to defend the principle of separation of powers.

I want to publicly thank the D.C. Department of Human Services and D.C. Legal Aid, for their support in this case and their commitment to help struggling D.C. residents…

The 13 state Attorneys General and the City of New York for joining our coalition…

And, of course, I want to thank Attorney General James and her exceptional team for their partnership with us.

With that, I’ll turn it over to General James.

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