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New York City Joins State Coalition to Stop Trump Snap Cuts that Would Leave Millions Hungry During Pandemic

June 1, 2020

City of New York and 24 Attorneys General urge Congress to maintain vital food assistance in next Coronavirus stimulus package

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson today joined a coalition of 24 Attorneys General in urging Congress to block the Trump administration’s attempts to cut vital food assistance for millions of Americans. In a letter to Congress, the coalition expressed support for provisions in the House-passed HEROES Act that would prohibit the use of appropriation funds for three U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administrative rules. The rules would cut food assistance under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) by making it harder to qualify for SNAP food assistance benefits, reducing State flexibility to continue benefits beyond the three-month limit, and reducing benefit amounts for certain households. The coalition argues that, especially during this unprecedented time of economic turmoil due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Congress should work to protect and expand our nation’s largest anti-hunger program.

“At a time when food insecurity in our city and our nation is higher than ever, it is unconscionable that the Trump administration would want to roll SNAP back,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Here in New York, we are doing everything we can to ensure no one goes hungry. The Trump administration should be stepping up and expanding, not restricting, access to food.”

“The poorest in our communities have been hit particularly hard by the current health crisis. They are losing their jobs and struggling to put food on their tables,” said Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson. “The House-based HEROES Act ensures that millions of Americans will continue to receive the food assistance they desperately need. Any attempt to reduce the number of families receiving food assistance or to reduce the amount of those benefits during this unprecedented economic and global health crisis is cruel and wrongheaded. This is a time when the federal government should be expanding food benefits, not restricting them.”

SNAP, previously 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. In March alone, 40 percent of American households with incomes below $40,000 lost jobs. From March 15 to May 15 of this year, 40.8 million Americans filed for unemployment. Unsurprisingly, the number of Americans applying for SNAP benefits has also spiked. As more Americans struggle to put food on the table with each passing day, cuts to food assistance programs that millions need to survive would only compound the suffering of this public health emergency.

The Trump administration’s three SNAP rules would:

  • Cut SNAP benefits for 700,000 Americans by restricting states from extending benefit time limits: There is 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). However, states can acquire a waiver of this 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. The ABAWD waiver rule would push nearly 700,000 Americans off SNAP by forcing states to rely on broad unemployment rates—instead of localized job availability for low-income individuals—in order to extend SNAP benefits to needy individuals for more than three months. This rule is currently partially enjoined by a federal court after many states in this coalition brought suit, and Congress waived SNAP time limits during the public health emergency in the Families First Act. That common sense measure serves as a template for future congressional action pertaining to SNAP.
  • Remove 3.1 million Americans from SNAP by making it harder to qualify for benefits: A long-standing policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility” (BBCE) 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 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. The Revision of Categorical Eligibility rule would eliminate SNAP benefits for 3.1 million Americans by restricting states’ ability to use BBCE. Currently families are allowed to preserve basic emergency savings while maintaining their eligibility for food assistance under BBCE, but this rule would effectively require Americans to go completely broke before receiving SNAP benefits.
  • Reduce monthly benefits for SNAP households: SNAP benefits are based on states’ calculation of net income; the lower the net income, the higher the SNAP benefits. The Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances rule would change how states can account for the costs of utilities, including home heating and cooling, as they calculate net income for SNAP household benefits. The change will result in 19 percent of SNAP households receiving lower SNAP monthly benefits and will disproportionately affect Americans who are uniquely vulnerable at this time—seniors and people with disabilities.

The letter was led by District of Columbia AG Karl A. Racine and New York AG Letitia James. A copy of the letter is available here.

"SNAP benefits are critically important for New Yorkers with the greatest need, a population that has surged in number since the COVID-19 crisis began, and these cuts must be stopped so that our neighbors can continue to have the dignity of access to food. Regardless of what happens in Washington, we will not let any New Yorker go hungry due to this crisis, and I urge any New Yorker who needs help to visit to get connected to services," said Kathryn Garcia, Food Czar and Department of Sanitation Commissioner.

"The SNAP program is literally a lifeline to more than a million New Yorkers, ensuring that families have the ability to buy healthy, nutritious food. The program also generates significant local economic activity. Any restrictions to SNAP are cruel and ill conceived. During these unprecedented times we should be expanding the program, not thinking about how to restrict it," said Kate MacKenzie, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded food insecurity challenges across the country, with more Americans now relying on food assistance programs, including SNAP, to make ends meet during these unprecedented times," said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. "Today, we are proud to partner with a group of 24 Attorney Generals in calling on Congress to pass legislation that would prohibit the Trump Administration from implementing further cuts to a program that millions of Americans rely on every day to feed their families. Our City is committed to using every tool at our disposal to ensure that no individual goes hungry during these challenging times."

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