Litigations continue as the Trump Administration’s Department of Agriculture slashes SNAP benefits due to misinterpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Residents of Pennsylvania and California have sued President Trump’s Agriculture Department over this policy that has kept roughly 40 percent of households from receiving SNAP emergency benefits during the pandemic.
Plaintiffs Latoya Gilliam and Kayla McCrobie filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves as well as residents of Pennsylvania against the USDA and Agriculture Department secretary, George Ervin Perdue III. The lawsuit challenges the Department of Agriculture’s interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expanded food assistance. It is the position of Gilliam and McCrobie that emergency allotments outlined in the relief bill are supplemental to SNAP benefits that households are already receiving.
U.S. District Judge John Milton Younge’s preliminary injunction blocked the USDA from using their interpretation of the law. After one final appeal, the department stated that it would issue emergency payments to Pennsylvania for the month of October.
Similarly, Robin Hall and Steven Summers challenged USDA’s interpretation of this relief bill, as it denies emergency food benefits to Californians in need. According to their lawsuit, Congress directed the secretary of Agriculture to approve state requests for emergency benefits.
Instead, the USDA sent a memorandum stating that the relief bill provided the department the right to use their discretion when approving adjustment requests. Consequently, the USDA deemed households already receiving the maximum benefit payment before COVID-19 ineligible for emergency payments. Moreover, the department took it a step further by increasing SNAP benefits of all recipients to the maximum household allotment – rendering them ineligible for emergency payments.
Litigations of the lawsuit filed in California are ongoing as the USDA filed an appeal.
Representative TJ Cox (D-CA) tweeted, “Bakersfield and Fresno are #1 and #3 in food hardship rates for the whole country.”
Despite food hardship rates, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that President Trump’s 2021 budget would not only cut food services for millions but it would also thoroughly reorganize SNAP, cutting benefits by more than $180 billion, nearly 30 percent over the next ten years.
Representative Joe Morelle (D-NY) tweeted, “Time and time again, this President has shown his disregard for our most vulnerable to slash #SNAP benefits…We cannot allow him to further gut this critical program in his 2021 budget proposal.”
With the collapsing economy and the political gridlock of a new Coronavirus relief bill, limiting SNAP benefits only exacerbates food insecurity. “The Courts are clear: the Trump Admin’s rule of stealing food off the table of over one million struggling Americans is contrary to the law,” said Pelosi.
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