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Attorney General of Virginia


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Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
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ATTORNEY GENERARL HERRING DEMANDS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION HALT RULE THAT WOULD LEAVE 3.1 MILLION AMERICANS HUNGRY DURING PANDEMIC

~ Coalition of 22 attorneys general and New York City argue USDA rulemaking would cut SNAP benefits for the most vulnerable amid COVID-19 crisis ~

RICHMOND (April 21, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 22 Attorneys General and the City of New York in demanding that the Trump Administration immediately suspend rulemaking that would cut food assistance for 3.1 million people. In a letter to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge 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 would also make it harder to qualify for food benefits and imposes significant new administrative burdens on states. The coalition warns that it is deeply irresponsible to move forward with these changes during a global pandemic and deepening economic crisis in which hundreds of thousands of people are ill and millions have lost jobs.

 

“We are facing an unprecedented economic crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and, unfortunately, that means more Virginians will have to use SNAP benefits to make sure that their families are fed,” said Attorney General Herring. “If the Trump Administration continues with this new rule it would be incredibly irresponsible and leave millions without a way to get food on the table. Food access is critical to healthy families and healthy communities, and even more so when we are in the middle of a public health crisis.”

 

The Trump Administration’s proposed rule “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” would limit low-income families’ access to SNAP, the country’s most important anti-hunger program, SNAP provides people with limited incomes the opportunity to buy nutritious food that they otherwise could not afford. SNAP is a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty—and it is a critical lifeline that could prevent families from going hungry at a time when more than 20 million Americans have lost jobs in the last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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 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 during the pandemic: If the proposed rule is finalized now, over 3.1 million low-income people 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: To prevent the further spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than 36,000 Americans, including at least 324 Virginians, it is necessary for people to comply with stay-at-home orders in their jurisdictions and continue social distancing. In order to do so, they 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 food stamps. These workers should not have to worry about how to feed their own families too.
  • Impose major administrative burdens on States that are desperately fighting COVID-19: The Rule would impose substantial additional administrative burdens on the 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. BBCE was intended to reduce administrative costs and burdens by allowing states to qualify families for multiple benefits programs at once, rather than having to assess the same families multiple times and using separate qualification processes for each program. By eliminating BBCE, the Trump administration 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.

 

In January, Attorney General Herring filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump Administration’s new rule that would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for nearly 700,000 Americans, including nearly 4,500 Virginians. 

 

Following Governor Northam’s state of emergency declaration, Attorney General Herring has taken many actions to help Virginians navigate the uncertainty surrounding the COVID19 pandemic. Attorney General Herring has:

  • Successfully petitioned the SCC to put a hold on all utility disconnections and, in response to a second request from Attorney General Herring, the SCC extended that freeze and suspended all late fees for the duration of the state of emergency
  • Reviewed price gouging complaints from around the Commonwealth with his Consumer Protection Section and investigated any potential violations and pursued violators, including sending warning letters to dozens of businesses about which Virginians have complained
  • Issued numerous warnings urging Virginians to be wary of COVID19 related scams as well as scams related to the federal stimulus package
  • Issued an advisory opinion outlining the authority of public bodies, including local governments, to conduct meetings and critical public business while meeting social distancing needs and important transparency and accountability obligations
  • Sent letters to Amazon, Facebook, Craigslist, Ebay, and Walmart urging them to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services
  • Urged Virginians who have lost or could lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 health crisis to evaluate their insurance options to make sure that they remain covered during this unprecedented national health crisis
  • Lead a multistate effort of 20 attorneys general in urging 3M to do more to combat inflated prices of N95 respirators and other desperately needed PPE

 

Additionally, Attorney General Herring has urged the Trump Administration to take many different actions to protect Virginians and Americans during this time including:

 

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York.

 

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