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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
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES USDA TO REMOVE BUREAUCRATIC BARRIERS THREATENING SNAP DURING PANDEMIC

~ Waiving burdensome administrative requirements will enable states to expedite critical food assistance to vulnerable residents ~

RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition 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. In a letter to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Attorney General Herring and his colleagues make clear that adjustments to administering SNAP—like 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 Trump Administration to provide guidance on what is required for approvable waivers, expand the flexibility of waiver options, and continue granting waivers during the pandemic.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis, which also means that more Virginians than ever may be turning to SNAP benefits to feed their families,” said Attorney General Herring. “Food access is critical to keeping families and communities healthy, but the Trump Administration has attempted to make several changes to SNAP that could potentially leave millions without a way to put food on their table. We must continue to accommodate our new reality and make it as easy as possible for Virginians to apply for and receive these crucial benefits.”

 

SNAP 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 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.

 

Attorney General Herring has been fighting to protect SNAP benefits and block the Trump Administration’s attempts to cut vital food assistance for millions of Americans. In June, he sent a letter urging Congress to maintain vital food assistance in the next coronavirus stimulus package. In April, Attorney General Herring joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general and the City of New York in demanding the Trump Administration immediately suspend rulemaking that would cut food assistance for 3.1 million people. Additionally, in January, Attorney General Herring filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump Administration’s new rule that would eliminate SNAP benefits for nearly 700,000 Americans, including nearly 4,500 Virginians.

 

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

 

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