Attorney General Becerra Joins Multistate Lawsuit Challenging Federal Rule Limiting Access to Food Assistance

Thursday, January 16, 2020
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Nearly 700,000 people could lose food assistance nationwide

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 15 attorneys general and the City of New York in a lawsuit challenging a Trump Administration rule that would significantly limit access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for people in need. In the complaint, the coalition argues that the rule places arbitrary and capricious restrictions on the ability of states to administer food assistance programs for able-bodied adults without dependents and disproportionately harms people of color. In the first year alone, it is estimated that more than 55,000 Californians will lose SNAP eligibility, a loss of more than $100 million in benefits.

“No one should have to choose between a hot meal and paying their rent,” said Attorney General Becerra. “But this latest Trump Administration attack on low-income Americans will force them to do just that. It will cause hundreds of thousands of people to go hungry. And, yet again, the Trump Administration has failed to offer any legitimate evidence to justify decisions that have real consequences for the health and well-being of our residents. Together with our partners all across the country, we’re fighting back and we’re confident the law is on our side.”

The new rule is part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing campaign to curtail access to important assistance programs and limit the ability of states to protect the health and well-being of their residents. It upends decades of cooperation between states and the federal government and will force people to make untenable decisions between food and other basic necessities. SNAP is a partnership between the federal government and the states intended to provide nutritional support for low-income individuals and families. Based on federal guidelines, each state designs its own process for how individuals can apply for benefits and tracks whether participants meet program requirements on a monthly basis. Approximately 4 million Californians receive essential nutrition assistance each month through CalFresh, California’s program to disperse federal SNAP benefits. Of those, more than 480,000 are able-bodied adults without dependents. In the first year of implementation alone, the rule will impact up to approximately 380,000 able-bodied adults without dependents in California.

The new rule makes it unreasonably difficult for states to obtain waivers from federal regulations to administer SNAP in a way that reflects actual needs in each state. Specifically, the rule creates harmful barriers that limit access to SNAP for able-bodied adults without dependents, undermining SNAP’s original goals of alleviating hunger and malnutrition. For example, the rule includes arbitrary limits on the types of data states can rely on in making determinations about who should be eligible for food assistance. It also allows the federal government to ignore the needs of certain populations by blocking waivers for entire regions if the region is designated as a labor surplus area. The new rule arbitrarily complicates states’ abilities to apply for and obtain waivers, making it more difficult for states to focus on providing access to food assistance.

In the lawsuit, the coalition maintains that the Trump Administration did not fully assess the impact of the proposed rule and did not consider methods for mitigating its effects, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. For instance, the rule turns a blind eye to the fact that, by the Trump Administration’s own admission, the rule will likely have a disparate impact on women and people of color who often face significant barriers to employment above and beyond the general population. Though the average unemployment rate since 1972 has been 6.1 percent for whites, that number is 13.9 percent for African Americans and 10.2 percent for Latinos.

Attorney General Becerra is dedicated to defending the health and well-being of people in California and across the country. Attorney General Becerra previously pushed back against this latest rule when the Trump Administration initially proposed it. The Attorney General also joined a multistate coalition in condemning another proposal on SNAP that threatens to revoke food assistance for families and prevent children from accessing school lunch programs. Last year, Attorney General Becerra joined a multistate lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s reversal of nutrition standards for school meals that protect the health and well-being of students around the country. He also led a multistate lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to discourage hardworking eligible immigrants and their families from accessing critical health, nutrition, and housing programs. In addition, Attorney General Becerra continues to defend the Affordable Care Act in lieu of the federal government, protecting affordable healthcare coverage for millions of Americans around the country.

In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, as well as the City of New York.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

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