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AG Dana Nessel joins food stamps lawsuit

Posted: 5:56 AM, Jan 17, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-17 05:58:38-05
Nessel

LANSING, Mich. — Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined 13 other attorneys general in a lawsuit to stop the federal government from eliminating food assistance for nearly 700,000 Americans.

The lawsuit challenges a United States Department of Agriculture rule that would limit states' ability to extend food stamp benefits beyond a three-month period for certain adults.

Nessel and her colleagues said the rule directly undermines Congress' intent for the food-stamp program and imposes significant burdens on the states and their residents.

“This proposed rule is entirely unacceptable and exhibits a blatant disregard for more than 10 percent of SNAP recipients in Michigan,” said Nessel. “I am horrified that the federal government feels comfortable not only in depriving adults of the essential assistance needed to put food on their tables, but also denying 58,743 Michigan children from eating lunch at school and consequently impacting their ability to learn.”

Nessel's office sent a release to Fox 47 detailing the arguments in the lawsuit, those are:

• Contradicts statutory language and Congress’s intent for the food-stamp program: When Congress amended SNAP and added the ABAWD time limit in 1996, it included a waiver process explicitly providing for relief from the time limit if insufficient job opportunities were available for ABAWDs and clearly indicating that states were best equipped to make this determination based on local economic and employment conditions. Congress has reaffirmed this position multiple times, most recently in 2018. Yet USDA’s new rule severely restricts states’ discretion over these matters and essentially writes this basis for waiver out of the statute, in direct contravention of law and congressional intent. Major aspects of the rule mirror proposed changes that Congress explicitly rejected in 2018.

• Raises healthcare and homelessness costs while lowering economic activity in the states: For SNAP recipients, losing benefits means losing critical access to food, raising the risk of malnutrition and other negative health effects. Studies have shown that SNAP can counteract food insecurity and lower healthcare costs for recipients by about $1,400 per person—costs that state governments will likely bear in the absence of SNAP assistance. Without SNAP benefits, many will be forced to choose between having food to eat or a place to live. Their purchasing power will decrease, harming state economies. As USDA concedes in the rule, these impacts will be most concentrated among lower-income communities of color.

• Amends the law for arbitrary and capricious reasons: The Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to offer a reasoned explanation for changing long-held policies and address why the facts and circumstances supporting the prior policy should be disregarded. For over two decades, USDA has accepted Congress’s premise that a state should define the geographic scope of its waiver request and support that request with a wide range of data sources that are together best able to capture employment prospects for ABAWDs. Yet the new rule strictly defines the area for which waivers may be sought and rejects data beyond general unemployment figures without any justification.

• Violates the federal rulemaking process: The Administrative Procedure Act governs internal procedures for federal agencies, including rulemaking. Among other requirements, agencies must solicit and consider public comments on the substance of a rule. USDA broke from this process by issuing a final rule that diverged from its proposed rule in significant ways. For example, while the proposed rule maintained that a state could receive a waiver if it qualified for extended unemployment benefits under Department of Labor policies, the final rule eliminated this basis. Thus, commenters did not receive meaningful opportunity to comment on the full extent of the agency’s changes.

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