For Immediate Release
September 13, 2023
Contacts: Monika Lee, [email protected]
Teddy Basham-Witherington, [email protected]
Class Action Lawsuit: 42 Million Americans at Risk of Hunger if Federal Government Fails to Act
California – Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund have filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prevent a delay in providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to over 40 million Americans.
Congress must pass either appropriation bills or a “continuing resolution” to temporarily continue federal funding by September 30th, or else the federal government will shut down.
The lawsuit asserts that the USDA should exercise available strategies to order the continuation of the SNAP benefits, while Congress works on passage of the funding bills.
SNAP serves low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, providing benefits only to those whose net income is below the federal poverty level. The most recent USDA demographic data shows that 65% percent of SNAP participant households live in families with children, with 11 percent of the families receiving need-based cash aid; 36% are in households with members who are seniors or are disabled; and 41% are in households with low-wage.
Since the end of federal COVID pandemic SNAP emergency benefits, advocates are seeing millions of families hitting a hunger cliff, overwhelming food banks with increased demand. Millions of people are eating less or are going hungry, impacting their physical and mental health, education, and employment.
One plaintiff has multiple sclerosis and can no longer work. She and her family use the majority of their income to stay in motels to avoid living on the streets. When money runs out, they live in their van, which requires saving additional funds to buy ice for her medication that needs to be kept cool. She is entirely reliant on CalFresh, Californian’s version of SNAP, for her family’s food. Without CalFresh, she and her family will go hungry.
The second plaintiff is a young woman who recently found housing after two years of homelessness. She searched for and found a job, but without a four-year degree, could not earn enough to afford housing. She works as a part-time preschool teacher, going to college to increase her earning capacity. She receives CalFresh, which is crucial to her being able to meet her food needs, as her basic monthly expenses leave slim funds for food.
Both plaintiffs would go hungry if their benefits are suspended, and fear that food banks and meal centers will be overwhelmed as all CalFresh recipients will similarly be seeking those services. Their stories will become even more common without action by the USDA and other agencies.
With the filing of this case, the courts can issue a temporary restraining order to require the defendants to continue operation of the SNAP program and get benefits released to the 42 million Americans in need.
“It’s unconscionable that Congress would allow partisan fighting to get in the way of 42 million Americans putting food on their tables,” said Jodie Berger, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The USDA must ensure SNAP recipients do not experience gaps in benefits regardless of any impending government shutdown. Children should not go to bed hungry, and people should not have to choose between paying rent and eating. The neediest people living in the richest country in the world deserve to have food on the table.”
“Food justice spans economic, environmental, racial, and social justice. Every agency and Congress person must take responsibility and accountability for the 42 million lives in their hands,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at The Impact Fund. “This case is about each and every one of the individuals, families, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on SNAP to survive.”
The Impact Fund uses impact litigation to support social justice for communities seeking justice and provides legal support for lawyers through grants, co-counsel and training events. For more information, visit https://www.impactfund.org/
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.