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PRESS RELEASE: Advocates Demand USDA Rescind Guidance That Strips Emergency Food Assistance From Californians With Greatest Need


USDA’s SNAP Emergency Allotment guidance goes against Congressional intent; may require legal action

SAN FRANCISCO — Western Center on Law & Poverty and Impact Fund have sent a demand letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, requesting the Department rescind guidance from March 20th and April 21st of this year regarding implementation of SNAP (aka food stamps) emergency allotments, which Congress provided as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The Act is intended to provide emergency allotments of food assistance to eligible low-income households. Emergency assistance is critical for Californians impacted by the COVID-19 health emergency and related stay-at-home orders, as the State and the Nation face increased food expenses and the loss of other food assistance on which residents normally rely.

USDA’s current guidance illegally denies emergency food aid to the poorest households, preventing California from providing emergency SNAP allotments to those most in need. In its initial application to USDA for emergency allotments, California disagreed with USDA’s guidance, stating that families receiving the regular maximum SNAP benefit should receive additional emergency aid. USDA denied the proposal, and told the State to submit a revised proposal for emergency allotments that leaves households most in need – those receiving the pre-pandemic maximum SNAP benefit – without any emergency assistance.

“It is not only cruel and absurd that the poorest families are denied emergency aid during an unprecedented national emergency, it is also contrary to Congressional intent,” said Alexander Prieto, a Senior Litigator for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “By asserting this harsh and indefensible interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, USDA is needlessly imperiling the health of countless communities for dubious reasons.”

Families with the lowest incomes face the greatest risk of hunger and food insecurity during the COVID crisis. They are less likely to have food reserves for sheltering-in-place, and more likely to rely on food banks and other emergency channels for food distribution, which are currently overextended and under-resourced. Even if households locate a food bank, they are less able to access this resource due to the increased risk of COVID exposure they face when leaving home. Additionally, these households are more likely to include young children, as well as seniors or people with disabilities.

“USDA refuses to acknowledge the disproportionate impact this crisis is having on the ability of at-risk families to meet their basic needs,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at Impact Fund. “Before COVID, wealth and income inequality punished thousands of Californians who could barely get by. Now is not the time to further exacerbate that trend. We are simply asking USDA to ensure that everyone has food to eat.”

Western Center and Impact Fund are prepared to take legal action to protect the rights of California’s low-income SNAP recipients if USDA does not rescind its current guidance by April 29, 2020.


Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at], (214) 395-2755

Teddy Basham-Witherington, twitherington[at], (415) 845-1206





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