MORRIS COUNTY — Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that New Jersey is joining 15 other states and municipalities in filing a lawsuit to block a federal rule that, if allowed to stand, would cut off federal food assistance for approximately 700,000 Americans. Thousands of New Jersey residents could be affected.
The challenged rule, which was issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in November 2019 and is scheduled to take effect in April 2020, limits states’ ability to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as “food stamps,” beyond a three-month period for certain adults.
Generally, non-disabled individuals without dependents must meet work requirements in order to receive more than three months of SNAP benefits in any 36-month period. But the federal government historically has allowed States to continue SNAP benefits beyond the usual time limits for individuals in areas of high unemployment, because those individuals often find it more difficult to meet the work requirements. The new rule restricts States’ ability to provide such extensions.
Waivers have allowed New Jersey to continue to provide SNAP benefits to individuals who face education or skills challenges in acquiring jobs, barriers in matching with effective job training, or other obstacles. Time-limit waivers help individuals continue to build the skills needed to find and sustain employment, while avoiding food insecurity, which can pose its own challenges for job searchers.
The complaint filed today alleges that the new rule will harm New Jersey and its residents by limiting the State’s ability to seek additional assistance for individuals in need of food assistance.
”We are committed to helping everyone in New Jersey succeed in a strong and fair economy,” said Attorney General Grewal. “But too many people still struggle to make ends meet, and food insecurity only makes it harder. Taking food off the table of someone who’s struggling won’t help them thrive, and in this case, it violates federal law.”
“New Jersey has been able to use flexibility to help individuals without dependents who face challenging economic circumstances receive food assistance benefits beyond a three-month limit. It’s wrong to take away that flexibility when we are helping people get on a better financial footing,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “The Trump Administration’s rule will hurt New Jerseyans, and we hope the courts agree this is bad policy that should be stopped.”
First authorized in 1977 as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP has long been the country’s frontline weapon against hunger and an important safety net for low-income people. The program provides access to nutrition for millions of Americans with limited incomes who would otherwise struggle with food insecurity.
In 1996, Congress introduced the work requirements and three-month limit on benefits for individuals aged 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising children. The complaint asserts that Congress recognized at the time that States are best positioned to determine where local job opportunities are limited and present challenges to meeting program requirements.
USDA’s new limits on SNAP benefits resemble limits that Congress has rejected on multiple occasions, most recently in 2018.
According to the complaint, USDA’s decision to adopt the new limits without congressional authorization violates federal law. USDA also violated procedural requirements for federal agency rules, according to the plaintiffs.
The complaint explains that the new limits on SNAP benefits curtail nutrition assistance “critical to ensuring access to food for low-income people who live in areas with limited opportunities.”
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—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, while their decreased purchasing power may harm local economies.
The government coalition challenging the rule is led by the District of Columbia and the State of New York. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A motion for a preliminary injunction filed on the same day as the complaint seeks to stop the rule from taking effect.
Deputy Attorney General Marie Soueid and Assistant Attorney General Glenn J. Moramarco are representing the State in this matter.