On June 10, 2021, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) withdrew its proposed rule to revise categorical eligibility for SNAP. This represents a victory for SNAP recipients in the District and nationally, and is the result of critical economic justice advocacy by over a hundred thousand individuals and organizations, including the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and Bread for the City.
Legal Aid and Bread for the City strongly opposed USDA’s proposed rule to revise categorical eligibility for SNAP. The proposed rule would have greatly narrowed “Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility” (BBCE) for SNAP. The District and 43 states have used BBCE to raise the SNAP eligibility limit from 130% of the Federal Poverty Level ($34,450 for a family of four) to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($53,000 for a family of four) and eliminate the SNAP asset test for these families. An additional benefit of allowing more families to qualify for SNAP is that SNAP receipt provides an automatic path to receipt of free school lunches and breakfasts. By restricting the ability to use BBCE, the proposed rule would have jeopardized the ability of millions of families across the country (and hundreds in the District) to receive the SNAP (and possibly school nutrition) benefits they require to avoid the devastating consequences of hunger.
On September 23, 2019, Legal Aid and Bread for the City, submitted a comment to the proposed rule arguing that the rule’s implementation would harm low-income people’s economic security, reduce children’s access to school lunch programs, increase states’ administrative burden, and violate congressional intent. And we were not alone. In its announcement withdrawing the rule, USDA said that they had received more than 150,000 comments, “from a broad range of stakeholders” and that the comments “generally opposed the proposed rule.”
Too many District residents already face high barriers to receiving food assistance they require due to the long lines at service centers, onerous documentation requirements and technical difficulties. (These barriers exacerbate existing disparities in access to food for low-income District residents.) The USDA’s proposed rule would have created yet another roadblock for low-income families trying to access the food they need to survive.
In its advocacy against this rule, Legal Aid Society is proud to have again partnered with Bread for the City to pose a successful challenge to federal threats to SNAP, and remains committed to continuing to fight for food access on behalf of all District residents.