Top Class Actions announced that in California, lead plaintiffs and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, Robin Hall and Steven Summers, filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for restricting them from access to emergency food assistance benefits because they already receive the maximum amount of SNAP food assistance benefits. The complaint stated, “USDA is denying emergency food assistance to those who need it the most in the midst of this unparalleled economic and health catastrophe.”
SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal assistance program designed to help low-income people buy healthy food. According to the USDA's facts about SNAP, eligibility for SNAP benefits may apply to those who are:
State public assistance agencies run the program through their local offices. The amount of SNAP benefits you can get is based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is an estimate of how much it costs to buy food to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals for your household. This estimate is changed every year to keep pace with food prices."
In the lawsuit, Hall and Summer explained that they are each receiving the highest amount of SNAP benefits as one-person households. This means they are among the population demonstrating the highest need with the “lowest incomes, fewest resources, and greatest likelihood of hunger.” In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic with social distancing regulations in place, decreased access to food, rising costs of food staples, and an increase in unemployment make them the most vulnerable. "These conditions brought on by the coronavirus reportedly has led to one in four California households to be food insecure."
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed by Congress to alleviate the negative economic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by providing funding for free coronavirus testing, 14-day paid leave for American workers affected by the pandemic, and increased funding for food stamps. Moreover, according to the class-action lawsuit, Congress reportedly instructed the USDA to provide additional assistance to states by approving their requests for emergency benefits. However, California and the USDA settled on using the emergency funds to bring all SNAP recipients up to the maximum benefits without addressing those already receiving the maximum benefit and requiring additional support.
In their class-action lawsuit, Hall and Summer demand a closer examination of the USDA’s interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and seek increased access to food stamps. The state's Department of Social Services agrees. It "reportedly sent a letter rejecting the USDA’s interpretation of the additional assistance, saying that not providing benefits to the families most in need would not help 'alleviate the negative impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic' as intended and would actively harm families."