Attorney General Phil Weiser urges USDA to remove barriers to SNAP access during pandemic
Waiving burdensome administrative requirements will enable states to expedite critical food assistance to thousands of vulnerable Colorado residents
Sept. 17, 2020 (DENVER, Colo.)—Attorney General Phil Weiser today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to waive administrative burdens so that states can continue to expedite the distribution of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to residents during the pandemic, including the more than 456,000 individuals Colorado serves in food assistance on a yearly basis.
In a letter to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the USDA, a coalition of 22states and New York City says that adjustments to administering SNAP—like allowing virtual interviews with SNAP recipients and extensions on reporting deadlines—help tens of thousands of SNAP recipients receive food assistance by allowing states to safely and efficiently recertify eligibility and process applications.
While FNS approved these waivers at the beginning of the pandemic, the agency has recently started denying some requests without sufficient explanation. The coalition urges the administration to provide guidance on what is required for approvable waivers, expand the flexibility of waiver options, and continue granting waivers during the pandemic.
“The thousands of Coloradans on food assistance need quick, reliable access to benefits, especially during a pandemic when so many are faced with work and housing challenges,” said Weiser. “By continuing to allow virtual interviews and deadline extensions, the USDA can respond with grace and common sense, enabling Coloradans to remain safe and to prevent hunger.”
In March 2020, as states began declaring public health emergencies, FNS approved waiver requests that helped ease regulatory burdens on state SNAP agencies so they could focus their resources on issuing SNAP benefits even as caseloads drastically increased and state budget constraints prevented the agencies from hiring additional personnel.
However, in a move to return to pre-pandemic operations, FNS recently told states that waivers would be approved only on a more limited basis. A lack of clear, public guidance on the criteria for these waivers and FNS’s lack of explanation for denials have left some states scrambling to formulate requests. Without waivers, states cannot process large backlogs of applications and eligibility recertifications in time to prevent families from temporarily losing benefits.
The coalition urges FNS to help states secure longer-term waivers by posting clear guidance on its website about what information states should include in waiver requests as required by the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act, and by increasing the duration and flexibility of waiver options.
FNS is also currently requiring states to apply for most of the available waivers on a monthly basis. This requirement for monthly applications has placed a significant regulatory burden on the states at a time when most state SNAP agencies are overwhelmed with increased caseloads. The coalition urges FNS to allow states to liberally apply for multiple multi-month waivers of all commonly requested adjustments, so states can continue to support families during this crisis.