plastic bag

A shopper carries groceries in a plastic bag in Denver on March 21, 2020. The city is planning to postpone its implementation of fees on plastic and paper bags from going into effect this summer until Jan. 1, 2021, due to the novel coronavirus. The state legislature is considering a similar statewide ban.

Attorney General Phil Weiser joined his counterparts in 20 other states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to halt its rulemaking on a proposal to change income requirements for food assistance beneficiaries.

“The present crisis is precisely the wrong time to be imposing additional burdens on the States in their efforts to ensure that all families are safe and nourished,” reads the letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The Trump Administration’s rule, proposed in 2019, would eliminate less restrictive income requirements on food stamp eligibility that some states have implemented through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Colorado’s Department of Human Services has calculated that 33,000 residents would lose benefits under the change, approximately 7% of the total number of Coloradans receiving food assistance.

The department estimated that nearly 7,400 persons over age 60 would be affected by proposed limits on net income and assets, while 6,442 adults under age 60 who do not have children would lose benefits if they earned between $16,000 and $24,000 annually. Families with children would see the biggest impact, with 19,700 potentially removed from the program if they do not receive at least $50 per month through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“It would be irresponsible, and contrary to Congressional intent, to finalize the Proposed Rule in the middle of a global pandemic and deepening economic crisis,” wrote the attorneys general, joined by New York City’s corporation counsel. The USDA's own analysis found that 9% of households nationwide, comprising more than 3 million people, would lose their current eligibility for food assistance.

Citing a directive that federal agencies focus on “mission-critical work” that prioritizes halting the spread of COVID-19, the letter argued that “There is no plausible argument that implementation or enforcement of the Proposed Rule would slow the transmission of COVID-19.”

The USDA announced on Wednesday that it has increased SNAP benefits by approximately 40%, the result of legislation enacted in mid-March to give maximum benefits to food stamp recipients during the pandemic.

“President Trump is taking care of America’s working-class families who have been hit hard with economic distress due to the coronavirus," Perdue said.

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