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March 16, 2020

Patient Advocates Applaud Judges’ Decision to Block SNAP Final Rule

Coronavirus pandemic makes SNAP benefits even more critical for patients and families


National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF) applauded a federal judge’s decision to block a Trump Administration rule that would have kicked 700,000 people off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), traditionally known as food stamps, that provides food-purchasing assistance for low-income families.


“Good health isn’t just about medical care. It depends on access to nutrition, safe housing and other social determinants of health,” said Rebecca Kirch, executive vice president of NPAF.


In the challenged Final Rule, USDA changed the criteria for states to be able to waive work requirements, making it harder to designate areas as low employment and creating much larger areas within which people would have been forced to search for jobs. For instance, the USDA went from six potential criteria for a work requirement waiver to just two. The final rule also added, for the first time in this regulatory scheme, an unemployment rate floor to the waiver criteria.


“USDA ignored the lived experience of people who use the SNAP program,” said Kirch. “Not only did they group suburbs in with rural areas potentially hundreds of miles away, but they then disregarded the transportation limitations of that population. For years, transportation has been one of the most frequent reasons people reach out to the Patient Advocate Foundation, to the point where we now use it as a social determinant of health.”


The Final Rule would have been implemented on April 1, 2020, despite the declaration of a national emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new 24-month period demanded by the challenged Final Rule would not have taken the economic changes implemented by states and municipalities nationwide.  


In the decision, the federal judge further criticized the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to consider the evidence offered by the many people and organizations who wrote in protest to the proposed rule, noting that “notwithstanding these critical comments, USDA proceeded in the challenged Final Rule to adopt changes that, in some respects, were more draconian those those initially proposed.”


“At NPAF, our mission is to amplify the patient’s voice,” said Kirch, “and so we found it particularly disturbing that the USDA would ignore the voices of so many people who would be affected by the final rule.”



NPAF protested the proposed rule in a comment letter to USDA. NPAF has also previously expressed its objections to work requirements, noting that the application of these requirements would ultimately work against the aims of safety net programs.