MURPHY, BLUMENTHAL IMPLORE USDA TO ACT TO ENSURE HUNGRY FAMILIES IN CT HAVE ACCESS TO FOOD

HARTFORD—U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today sent an urgent letter to Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue and the Administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Pam Miller imploring them to provide the state of Connecticut with immediate guidance regarding the implementation of provisions included in the just-approved Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as well as swiftly approving Connecticut’s nutrition waiver submissions.

“On March 18, the United States Senate sent the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to President Trump’s desk. This legislation includes additional aid for families and food banks. Specifically, this measure provides $400 million for the Commodity Assistance Program for the emergency food assistance program (TEFAP). TEFAP provides low-income Americans, including older Americans, with emergency food, often through distribution at local food banks. We are concerned and saddened that USDA FNS has yet to provide any information regarding the implementation of these provisions and how much assistance Connecticut will receive. Connecticut DSS officials stand ready to work with USDA FNS to ensure that Americans in need receive essential aid in a timely manner,” wrote the senators.

“As we have all seen over the past few weeks and even days, COVID-19 is moving rapidly and indiscriminately through communities across the country. As such, we implore USDA FNS to urgently approve pending nutrition waivers and provide Connecticut and their state partners with much needed guidance and clarification regarding the implementation of measures within H.R. 6201,” added the senators.

A copy of the complete letter is copied below:

Dear Secretary Perdue and Administrator Miller:

As Americans face the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, it is imperative that everyone has access to enough food to meet their nutritional needs, while being able to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance of having a two-week supply of food. It is essential that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provide the state of Connecticut with immediate guidance and clarification on the implementation of provisions of H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. USDA FNS must also swiftly approve Connecticut’s nutrition waiver submissions. It is simply unconscionable that officials at the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) have so far received little to no direction from USDA FNS and continue to wait for waivers to be approved to continue their important work of preventing hunger during this unprecedented time.

On March 18, the United States Senate sent the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to President Trump’s desk. This legislation includes additional aid for families and food banks. Specifically, this measure provides $400 million for the Commodity Assistance Program for the emergency food assistance program (TEFAP). TEFAP provides low-income Americans, including older Americans, with emergency food, often through distribution at local food banks. We are concerned and saddened that USDA FNS has yet to provide any information regarding the implementation of these provisions and how much assistance Connecticut will receive. Connecticut DSS officials stand ready to work with USDA FNS to ensure that Americans in need receive essential aid in a timely manner.

Connecticut DSS has submitted seven waivers to USDA and only three have been approved. Connecticut is still waiting on the following waivers to be approved: 1) to issue supplemental benefits to all existing SNAP households for up to a full month’s benefits 2) to waive the eligibility requirements for students in higher education enrolled more than half time 3) to extend certification periods by 90 days and waive periodic reports for 90 days 4) flexibility around Fair Hearings timeframes. While we appreciate the flexibility provided by FNS recently regarding the Quality Control process, it does little to ensure individuals and families receiving SNAP assistance have enough food in their homes to sustain them through this tumultuous period. Nor does it alleviate the burdens that state offices are feeling in attempting to meet the demands of processing new applications and recertifications with a severely depleted workforce.

The waivers regarding supplemental benefits and student requirements are vital to ensuring that people are not left without benefits at a time when some grocery stores have struggled to keep up with demand and maintain stocked shelves. Timely approval is also important to ensuring that as newly unemployed individuals apply for benefits to feed their families, local resources and phone lines are not overburdened.  

As we have all seen over the past few weeks and even days, COVID-19 is moving rapidly and indiscriminately through communities across the country. As such, we implore USDA FNS to urgently approve pending nutrition waivers and provide Connecticut and their state partners with much needed guidance and clarification regarding the implementation of measures within H.R. 6201. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and respectfully request a response by March 26, 2020. People should not have to jeopardize the health of themselves or their families to keep food on the table. Lives are on the line.

Sincerely,

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