Sarbanes, House Democrats Express Concern About Trump Administration’s Efforts to Undermine Food and Nutrition Assistance in Maryland and the District of Columbia Amid COVID-19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 4, 2020
CONTACT: Daniel Jacobs
(202) 225-4016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) today joined House Democrats in expressing their serious concern about recent actions by the Trump Administration to weaken food assistance in Maryland and the District of Columbia as the region continues to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “At the start of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, the Department – rightly – took action to remove bureaucratic obstacles to hungry Americans accessing nutrition assistance,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, it is our understanding that the Department recently informed both Maryland and the District of Columbia that it would not renew waivers allowing those jurisdictions to forgo income recertifications during the pandemic.”

The lawmakers continued: “The pandemic has not disappeared; instead, it is resurging. As a result, local department of social service offices are not open, and their staffs are working remotely, making ‘interviews’ problematic at best. While the Department suggests that recertifications could be completed online, that is simply not realistic.”

The lawmakers concluded: “Hunger has not disappeared; instead, recent reports indicate that 30 million Americans are food insecure. Given these facts, the decision to end the waivers will result in increased hunger and unnecessarily worsen the economic plight of thousands of residents in the region.  We urge you to reverse it and extend these waivers for the duration of the pandemic.”

See below for a full copy of the letter.

* * *
August 4, 2020

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
 

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write to express our serious concern that your Department is once again taking steps that are likely to increase hunger and food insecurity in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, the Department – rightly – took action to remove bureaucratic obstacles to hungry Americans accessing nutrition assistance. Unfortunately, it is our understanding that the Department recently informed both Maryland and the District of Columbia that it would not renew waivers allowing those jurisdictions to forgo income recertifications during the pandemic.

The original decision to waive recertifications recognized that in-person visits to government offices are not safe. That reality, unfortunately, has not changed. The pandemic has not disappeared; instead, it is resurging. As a result, local department of social service offices are not open, and their staffs are working remotely, making “interviews” problematic at best. While the Department suggests that recertifications could be completed online, that is simply not realistic. Our human services agencies have not had sufficient time to put new technologies in place and ensure that they will work as intended. More importantly, many beneficiaries do not have the ability to access online services, particularly with many public institutions that provide free computer access shut down by the virus. 

Moreover, the decision not to renew these waivers cannot be justified by economic circumstances. Hunger has not disappeared; instead, recent reports indicate that 30 million Americans are food insecure. The economy has not roared back to life; instead, we learned last week that GDP in the second quarter suffered its biggest decline since modern record-keeping began and that unemployment claims were on the rise again, with numerous other indicators suggesting that any economic resurgence has, at best, stalled out and, at worst, gone into reverse. 

Given these facts, the decision to end the waivers will result in increased hunger and unnecessarily worsen the economic plight of thousands of residents in the region. We urge you to reverse it and extend these waivers for the duration of the pandemic.
 

Sincerely,

/signatures

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