CLS and superstar pro bono co-counsel Morgan Lewis just settled litigation that will deliver $712 million emergency SNAP (food stamp) benefits to approximately 650,000 of the neediest Pa households! In addition, the USDA will be changing their national policy so that approximately 12 million families nationwide will get additional SNAP benefits they are owed.
The fearless CLS team was Louise Hayes, Amy Hirsch and Liz Soltan. John Lavelle led the expert team of lawyers from Morgan Lewis.
Last March, Congress enacted emergency relief to SNAP (food stamp) beneficiaries to address hunger and food needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The USDA interpreted the new law, however, to deprive the poorest SNAP beneficiaries of any emergency allotments.
Community Legal Services and Morgan Lewis have collaborated over the past year on litigation, Gilliam v. USDA, challenging the USDA’s interpretation. In September 2020, they obtained a preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania enjoining USDA from applying its interpretation to Pennsylvania.
USDA appealed from the District Court’s injunction in October 2020 and threatened to seek recoupment from Pennsylvania of any emergency allotments paid under the injunction if they succeeded in reversing it on appeal. As a result, while USDA has allocated funds to Pennsylvania in accordance with the District Court’s injunction, those funds have not to date been distributed to SNAP beneficiaries.
Plaintiffs and USDA have now reached a settlement of the Gilliam litigation. Under the settlement, all of the funds allocated by USDA to Pennsylvania to date under the injunction – over $700 million – will be available for distribution to Pennsylvania SNAP recipients. The lawsuit and appeal will be dismissed, and USDA agrees not to seek recoupment from Pennsylvania. In addition, USDA will be paying attorneys’ fees and costs to Community Legal Services and Morgan Lewis pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act.
“We are so pleased that USDA is revisiting this issue so that people across the country can receive the help they need,” said Louise Hayes, Supervising Attorney at Community Legal Services. “Over 650,000 households in Pennsylvania—including seniors, people with disabilities and families with children—will finally be getting the extra SNAP they were previously denied. The pandemic has greatly increased hunger, and this will help parents put food on the table for their children.”