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National review

Biden is setting a dangerous precedent

President Joe Biden’s recent order to extend food aid to US households, while well-intentioned, represents a significant overstepping of the executive branch and an obvious attempt to override the intent of Congress. If successful, this dangerous precedent would open the door to major expansions to the social safety net without the approval of Congress. Congress must oppose attempts by the President to undermine the intent of existing law. Less than a week after Biden’s presidency began, the new government issued a series of executive orders that focused on providing economic relief from COVID-19. Such an arrangement is intended to expand food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or through food stamps. In it, President Biden instructed the Department of Agriculture (USDA) “to take immediate steps to make it easier for the most vulnerable families to enroll and receive more generous critical food and nutrition services.” In reality, the Executive Ordinance is telling a federal agency – the USDA – to intentionally misinterpret the Families First Act and undermine the constitutional authority of Congress over the legislative process. The Families First Act, passed in March 2020, clearly outlined that states can request exemptions from the Department of Agriculture to grant SNAP households emergency grants “no greater than the applicable monthly maximum allotment for household size.” In normal times, 60 percent of households enrolled in SNAP do not receive the maximum benefit because they receive income from other sources – such as B. Income – that they can use to buy food. The emergency quotas recognized that millions of people lost their jobs or were exposed to other employment disruptions in the pandemic and that those enrolled with SNAP were at particular risk of job losses at the start of the pandemic. Instead of requiring SNAP households to report a change in job or income to their government agency and waiting for the bureaucrats to recalculate their benefits, the emergency grants gave each SNAP recipient the maximum allowed. Admittedly, this was not a very focused effort. Some families received a surge in SNAP dollars without any change in household income or financial circumstances. However, the immediacy of the economic shock sparked by the pandemic and the ongoing instability of employment today required an equally expedient policy response. President Trump’s Department of Agriculture had approved emergency allocation plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands – but only in accordance with the law. The department extended these emergency exemptions several times, most recently to January 2021. The USDA – and Congress itself – continued to offer states flexibility after the pandemic. According to the federal government, all of the efforts outlined above resulted in SNAP benefits increasing more than 40 percent in the past fiscal year, adding more than $ 31 billion in additional spending compared to fiscal 2019. Class action lawsuits have been filed in Pennsylvania and California by persons who disagree with the USDA’s interpretation of the law: Regular SNAP plus emergency awards cannot extend benefits beyond the maximum benefit level. Attorneys for the lawsuits argue that the USDA can legally approve emergency grants equal to the maximum benefit, which, if so, would mean households could receive the SNAP maximum benefit plus the maximum emergency grant – essentially doubling the benefit amounts. A federal judge in California approved the USDA while the Pennsylvania case is ongoing. The Biden government’s executive order encourages the USDA to misinterpret the 2020 law in a similar manner. The legal text is not ambiguous. It is hard to imagine that Congress could be any clearer than “meeting temporary food needs no greater than the current monthly maximum allocation for household size”. If Congress wanted to give people more than the SNAP maximum, it would have done so. In fact, in the end, Congress did just that – the benefits of the COVID-19 relief package passed last month increased by 15 percent. If the Biden administration succeeds in doing this, it will open the door to a series of executive actions aimed at expanding the safety net without action by Congress. Unless the political representatives of the Biden government feel constrained by law, we will see greater benefits for an increasing number of people. Such measures not only undermine the integrity of the social safety net by bypassing Congress, but also disregard the separation of powers enshrined in the founding documents of our republic. The American public has broadly supported the efforts of Congress to provide economic relief for troubled households. Let’s keep this authority in its right place.

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