NEW ORLEANS WORKERS’ CENTER FOR RACIAL JUSTICE
STAND WITH DIGNITY
Food stamp recipients file suit to halt Jan. 1 loss of food stamps for 62,500 Louisianans
Community leaders press Gov. Jindal & Gov.-Elect Edwards to reverse decision that will rob Louisianans of $140 million in federal food assistance
NEW ORLEANS, December 18, 2015—Individuals at risk of losing their food stamps on January 1 filed a lawsuit in federal court today (PDF, 2M), seeking to halt the planned termination of federal food benefits for up to 62,500 Louisiana residents. The suit argues that the state food stamp office has implemented new work requirements in an illegal and unconstitutional way.
This lawsuit is part of a New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) campaign calling on Governor-Elect Jon Bel Edwards to reverse Gov. Bobby Jindal’s food stamp policy as soon as the new governor takes office on Jan. 11.
This fall, Gov. Jindal refused to apply for a waiver of the work requirements under the federal food stamp program, even though Louisiana qualifies due to its high unemployment rates. As a result, up to 62,500 Louisiana residents are at risk of losing their food benefits due to a lack of sufficient employment opportunities in the state, which has only one job for every two food stamp recipients. Louisiana’s communities are also set to lose up to $140 million a year in vital federal food aid.
NOWCRJ’s lawsuit (PDF, 2M), against Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, argues that the state agency violated federal law and food stamps recipients’ constitutional due process rights in its politically-driven rush to terminate recipients’ food stamps before properly setting up the administration of the program.
Sima Atri, attorney at NOWCRJ, said: “The state’s program failed to adequately explain changes to food stamps recipients, failed to create mechanisms for people to report compliance and exemptions to the agency, and is erroneously terminating recipients’ benefits due to inadequate notice of what qualifies as work, and to faulty monitoring mechanisms.”
Food stamp recipient Schevelli Robertson, one of seven class representatives in the lawsuit, said: “My caseworker specifically told me that I had to find a paid job to comply with the rules. I do volunteer work and now know that that qualifies as work. I also had surgery and was unfit to work but didn’t know how to report that. Now I’m going to lose my food stamps and have to depend on my children to eat.”
The lawsuit calls on the court to enjoin the termination of benefits until the state agency reforms its food stamp system to come into compliance with constitutional and federal law.
Alfred Marshall, organizer of NOWCRJ’s Stand with Dignity, said, “Taking food out of people’s mouths does not create jobs. The maximum a Louisianan can get in food stamps is $194 a month. That’s not enough to eat, let alone cover rent and other basic necessities. With or without food stamps, Louisianans are trying to find work just to survive.”
“In Louisiana, especially in Black communities, there is a lack of full-time, safe, living-wage work,” said Latoya Lewis, an organizer with Stand with Dignity. “Instead of playing politics with people’s food, Louisiana’s political leaders need to tear the barriers down that lock low-wage people and people of color out of livable work.”
Stand with Dignity has led numerous campaigns addressing lack of training and employment opportunities for low-income communities through local hiring, living wage ordinances, and apprenticeship utilization.
The 62,500 food stamps recipients are represented by counsel from NOWCRJ, Loyola University, and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ). The plaintiffs have asked the court to immediately issue a temporary restraining order halting the termination of benefits.
“Many individuals impacted by this policy change are surviving on their food stamps,” said Marc Cohan, Legal Director at NCLEJ. “The court needs to understand the urgent nature of this case and act before people’s benefits are terminated over the holidays.”
Bill Quigley, Professor of Law at Loyola University, said: “It is shameful and illegal to force more than 62,000 people to go hungry just because our Governor decided to run for President. We hope Governor-Elect Edwards will do better.”
The lawsuit is part of an ongoing campaign against Gov. Jindal’s starvation plan by NOWCRJ’s Stand with Dignity. Stand brought the issue to the state’s attention through an administrative complaint and letters to the Governor and Governor-Elect, and has raised public pressure through a 1,200-signature petition 15-day fast,and protest at the governor’s mansion. Stand hopes to work with Governor-Elect Edwards to reverse the food stamps decision and to discuss meaningful ways to address high unemployment in Black communities, while protecting the vital food needs of 62,500 Louisiana residents through this lawsuit.
Contact: Colette Tippy, firstname.lastname@example.org, (504) 881-6550