Illinois Congressional Delegation Opposes Effort to End Food Stamp Program at Senior Living Facilities

November 24, 2020 by Sean Trambley
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., with President-elect Joe Biden. (Photo via Twitter)

WASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill., along with U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., led the bipartisan Illinois Congressional delegation in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 

The letter opposes the Department’s administrative overreach and ongoing efforts to end Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for a group of supportive living facilities in Illinois that serve 8,000 low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. 

In their letter, the members criticized USDA’s plan as “cruel and rigid” to terminate SNAP benefits for vulnerable seniors in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The lawmakers highlighted legislative action and prior commitments in Congressional testimony from USDA to preserve SNAP benefits for this group, and 20 years of USDA approval for this arrangement that helps keep low-income seniors out of more institutional nursing home settings.

There are SLFs in every Illinois Congressional District and in 71 Illinois counties. A complete list of SLFs in Illinois is available here

The lawmakers wrote, “It is unacceptable to leave 8,000 seniors vulnerable especially during the holiday season and in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century. We respectfully request USDA explore every possible grace period, enforcement discretion, or waiver to prevent this catastrophic outcome on January 1, 2021.”

The members cite recent efforts by USDA to deny and revoke SNAP participation from these Illinois facilities, despite provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and Fiscal Year 2020 Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that protect these vulnerable residents and SNAP participation of SLFs. 

Illinois’s SLF program was created in 1997 through a state law designed to be an alternative to institutional nursing settings for low-income seniors and persons with disabilities under Medicaid. 

For more than 20 years, the Illinois’s SLF program has been a leading model in promoting affordable, independent-living options, and has relied upon a federal Medicaid waiver to serve this population.

USDA has threatened to end the SNAP program for these Illinois SLFs despite no findings of fraud or misuse of SNAP benefits, and despite the fact that Illinois SLFs comprise a fraction of one percent of the SNAP program yet importantly serve a very low-income and vulnerable population. 

For decades, USDA consistently authorized new SLFs and re-authorized existing SLFs across Illinois as SNAP participants, enabling the facilities to serve meals in an innovative and efficient manner by pooling SNAP benefits for meals for eligible low-income disabled and elderly residents who otherwise would face physical difficulty with conventional individual grocery purchases using SNAP. 

The letter was signed by the following members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation: U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Robin Kelly, D-Ill., Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., Mike Quigley, D-Ill., Sean Casten, D-Ill., Danny Davis, D-Ill., Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Brad Schneider, D-Ill., Bill Foster, D-Ill., Mike Bost, R-Ill., Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Lauren Underwood, R-Ill., John Shimkus, R-Ill., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Cheri Bustos, R-Ill., and Darin LaHood, R-Ill.

Full text of the letter is available here.

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