Administrative actions to strengthen anti-poverty programs


June 2, 2021
Max De Faria, 2021 Emerson National Hunger Fellow via the Congressional Hunger Center

Under the tenure of former President Trump, several federal agencies changed rules for program standards that restricted access to effective anti-poverty programs for many families, especially those with immigrants and families of color. While our grassroots volunteers advocate with their members of Congress, these executive actions are not subject to Congressional approval. However, the rulemaking process includes time for public comment on proposed rules before finalized publishing. (For more information on Administrative Law, see this overview provided by the Congressional Research Service.) From the start of the Trump Administration's proposed rules focused on anti-poverty policies, RESULTS was outspoken regarding these changes, describing how these actions would limit access and create new barriers for the individuals and families most in need. 

Since taking office, President Biden has reversed several of the prior administration’s actions - both the more well-known and more discrete to undo the disproportionate harm done to oppressed communities. The President through Executive Order has committed to advancing racial equity and combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Besides indicating to federal agencies to include these approaches in their practices and policies, the Administration has undertaken the process to review and reverse executive orders, agency rules, and other actions issued under previous administrations that do not align with the President's commitments to equity. 

During these first months, President Biden has undone some of these policies in key issue areas for RESULTS.  

  • Housing. Within President Biden’s first week in office, he directed the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review and re-evaluate how Trump-era rules have affected HUD’s ability to comply with requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The Trump Administration ended two prominent rules promulgated by HUD under President Obama: the disparate impact rule and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. The disparate impact rule finalized in 2013 provided a standard method for proving discrimination without evidence of intent under the Fair Housing Act, using the disparate impact method of proof. The 2015 AFFH rule required the use of federal funds and other housing program resources to intentionally counteract years of historic and contemporary practices that created or enabled housing segregation. By rescinding or otherwise undermining the effectiveness of these rules, the Trump Administration placed undue burden on individuals and families to prove discrimination and held unrealistic expectations regarding housing opportunities and access for families. On April 13, 2021, HUD began the process to reinstate both the 2013 disparate impact rule and the 2015 AFFH rule. 

    Under the Trump Administration, the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) included use of housing programs - such as Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance - in ‘public charge’ determination. President Biden’s Executive Order on February 2, 2021 tasked federal agencies with reviewing and re-evaluating the public charge rule proposed under the former administration. In doing so, USCIS has declared a return to determining ‘public charge’ pursuant to the 1999 Field Guidance. As such, USCIS under President Biden will no longer consider use of these housing programs when determining if an applicant is a ‘public charge’.   

    In an effort to further support immigrant communities, HUD vacated the mixed-status rule. The Trump-era proposed rule prohibited HUD from prorating assistance to mixed-status families, regardless if some members were eligible to participate in HUD programs. By vacating the rule, mixed-status families are no longer forced to choose between staying together or receiving assistance that their members are eligible to receive.  

    Most recently, President Biden unveiled efforts to further alleviate the racial wealth gap. In commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Administration revealed a first-ever interagency effort to address inequity in housing appraisals as well as conduct rulemaking in order to combat discrimination in housing. These actions seek to address the rampant racial inequities that exist in the US housing market.   
  • Tax. In part of his first steps to recognize how racial inequity plagues the tax code, President Biden has instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to oversee tax data analysis by race and ethnicity. These actions are the first steps to ensure greater transparency and equity in the tax code.  

Federal agencies have begun the process of reviewing and promulgating new rules and issuing guidances for anti-poverty programs. Below are some comments that RESULTS has submitted in support of these anti-poverty programs and their participants. (Click on the bold titles below to see RESULTS’ comments.)  

  • Addressing Barriers for Immigrant Communities to Anti-Poverty ProgramsWhen the Trump Administration first considered and then issued the public charge rule, immigrant communities raised the alarm of the sweeping negative impacts such a rule would have on families and their survival. Since issuing that rule, many immigrant families felt forced to make an impossible decision – risk access to basic needs or risk eligibility for citizenship. As the Biden Administration rescinded the Trump-era public charge rules, the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has sought input on how to effectively move forward in engaging immigrant communities. RESULTS recognizes immigrants and their families play a crucial role in our country and provided comments advocating for clear communication regarding these rule changes.  
  • Taking a Closer Look at SNAP Benefit Calculations.  In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress required the USDA to complete an evaluation by 2022 of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). TFP is used as the basis for SNAP benefit calculations. The USDA has begun evaluating the TFP through listening sessions and written comments under the direction of President Biden. These listening sessions have included diverse coalitions of individuals reflecting on inadequacies found within the TFP, including commentary provided by RESULTS Board member and Expert on Poverty, Maxine Thomas. In addition, RESULTS will be providing written comments, incorporating reflections from other Experts on Poverty and coalition partners. USDA anticipates completing review of the TFP by the end of the fiscal year, as temporary COVID relief expansion ends.  As the agency completes their review, advocates are hopeful that there will be a permanent increase to SNAP benefits, beginning October 1, 2021. SNAP is the most impactful anti-hunger program available, and the re-evaluation of TFP is a first step to make the program more effective. 

The federal anti-poverty programs are crucial mechanisms through which families access their basic needs to survive. While the current Administration is looking to “build back better” with explicit equity goals, as RESULTS advocates know, there is plenty more that we can do to eliminate inequity and create a poverty-free world. 

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