New Plaintiffs Join Federal Lawsuit Over Missouri’s Failure to Provide SNAP Benefits
Patrick Fowler, Communications and Fundraising Strategist, NCLEJ | email@example.com, 443-454-3332
MISSOURI – The National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, and Stinson LLP filed a motion to add two new plaintiffs on their federal lawsuit to ensure access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for Missourians. Read the amended complaint here.
If you are an individual or family seeking assistance, please contact Legal Services of Eastern Missouri at the Food Stamp Hotline at 314-256-8739 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in February 2022 on behalf of Empower Missouri and two low-income Missourians against Robert Knodell, the Acting Director of the State’s Department of Social Services. In March 2022, two plaintiffs began receiving SNAP benefits following filing of the lawsuit. In July 2022, U.S. District Court Judge M. Douglas Harpool denied the State’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing it to enter the discovery process.
“I live in Phelps County, Missouri. I have several health conditions, including cancer and kidney failure. I have not been able to work since October 2022. I have no income now. I lost my home, spent my savings, and have significant medical debt. I have tried three times to apply for SNAP benefits. Even though I have called and called countless times, I have been denied because I could not complete the interview. I do not have enough food, and I do not have the healthy meals I need. My health conditions are worse because I cannot get food,” stated Ms. Denise Davis, a new plaintiff on the federal lawsuit.
If the U.S. District Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the State will be ordered to comply with federal law and make procedural changes that would ensure access to SNAP for eligible Missourians.
The lawsuit alleges:
- All SNAP applicants are routed to a central call center, but the call center is drastically understaffed.
- All SNAP applicants must complete an interview to receive their benefits—using the overloaded call center.
- Call queues contain hundreds of people. Many SNAP applicants wait for hours only to be disconnected before having a chance to interview.
- In September, October, and December of 2021, more than 50% of rejected applications were denied because applicants could not complete an interview.
- Applicants must answer a series of automated questions—questions they have already asked and answered in their applications—before they can get in line to speak to DSS staff, thus further burdening applicants.
- DSS in-person office operations are insufficient, including limited hours, limited operations, and no COVID-19 safety protocols, even during the delta and omicron waves.
- The situation is even worse for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires DSS to accommodate the disabilities of individuals who need one to access SNAP, but there is no way to request such accommodation without navigating the overloaded call center.
“We’re excited to fight for our plaintiffs’ right to receive SNAP benefits and advance disability justice in Missouri,” said Katharine Deabler-Meadows, Staff Attorney at NCLEJ. “Our plaintiffs depend on SNAP to stave off hunger and poverty. Public benefits should never be this hard to access, especially for persons with disabilities. We demand that Missouri stop shortchanging the disabled community and fix its broken SNAP system.”
“Access to food is a human right. DSS must meet its legal obligation to provide SNAP benefits to all eligible Missourians, as well as provide accommodations for people with disabilities,” said Katherine Holley, Staff Attorney with the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
The National Center for Law and Economic Justice is a legal nonprofit organization that advances racial and economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities across the country through ground-breaking impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing. Founded in 1965, NCLEJ fights to protect access to critical benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare, protect low-wage workers’ rights and safety, advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, and fights unlawful debt collection.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri provides free legal services to low-income Missourians in 21 counties of eastern Missouri, in order to improve lives, promote fairness, and create opportunities for those in need.
Stinson LLP is a full-service business law firm with nearly 450 attorneys who serve clients nationwide from its 12 offices in the Midwest, Mountain West, and Southwest, and in Washington, D.C. Specifically, Stinson provides a complete range of services to clients who need to interact with government at all levels, including businesses, trade associations, nonprofits, and citizens’ groups.