POLITICS
11/25/2015 01:40 pm ET

Feds Warn Georgia Over Denying Syrian Refugees Food Stamps

Georgia is apparently the only state to have done this.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has put the state of Georgia on notice for its refusal to let Syrian refugees have food stamps. 

Earlier this month, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) issued an executive order instructing state agencies not to cooperate with Syrian refugee resettlement, a priority of the Obama administration. Most Republican governors made similar anti-refugee moves, but Georgia is apparently the only state that won't let Syrians have food stamps. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the $70 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, told Georgia on Wednesday that denying food benefits is not kosher with federal law. 

In a letter to Georgia officials, the USDA's Jessica Shahin says the state must immediately cut it out. "As long as an applicant submits a SNAP application that includes the applicant's name, address, and signature, the State agency must accept and process the application to be in compliance with Federal law," Shahin's letter says. 

The federal government can withhold administrative funding from states that don't cooperate with federal law, though Shahin's letter doesn't make any clear threats. 

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Human Services says the agency is reviewing the letter. 

Refugees are eligible for benefits. As Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) loves pointing out, a lot of refugees from the Middle East receive food stamps. SNAP is one of the nation's largest antipoverty programs; almost anyone poor can qualify. The average monthly benefit, which can be used only for food, is about $126. 

It's not the first time Georgia has run into trouble with the feds -- in 2014 the USDA forbade the state to drug-test SNAP recipients. 

CONVERSATIONS