CHN: In Blistering Ruling, U.S. District Judge Strikes Trump Administration’s Proposed SNAP Cuts

A U.S. District Court has struck down an effort by the Trump Administration that could have cut SNAP benefits for 700,000 or more jobless Americans.

In a 67-page opinion described by the Washington Post as “scathing,” U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to justify or even address the impact of the Trump Administration’s proposal on states, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen unemployment and hunger soar and SNAP recipients increase by 17 percent, or more than 6 million new enrollees.

Howell called the proposal “arbitrary and capricious” and said the proposal “at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans.”

He added that the Department of Agriculture “has been icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought…been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country.”

The proposal was one of three being pushed by the Trump Administration that would result in cuts to SNAP. Other proposals, still pending, would attempt to cap deductions for utility allowances and to limit access to SNAP for working poor families. In a report published in November, 2019, the Urban Institute estimated that the three proposals combined would have led to 3.7 million fewer people receiving SNAP in an average month. Benefits would be reduced for millions more, and 982,000 students would lose automatic access to free or reduced-price school meals.

The rule struck down by Howell would have curtailed the ability of states to receive waivers during times of economic duress. Under SNAP guidelines, able-bodied adults without dependents, between the ages of 18 and 49, can receive benefits for a maximum of three months during a three-year period, unless they are working or enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours a month.

States have been able to waive this time limit to ensure access to SNAP – counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5 percent were included in waived areas. But the new rule would have tightened criteria for states applying for waivers, making 6 percent the minimum unemployment rate for a county to receive a waiver.

Howell’s ruling granted summary judgment to a coalition of 19 states, D.C., New York City, and a number of advocacy groups that had sued to stop the rule. In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James called the decision “a win for common sense and basic human decency,” adding that the rule “would have not only made it harder for thousands to feed their families and risk them going hungry, but would have exacerbated the public health crisis we face and the economic recession we are still in the midst of under President Trump.”