On Sunday, a judge stopped the Trump administration from cutting food stamp benefits for almost 700,000 Americans.
Were it allowed to go into effect, the rule would have limited states’ authority to waive work requirements and eliminated roughly $5.5 billion in food stamp spending over a period of five years.
When the policy was first introduced in 2019, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue deployed some classic pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric, saying that it was intended to move “more able-bodied Americans to self-sufficiency.”
In a 67-page ruling reported on by the Washington Post, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell, a federal judge in D.C., wrote that the proposal would exponentially increase “food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans.”
He also accused the Department of Agriculture—the agency responsible for administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—of being “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.”
A coalition of 14 states, plus D.C. and New York City, sued the Trump administration back in January, asserting that states—not the federal government—are “in the best position to evaluate local economic circumstances and to determine where there are insufficient job opportunities such that work requirements would be ineffective.” In some states, they argued, the rule would terminate benefits for residents who are unable to satisfy work mandates, like those who live in areas with few job opportunities.
That argument only grew stronger once the pandemic hit the Unites States, resulting in a historic economic downturn. Though the Trump rule was slated to go into effect on April 1, Howell initially blocked it in mid-March, by which point thousands of Americans had already lost their jobs.
Howell’s Sunday decision means hundreds of thousands of Americans can continue to access the services they need without the requirement that they find a job during a pandemic.
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,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James.[Howell’s ruling is] a win for common sense and basic human decency.”