Democratic Attorneys General Sue to Block Trump Food Stamp Cuts
WASHINGTON — Fourteen states, New York City and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration on Thursday to block new rules that would tighten work requirements for food stamp recipients, accusing the administration of doing an illegal end run around Congress.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Agriculture Department and its secretary, Sonny Perdue, argues that the finalized rule, set to take effect in April, is unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.
“The new rule eliminates state discretion and criteria regarding local economic conditions for waiving work requirements, resulting in the termination of essential food assistance for benefits recipients who live in areas with insufficient jobs,” the lawsuit maintains.
The Trump administration finalized a rule last month that would raise the bar for states seeking to waive certain work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents and living in economically distressed areas. The Agriculture Department estimated that the rule could push nearly 700,000 people off food stamps.
“Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work,” Mr. Perdue said at the time.
The lawsuit argues that Congress rejected stricter requirements for waivers in the 2018 farm bill, so imposing them by executive fiat violates the law. Further, the administration violated the statutory rule-making process by adding elements to the final rule that were not in the proposed rule and by not sufficiently addressing more than 140,000 public comments on the rule, which were overwhelmingly negative, the state attorneys general say.
The Agriculture Department “fails to adequately explain the dramatic policy change or explain the basis for disregarding the evidence-based reasons for its prior policies,” the lawsuit maintains. The Democratic officials said they have standing to file the lawsuit because the final rule will harm their governments by hurting their citizens’ health and ability to pay for housing.
The plaintiffs include attorneys general from the District of Columbia, New York, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, as well as New York City.
The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia also filed lawsuit on Thursday against the rule. “Implementation of this rule will not increase the employment rate among SNAP beneficiaries,” said Eric Angel, the group’s executive director, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. “But it will most definitely increase hunger.”
Some wards in the District of Columbia have unemployment rates that are more than two times the national average. They are also predominantly black. The Legal Aid Society argues that the rule will have a “negative racial impact, disproportionately and significantly increasing food insecurity in communities of color.”
Under the new rule, waivers commonly granted to states and cities now will be awarded only to “labor market areas” defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that have unemployment rates 20 percent above the national average over a two-year period and are at least 6 percent.
The District of Columbia — which has an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent — is part of a labor market area that includes wealthier areas of Northern Virginia and Maryland. Nineteen of the 22 counties in that labor market area had unemployment rates lower than the national average. Under the new rule, the District of Columbia would lose its waiver, which it has had for more than two decades, even though the unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent above the national unemployment rate.
The administration has proposed two other changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that have yet to be finalized. One would strip nearly three million people of their benefits and lead to nearly one million children losing automatic eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals. Another proposal would cut $4.5 billion from the program over five years by adjusting eligibility formulas, affecting one in five struggling families. Both have received tens of thousands of public comments that have been overwhelmingly negative.
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