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Lawsuits Seek to Block Trump Rule Ending Food Assistance for Nearly 700,000

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Fifteen states plus New York City have filed a lawsuit to block a new Trump Administration rule that would eliminate food assistance for nearly 700,000 low-income adults, according to the Administration’s own estimate. The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia filed a separate suit on behalf of people likely to lose food assistance and of a local social service agency.

SNAP (food stamps) limits adults not raising minor children in their homes to three months of benefits out of every three years when they aren’t employed or in a training program for at least 20 hours per week. But states can request waivers of this time limit in areas where there aren’t enough jobs for this population, and every state except Delaware has used this flexibility to protect people who can’t find stable work. The new rule, due to take effect April 1, severely restricts this state option.

State officials and others have raised serious concerns about whether the Administration has the authority to impose such a drastic change. The state lawsuit argues that the new rule “unequivocally runs afoul of Congress’s intent to ensure food security for low-income individuals and to permit States, who have a better understanding of their labor markets and economic conditions, to apply for waivers and use exemptions where local or individual circumstances warrant relief from the … time limit.”

A CBPP declaration supporting the state lawsuit highlighted the main flaws with the new rule. We noted that the Administration provided no supporting evidence for its claim that the rule will increase self-sufficiency among SNAP participants. We also summarized research showing that SNAP participants facing the three-month limit have greater barriers to employment, such as less education and lack of transportation.

The rule also dramatically limits SNAP’s ability to respond to a worsening economy by eliminating a key criterion that states can use to qualify for a waiver when unemployment rises quickly. This change wasn’t in the proposed rule that the Department of Agriculture issued in 2018 for public comment, so states and the public had no opportunity to comment on whether limiting SNAP’s responsiveness to recessions is in the public interest. This failure to allow for comment on the change violated the federal rulemaking process, the state lawsuit charges.

If the rule takes effect April 1, food pantries and soup kitchens across the country will likely face increased demand, as occurred in West Virginia when the state imposed the three-month limit in nine counties. The people facing the three-month cutoff are among the poorest of the poor, with incomes averaging just $2,250 a year (or $187 a month). Their SNAP benefits average about $165 per month. People of color are especially likely to lose benefits, given their much higher unemployment rates and continued racial discrimination in labor markets.