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Federal judge cites coronavirus in decision blocking Trump admin cut to food stamps
A Trump administration rule that would have tightened work requirements for food stamps was blocked by a federal judge on Friday, who cited the rapidly spreading coronavirus in her decision.
D.C. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell granted a preliminary injunction blocking the new rule, which government estimates predicted would kick as many as 700,000 Americans off of food stamps.
"Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential," Howell wrote in her ruling, according to HuffPost, which first reported the injunction.
A coalition of 14 states and two major cities, as well as the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, had sued the Trump administration over its rule to restrict the ability of states to provide food stamps to jobless residents.
Under the new rule "able-bodied" Americans who are not caring for a child younger than 6 years old would be eligible for food stamps only if they're employed or enrolled in a vocational training program.
"The waivers that the Rule curtails are critical to ensuring access to food for low-income people who live in areas with limited employment opportunities," read the complaint filed by the 14 states and New York City and Washington, D.C. "If implemented, the Rule will have a drastic impact on Plaintiffs and their residents by depriving between 688,000 and 850,000 vulnerable Americans of much-needed nutritional assistance."
Legal Aid and some of the state attorneys general tweeted celebrating the ruling Friday evening.
Last year, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue described the new approach as an effort to restore "the original intent of food stamps ... moving more able-bodied Americans to self sufficiency," The Washington Post reported.
While planned before the coronavirus, the rule's implementation would have now gone into effect as the economy faces a possible downturn due to COVID-19. Stocks have tumbled as businesses close, events are canceled and people are forced to quarantine and social distance to avoid contracting the illness.
As of Friday afternoon, 1,875 people in the U.S. had tested positive for the coronavirus. Public health officials have estimated that thousands of people likely have the virus but don't know it, partly due to the lack of testing.
President Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus on Friday, freeing up additional federal resources for state and local governments fighting the disease.
However, while the Trump administration's new rule seemed poised to cut the number of food stamp recipients, a deal struck between Trump and Democrats on Friday included billions in spending on food stamps as well as unemployment insurance and paid sick leave in response to coronavirus.
Updated at 10:32 p.m.