Court Battles

USDA appeals order blocking purge of SNAP benefits recipients 

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has appealed a court order barring a change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, that could remove up to 700,000 recipients from its rolls.

SNAP requires non-disabled adults without dependents to prove that they have worked at least 80 hours a month for more than three months to receive aid. States have the option to waive that requirement for areas with high unemployment rates, though the proposed change from the Trump administration would do away with that option, even as states begin seeing record rates of enrollment amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

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 in January. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee, ruled in March that the changes could not take effect, citing the coronavirus pandemic’s unique economic circumstances.

The USDA, which had been expected to appeal the ruling, did so Tuesday. 

“The warning lights are flashing across our economy, and while USDA can see the same need we all do, they’re ignoring it,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, said in a statement.

“The Administration has decided that now — amid the most pervasive need in a century — is a great time to crack down on Americans who rely on food stamps to keep their families from going hungry,” she added.

House Democrats unveiled a new $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package this week that includes increases in SNAP funding that they were unable to secure in the March stimulus package. 

“Meanwhile, USDA continues to erode that effort through its cruel pursuit of unrealistic policy,” Fudge said. “If they had any decency or compassion, they would abandon this appeal immediately.”

A USDA spokesperson told The Hill the agency believes the proposed rule “is the right approach and restores the original intent of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that is still the law of the land,” referring to a law that limited eligibility for public benefits. 

“While we’re currently in a very challenging environment, we do not expect this to last forever,” the USDA spokesperson said. “America’s best days are ahead and we must prepare our workforce to rejoin the economy when our nation reopens. When America goes back to work, we must be ready to engage our able-bodied SNAP participants so they may achieve meaningful and lasting employment too. “

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus relief coronavirus stimulus Food Stamps Marcia Fudge SNAP benefits Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

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