The new rule would cause some 688,000 people to lose access to food stamps. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Fourteen states, Washington, D.C., and New York City on Thursday sued the Trump administration over its plans to impose new work requirements that will cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to lose access to food stamps.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, accuses the administration of undermining the purpose of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and of violating the federal rule making process.
"President [Donald] Trump's unlawful changes to the SNAP rule will strip nutrition assistance from tens of thousands of struggling District residents, putting their health at risk while driving up District healthcare costs and needlessly hampering our economy," said Karl Racine, attorney general for the District of Columbia.
"A Republican-led Congress rejected these changes on a bipartisan basis in 2018, recognizing they do not encourage work -- they just punish vulnerable people struggling to find jobs. We are bringing this lawsuit to protect SNAP recipients nationwide and to check an administration that is attempting another end-run around Congress to advance its heartless agenda."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in December introduced the new rule targeting childless, non-disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 49.
"We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the time. "Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them."
Under the current rule, single, able-bodied adults can only receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for three months out of every 36-month period unless they work or receive training at least 20 hours a week. Areas with higher unemployment rates or insufficient jobs were eligible to receive a waiver to that rule.
About 2.9 million single adults received food stamps in 2018, about 74 percent of whom weren't employed, the USDA said.
Under the new requirements, the waivers will be tougher to get, tightening the definition of insufficient jobs and limiting the timeframe the areas can receive a waiver.
The USDA told reporters the new requirements are expected to cause about 688,000 people to lose SNAP benefits. The department said it will save the government about $5.5 billion over five years.
In addition to Washington, D.C., and New York City, the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, joined the litigation.
"It's hard to believe that the Administration wants to make it even harder than it already is for people to afford their lives and even harder for some people to afford to eat, but time and again they've shown us that's what they're up to," Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said. "It's my job to protect the people of Minnesota. When the federal government is out to hurt them, I'll fight back for them."