Shoppers stock up on essentials amid the coronavirus pandemic at the Whole Foods Market in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, the same day a federal judge placed a temporary injunction on a Trump administration rule to limit food stamp benefits. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
March 14 (UPI) -- A federal judge has blocked a Trump administration rule from going into effect next month that was expected to cut food stamps for nearly 700,000 people.
The new federal rule would place stricter requirements on state's award of Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly the food stamp program.
Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington said SNAP was a "cornerstone" of the "effort to reduce hunger -- and hunger's adverse effects on health, educational achievement, and housing security," in an opinion issued Friday.
"Nearly 700,000 would lose their benefits," she wrote in her opinion, regarding the impact of the stringent requirements under the federal rule set to take effect in April. "Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential."
Howell granted a preliminary injunction and stay on the rule.
"This is a major victory for our country's most vulnerable residents who rely on SNAP to eat," District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement. "The Trump administration's rule would have forces hundreds of thousands of people who could not find work, including 13,000 District residents, to go hungry. That would have been catastrophic in the midst of our current public health emergency."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the new federal rule in December.
Under the existing rule, single, able-bodied adults can only receive SNAP benefits 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.
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 about 688,000 people were expected to lose SNAP benefits under the new rule.
Fourteen states, Washington, D.C., and New York City filed suit against the USDA and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in January over the new regulation.
"Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work," Perdue said at the time. "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."
USDA figures show that around 36 million people receive SNAP benefits.
The House passed a multi-billion dollar bill early Saturday to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which includes federal funds for Medicaid and strengthening food security initiatives, including SNAP.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a lower court injunction against a Trump administration rule that expands the "public charge" rule. Under the expansion, officials can deny visas and green cards to individuals considered an economic burden on society not only for their reliance on cash welfare benefits or long-term care institutions, but also for their reliance on food stamps, Medicaid and government subsidized housing.