Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A federal judge has struck down a Trump administration rule that would have kicked 700,000 people off food stamps.
At issue, was the U.S. Department of Agriculture's final rule that U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell previously issued a preliminary injunction against in March. The final rule would impose eligibility time limits that the USDA estimates would affect over 1 million people and effectively remove nearly 700,000 able-bodied adults without dependents from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Howell's 67-page ruling Sunday granted summary judgment to a coalition including the District of Columbia, New York City, several other states, and private groups that sued to stop the rule finalized in December to limit states ability to extend SNAP benefits beyond three months for certain adults.
"Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rocked the economy, killed nearly 220,000 Americans, quadrupled the national unemployment rate, and dramatically increased the number of Americans forced to reckon with hunger this year," the USDA pursued imposing the rule, Howell said in the ruling.
The changes under the final rule would "radically and abruptly alter decades of regulatory practice, leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans," she wrote in her opinion, vacating the final rule.
Howell said in her ruling that the USDA's final rule was "arbitrary and capricious," stripping states of their current flexibility in providing food assistance benefits.
The judge added that the USDA "has been icily silent," about how many people would have been denied food stamp benefits amid rising need for food stamps due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the pandemic's wake, as of May 2020, SNAP rosters have grown by over 17% with over 6 million new enrollees," Howell noted, referring to an estimate analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
New York Attorney General Letitia James called the decision "a win for common sense and basic human decency," in a statement Monday.
"This Trump administration rule was cruel to its core and ran counter to who we are and what we represent as a nation. If implemented, this rule would have not only made it harder for thousands to feed their families and risk them going hungry, but would have exacerbated the public health crisis we face and the economic recession we are still in the midst of under President Trump's lack of leadership."
James filed the lawsuit challenging final rule, originally set to take effect on April 1, but for the preliminary injunction, along with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Raccine, in January.
The Trump administration unveiled the plan in December of 2018 to impose more work requirements for Americans to receive food stamps. The program had already imposed a requirement that adults without dependents must work more than three months in a three-year period to collect food stamps. The rule would have eliminated states' ability to waive the work requirement in areas where the unemployment rate is at least 20% greater than the national rate at the time of 3.7%. Instead, the rule proposed a higher benchmark of higher than 7% unemployment to waive the work requirement.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the time the proposed rule "restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population." The rule touted taxpayer savings of about $1.1 billion a year.