In a positive move last Sunday, a federal judge struck down a dangerous Trump administration proposal to take SNAP benefits away from 700,000 Americans. In her opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of D.C. deemed the proposal “arbitrary and capricious” and sided with the 19 states, D.C., New York City and a coalition of groups who sued to stop the final rule back in December.
As CDF has long stated, this harsh rule–which was originally set to take effect in April–would have imposed stricter work requirements on SNAP recipients without dependents or disabilities. Current law requires adults ages 18-49 without children or disabilities to work at least 80 hours monthly to retain SNAP benefits for more than three months over a three year period. States are allowed to waive these requirements, however, where unemployment rates are high and few jobs are available. The proposed rule would have made it harder for states to issue these critical waivers to individuals who need them and cannot find a job through no fault of their own. If the rule had taken effect as intended, many of the poorest adults would have been kicked off SNAP and 1.3 million people would have been at risk of losing benefits. And while the rule would not have applied to children or adults with children, it would have indirectly hurt many children in poverty who depend on pooled resources from family members who do not claim them as dependents.
Recognizing the devastating consequences of tightening work requirements, particularly during a pandemic and an unemployment crisis, the court temporarily blocked the rule in March and Congress suspended SNAP work mandates for the duration of the COVID crisis. For months, however, the Trump administration continued pushing for implementation of the rule–even as hunger and hardship rose. Sunday’s ruling finally ended the eight month battle and formally voided the rule.
The decision represents a crucial victory for advocates and families nationwide, but we cannot celebrate just yet. The Trump administration’s war on SNAP and hungry children is far from over. Two other proposals to weaken nutrition assistance are still pending, and without intervention by the courts, could take effect as soon as the pandemic subsides. The first would limit the use of Broad Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE), which allows states to automatically enroll children and families in SNAP if they qualify for other assistance programs. If enacted, this rule would take free and reduced-price school meals away from one million children. Another pending rule would change how states account for utility costs when determining SNAP benefits, reducing benefits for nearly 1 in 5 households.
With hunger soaring across the nation, we must reject these heartless and baseless attempts to cut nutrition programs and advance meaningful legislation to expand them. Since the pandemic hit, more than six million Americans have applied for SNAP benefits and enrollment has increased 17 percent. This crisis has made it abundantly clear that families need more nutrition assistance–not less. As COVID relief negotiations continue, Congress must refuse to settle for any package that does not boost maximum SNAP benefits by 15 percent, raise the minimum benefit from $16 to $30, and suspend all SNAP administrative rules seeking to terminate benefits. And as Congress looks to improve SNAP in the long-term and push back against the arbitrary and racist ABAWD time limit originally passed during 1996 welfare reform, we urge Congress to pass H.R. 2809, the Improving Access to Nutrition Act, which would formally lift the ABAWD time limit rule altogether and ensure that people maintain access to food and nutrition regardless of employment status. Now that SNAP has been spared by the court, it must be strengthened by Congress.