A coalition of Democratic-led states filed a major lawsuit Thursday to stop a food benefit cut the Trump administration has scheduled for April.
The cuts target unemployed adults who don’t have children or disabilities, who would be eligible for only three months of benefits unless they prove to the government they’re working or training at least part-time.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves about 18 million households; the administration proposal would trim projected program spending by 1.8%, ending benefits for nearly 700,000 if it’s in full effect come 2021.
The planned reduction is a small part of Trump’s anti-welfare agenda, along with several other regulations targeting food, health and disability benefits. Another pending food cut that hasn’t been finalized would cancel benefits for fully 9% of households.
The administration announced it would pursue the cut through a regulation shortly after the president signed a bill reauthorizing the food assistance program. In that legislation, lawmakers had considered including an almost identical cut in 2018, but conservative House Republicans couldn’t muster enough support in the Senate. So the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, went around Congress.
“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,” said Karl Racine, attorney general for the District of Columbia and leader of the 15-state coalition suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the cut.
The regulation reduces state flexibility to waive so-called “work requirements” that impose the three-month limit on benefits for unemployed non-elderly adults without dependents, who represent a small share of the overall SNAP population. Most states waived the requirements during the Great Recession, but several have already reimposed them as unemployment rates have fallen.
Republicans say able-bodied adults should get jobs, but the administration has estimated that most people targeted by the rule either can’t or won’t. Many may have disabilities or family obligations that make it difficult to hold jobs.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the administration ignored the will of Congress and failed to follow proper administrative procedures in drafting the rule. It asks the court for a preliminary injunction to stop the cut from taking effect.
Ellen Vollinger, legal director of the Food Research & Action Center, applauded the state attorneys general for trying to stop the USDA from “sidestepping Congress, ignoring the great weight of public opinion, and taking food away from people who are struggling with unemployment and underemployment.”