Attorneys general from 14 states, Wash., D.C. and New York City have filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from eliminating food stamps for nearly 700,000 Americans.
The move comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a final rule to impose stricter work requirements on millions of recipients enrolled in the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” beyond a three-month period for certain adults.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the USDA unlawfully limited states’ discretion to exempt certain adults from work requirements for an extended period of time based on local employment conditions.
The lawsuit also states that the rule would impose significant regulatory burdens on the states and harm states’ residents and economies.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, along with the City of New York.
The plaintiffs are urging the court to declare the rule unlawful and issue an injunction to prevent it from taking effect on April 1.
“President 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 Wash., D.C. attorney general, Karl Racine. “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.”
Congress amended SNAP in 1996 with the goal of encouraging greater workforce participation among beneficiaries. The changes introduced a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed individuals aged 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising children—”able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs).
Congress understood that states were best positioned to assess whether local economic conditions and labor markets provided ABAWDs reasonable employment opportunities. As a result, the law allows a state to acquire a waiver of the ABAWD time limit for areas where the unemployment rate is above 10 percent, or if it presents data demonstrating that the area lacks sufficient jobs for ABAWDs.
States also were given a limited number of one-month exemptions for individuals who would otherwise lose benefits under the time limit and were permitted to carry over unused exemptions to safeguard against sudden economic downturns.
Over the last 24 years, Congress has maintained the criteria for states to obtain waivers and carry over unused exemptions. It has reauthorized the statute four times without limiting states’ discretion over these matters. House Republicans considered adding restrictions on waivers and carryovers in the 2018 Farm Bill, but a bipartisan coalition expressly rejected them in the final legislation.
Shortly after President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, USDA announced a proposed rule seeking changes almost identical to those Congress rejected.