Federal judge strikes down Trump rule that could have cut food stamps for nearly 700,000 unemployed Americans
A federal judge Sunday struck down a Trump administration rule that could have stripped food stamps from nearly 700,000 people, saying the US Department of Agriculture has been “icily silent” about how many Americans would have been denied benefits had the changes been in effect during the pandemic.
“The final rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans,” Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court in Washington, DC, wrote in a 67-page ruling, saying the agency has not adequately explained how the rule comports with federal statutes nor how it “makes sense.”
A coalition of attorneys general from 19 states, the District of Columbia and the City of New York filed a lawsuit in January, challenging the USDA rule.
The rule, announced in December, would have required more food stamp recipients to work in order to receive benefits by limiting states’ ability to waive existing work mandates. It had been scheduled to take effect on April 1, but Howell in mid-March blocked it from being implemented, and Congress suspended work mandates in the food stamp program as part of a coronavirus relief package that month.
The requirement could have resulted in 688,000 non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents losing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known, according to Agriculture Department estimates, which were calculated prior to the pandemic. It was expected to save $5.5 billion over five years.
Food stamp enrollment has soared during the outbreak as millions of Americans lost their jobs. More than 6 million people have signed up for benefits, as of May, a 17% increase, according to the ruling.
Nearly 43 million Americans were receiving benefits in April, according to the latest Agriculture Department data.
Hunger has risen amid the economic upheaval wrought by the pandemic. Many lined up at food banks, which distributed more than 1.9 billion meals between March and June, according to Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.
Some 10% of adults live in households where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days, according to a Census Bureau survey from mid- to late-September.
In normal times, the food stamp program requires non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents to have jobs. They can only receive benefits for three months out of every 36-month period unless they are working or participating in training programs 20 hours a week. There were 2.9 million of these recipients in 2018 and nearly 74% of them were not employed, according to the agency.
The Agriculture Department did not immediately return a request seeking comment.
States can waive the work requirement for areas where unemployment is
A small victory in Miami on Friday could shift the power in favor of businesses who are fighting against local COVID-19 restrictions in South Florida.
Tootsie’s strip club in Miami Gardens won in a civil lawsuit against Miami-Dade County, and will be able to stay open past the county’s coronavirus curfew, which the judge called “illegal.”
The curfew has been in place nearly three months to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms at midnight, which is when clubs typically open. In a number of cases, establishments such as Tootsie’s that stayed open were fined and forced to shut down at midnight.
The situation has been similar in Broward. Earlier this month, nightclub owners demanded answers from Broward Mayor Dale Holness, who said businesses would still have to shut down at 11 p.m. even after Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed South Florida into a Phase 2 reopening.
In Miami-Dade, Judge Beatrice Butchko ruled that Tootsie’s can operate all night because of DeSantis’ statewide decree, which effectively snatched power from local governments to enforce COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.
DeSantis’ order allowed counties and cities to set capacity limits for restaurants, but kept local governments from issuing rules that kept people from working.
“The Miami-Dade curfew orders conflict with [DeSantis’ executive order] because they prohibit Tootsie’s from operating; they prohibit employees and contractors from working; and they reduce capacity to zero for the entire time subject to the curfew,” Butchko wrote in the ruling.
Sports radio host Andy Slater broke the news that Tootsie’s won the suit.
Miami-Dade and Broward imposed the curfews in July to crack down on late-night parties in bars, streets and in private homes. The curfews also affected restaurants that had to close their dining rooms early.
Sun Sentinel staff writer Rafael Olmeda contributed to this report.
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