Calling the Trump administration's attempt to gut the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program "unlawful" as well as "cruel," 15 state attorneys general as well as the city of New York filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Agriculture Department over its new requirements for the program, a month after the new rules were finalized.
The revamped rules pertain to work requirements, and threaten to kick an estimated 688,000 people off the program, commonly called SNAP or "food stamps."
The plaintiffs filed their suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the rules, which are set to go into effect in April, will have reverberating effects on not just Americans' ability to feed their families but their overall financial stability.
"The federal government's latest assault on vulnerable individuals is cruel to its core," said New York Attorney General Letitia James. "Denying access to vital SNAP benefits would only push hundreds of thousands of already vulnerable Americans into greater economic uncertainty. In so doing, states will have to grapple with rising healthcare and homelessness costs that will result from this shortsighted and ill-conceived policy."
Some of the attorneys general took to social media to slam the proposed rules.
I + 15 AGs have filed suit to stop POTUS from eliminating food assistance for struggling Americans.
90k PA’ns -- restaurant workers, day laborers, farmers -- from Cambria to Philadelphia, could lose their SNAP benefits. We won’t accept this cruel, partisan attack.
— AG Josh Shapiro (@PAAttorneyGen) January 16, 2020
This move is unlawful, counterproductive, and cruel. Even if we may not see it, many of our friends and neighbors in communities all across Va. rely on these important benefits to help feed their children and families during tough times. https://t.co/WPu0pOWUZB
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Under the new rules, put forward by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, it would be more difficult for states to apply for waivers under SNAP's existing work requirements, which stipulate that most adults cannot receive benefits for longer than three months unless they work or are in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week.
"Implementation of this rule will not increase the employment rate among SNAP beneficiaries. But it will most definitely increase hunger."
—Eric Angel, Legal Aid SocietyWaivers have been available to states for decades if they have many economically distressed areas; Washington D.C. has had a waiver for more than two decades because its unemployment rate is more than twice the national average at 5.4%.
The district would have to enforce the federal work requirements under the new rules, which state that waivers will be granted only to states with unemployment rates of at least 6%.
"Taking food off the table from Americans who are already struggling to make ends meet is both cruel and ineffective," said Eric Angel, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Washington, D.C., in a statement. The group filed its own lawsuit over the rules on Thursday.
"Implementation of this rule will not increase the employment rate among SNAP beneficiaries," he added. "But it will most definitely increase hunger."
The states' lawsuit—in which California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia are also plaintiffs—argues that since the new work requirements were rejected by Congress in 2018 when they were added to the Farm Bill, the USDA cannot enforce the rules now via an executive action.
"The executive branch does not get to go forth with policies that Congress specifically rejected," Karl Racine, attorney general of Washington, D.C., told the press Thursday.