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'Basic Human Decency' Wins as Judge Blocks 'Cruel to Its Core' Trump Effort to Strip Food Assistance From 700,000 People Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. stressed the importance of such programs in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) congratulates Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) congratulates Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue before signing the the Agriculture Improvement Act during a ceremony in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 20, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A federal judge on Friday cited the impact of the coronavirus pandemic when she temporarily blocked a Trump administration rule change that could have stripped federal food assistance from roughly 700,000 people.

"Good news," advocacy group Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition said Monday.

The sharply criticized U.S. Department of Agriculture rule change would have tightened work requirements on certain adult Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and hampered states' authority to waive those requirements. It was scheduled to go into effect April 1—a timeline the administration saw no need to push back despite mounting economic and societal impacts of the nationally spreading outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

A lawsuit challenging the plan was led by the attorneys general of New York and the District of Columbia.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. wrote (pdf) in her Friday ruling that "aspects of the final rule are likely unlawful because they are arbitrary and capricious."

"Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP is essential," Howell wrote.

"The low-income Americans targeted by USDA's final rule depend on monthly SNAP benefits to avoid hunger," she wrote. "These SNAP participants may wield little political or economic power, but, nonetheless, USDA's proposed changes to take away nutrition benefits from almost 700,000 people prompted 'more than100,000 comments,' the 'majority' of which the agency concedes were opposed to the proposed changes."

"Notwithstanding these critical comments," continued Howell, "USDA proceeded in the challenged final rule to adopt changes that, in some respects, were more draconian than those initially proposed."

New York AG Letitia James celebrated the suspension of the rule, which she called "cruel to its core."

"At a time of national crisis, this decision is a win for common sense and basic human decency," said James.

The Trump administration proposal, she continued, would make "those who already worry about ending their days hungry even more vulnerable, and as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, the effects of this rule would be more destructive than ever. We are grateful that this rule will not be implemented as we fight to permanently prevent it from ever going into effect."

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