Lawsuit filed over Trump administration's SNAP rule limiting access to food stamps

The New York attorney general called the the rule "cruel to its core."

January 16, 2020, 6:29 PM

A coalition of 15 states and New York City is suing the Trump administration over a recent rule from the Agriculture Department that could cause hundreds of thousands to lose benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as "food stamps."

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine announced Thursday they are leading the coalition, arguing that the "rule directly undermines Congress' intent for SNAP, and that the USDA violated the federal rulemaking process," according to a press release.

The rule, announced in December 2019, would require more stringent work requirements in order for eligibility for SNAP.

The final rule could result in an estimated 688,000 individuals potentially losing their SNAP benefits, according to the regulatory impact analysis.

"Further, they argue that the rule would impose significant regulatory burdens on the states and harm states' economies and residents," the news release said, later adding that it would "deny access to food assistance for more than 50,000 people in New York City, and put tens of thousands more throughout New York State at risk of going hungry."

A sign alerting customers about SNAP food stamps benefits is displayed at a Brooklyn grocery store on Dec. 5, 2019 in New York City.
Scott Heins/Getty Images, FILE

At the time it was announced, Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the new regulation would restore the "original intent" of SNAP. The new rule would raise the standard for states to receive waivers from specific work requirements depending on an area's unemployment rate and job availability.

"The new Rule eliminates State discretion and criteria regarding local economic conditions for waiving work requirements, resulting in the termination of essential food assistance for benefits recipients who live in areas with insufficient jobs," the complaint reads.

James, in the news release, called the rule "cruel to its core."

"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," James said.

A woman sorts apples at the Reaching Out Community Services food pantry in Brooklyn on May 15, 2017 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images, FILE

The final rule was widely criticized when it was announced last year, including by members of Congress.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said at the time the rule would hurt individuals who work in the tourism industry and others who have "unreliable hours like waiters and waitresses," and New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer called the rule "heartless" and "cruel."

Food Research & Action Center's legal director Ellen Vollinger on Thursday applauded the move to file the lawsuit, saying, "The Food Research & Action Center applauds the efforts of states and cities to prevent USDA from sidestepping Congress, ignoring the great weight of public opinion, and taking food away from people who are struggling with unemployment and underemployment,"

The lawsuit is being filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and asks the court to issue an injunction before the rule goes into effect on April 1, according to the press release.

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