Judge Vacates SNAP Rule That Would Have Cut Benefits For Thousands Of D.C. Residents The Trump administration rule jeopardized benefits for hundreds of thousands across the country.
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Judge Vacates SNAP Rule That Would Have Cut Benefits For Thousands Of D.C. Residents

A recent rule change regarding the administration of SNAP benefits would have potentially stripped away aid for some 20,000 D.C. residents. Danny Moloshok/AP Photo hide caption

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Danny Moloshok/AP Photo

A federal judge has vacated a rule by the Trump administration that potentially would have cut off Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to more than 20,000 D.C. residents and hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S.

The rule change was set to take effect April 1 and would have tightened work requirements for SNAP benefits — often referred to by its former name, food stamps — for recipients the government refers to as able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). But a temporary injunction issued in March had blocked the rule change from taking effect prior to Sunday's ruling vacating the rule entirely.

Bread for the City is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was consolidated earlier this year with another lawsuit filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and a coalition of other attorneys general. The nonprofit has seen a 400% jump in households it serves with its pantry program since the pandemic took hold, according to a press release.

"Bread for the City is extremely proud to have been a plaintiff in a lawsuit that received such a sweeping SNAP victory," Bread for the City CEO George Jones said in the press release. "During these difficult times, this decision is great news for the residents we serve in D.C., and the millions of Black, brown, and other food insecure people throughout our country, who would have been hurt by such drastic cuts to an essential program."

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The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment for this story.

Since 1996, individuals ages 18 to 49 who are designated as ABAWDs have been allowed to participate in SNAP for no more than three months in a three-year period, unless working or participating in a training program for at least 20 hours per week. Yet states have had the flexibility to waive time-limit restrictions in instances where they can demonstrate a high unemployment rate or an inadequate number of jobs in a given locality.

In December 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed a rule regarding the administration of SNAP that would make it more difficult for states to waive work requirements for ABAWDs.

That rule change was challenged in January when Racine co-led a coalition of states, including Virginia and Maryland, in a lawsuit seeking to bar its implementation. In March, Beryl Howell, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a preliminary injunction blocking activation of the rule change. Howell's decision issued on Sunday vacated the rule.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP participation has increased by 17% with more than six million new participants nationwide, the lawsuit states. Prior to the pandemic, the USDA estimated that some 688,000 individuals across the country could be impacted by the rule change. How many would have been affected during the massive economic crisis remains unclear.

"The agency has been icily silent about how many ABAWDs would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought in the Final Rule been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country and congressional action had not intervened to suspend any time limits on receipt of those benefits," Howell writes in the ruling.

Racine cheered the decision on Monday, which would ensure "continued access" to an estimated 20,000 D.C. residents, according to a press release.

"Congress created the SNAP program to help Americans put food on the table during times of hardship," Racine said in a statement. "While the pandemic continues to drive millions of Americans into unemployment — including thousands of District residents — the Trump administration is focused on cutting vital food assistance rather than helping those in greatest need."

Racine also led a group of nearly two dozen states and the City of New York last month to push the USDA to strip away some of the bureaucratic requirements regarding the administration of SNAP benefits. The Trump administration has recently signaled a desire to return to pre-pandemic operations when it comes to the administration of SNAP after granting multiple levels of flexibility.

More than 1.75 million residents of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia receive SNAP benefits, and participation has increased significantly: The number of SNAP recipients in D.C. in August was 23% higher than the monthly average pre-pandemic; in Virginia, the number of recipients in June was 14% higher than it was in February; in Maryland, participation shot up by 43% in the same time period.

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