Thursday, March 19, 2020

“not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”

Federal Judge Beryl Howell, in a ruling late last week, stopped a set of changes that would have taken effect on April 1 that could force hundreds of thousands from the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly known as food stampsHowell ordered a freeze on the changes. 

"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 in her ruling.

The Agriculture Department said that it would appeal a judge’s ruling that it would be “arbitrary and capricious” to move forward during a global health crisis with food stamp changes that could force hundreds of thousands from the program. “USDA disagrees with the court’s reasoning and will appeal its decision.”

Under the current rules, able-bodied adults without dependents must show they’ve worked at least 80 hours per month for more than three months in a 36-month period to stay in the SNAP. However, individual states have had the ability to waive that work requirement and time limit for areas of the state that have high unemployment rates. The changes, championed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, would have taken that waiver ability from the states, starting on April 1. Estimates from the Agriculture Department set the number of people who would be removed from the program at approximately 700,000. 

Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the advocacy group the Food Research & Action Center, said the idea of pressuring low-income workers to keep their hours up is particularly dangerous right now.  
“You don’t want to have workers going out when they’re sick and trying to document the right number of hours just to keep their benefits,” she said. Vollinger said that if the Agriculture Department really does intend to fight for the SNAP program changes, it might end up publicly clashing with Congress. The economic relief package recently approved by the House also suspends the government’s ability to remove SNAP benefits over the work requirement.

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