While Americans are encouraged to social distance and are stocking up on food in the face of the spreading coronavirus, many food-insecure families will struggle. And the Trump administration sought to make their struggle harder by moving forward with plans to add strict work requirements that could remove three-quarters of a million people from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits despite the pandemic. Thankfully, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell ruled Friday that the change was unlawful and blocked the administration from making it.
“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,” she wrote in her ruling that resulted from a lawsuit brought by 19 states plus the District of Columbia and New York City.
As the seriousness of coronavirus escalated, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told the House Agriculture Committee this week that the program would offer “good cause” waivers to those who had to miss work for reasons such as illness, but Democrats in Congress were not convinced that would be enough. Waivers are handled on the state level and on a case-by-case basis which could be overwhelming to the system amid a pandemic.
“Really, it’s a cruel rule, taking food out of the mouths of hungry individuals,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said to Purdue at the hearing. “Why can’t we just postpone or delay this at least until at least this critical moment is over?”
Now that the change has been blocked by a judge, states and cities are breathing a sigh of relief. “This is a major victory for our country’s most vulnerable residents who rely on SNAP to eat,” D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s rule would have forced hundreds of thousands of people who could not find work, including 13,000 District residents, to go hungry. That could have been catastrophic in the midst of our current public health emergency.”
In the face of the growing emergency, the Trump administration has come under harsh criticism for the unavailability of testing, outright lies spread by the president, and slow reaction to the spread of the virus. As if to put a cherry on top of it all, Trump announced a new initiative to combat the virus this weekend: a national day of prayer to be held on Sunday.