While U.S. unemployment claims are shattering an all-time record, due to the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump’s administration is continuing its attempts to throw hundreds of thousands off of the government food-stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell ruled that a change sought by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was unlawful and blocked the agency from enforcing it. According to a report by the AP on Wednesday, Perdue said that the “USDA disagrees with the court’s reasoning and will appeal its decision.”
But Howell’s “reasoning” was spot-on, and Perdue’s insistence with going ahead with an appeal is heartless in the face of a pandemic.
The rule change that the USDA is looking to put in place would halt states’ abilities to waive certain federal work- and time-limit requirements for SNAP recipients. As a result, the change would remove approximately 700,000 people from SNAP rolls starting on April 1st.
The federal SNAP requirements mandate that “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” program.
The rules are of dubious utility — to put it mildly — in regular times, but with nationwide social-distancing recommendations and businesses unable to hire, the goal of the USDA’s appeal seems to be to remove people from food stamps regardless of the change in the employment environment brought on by the coronavirus.
In her ruling on a lawsuit brought by 19 states, plus the District of Columbia and New York City, Howell wrote, “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.”
Remember this in the coming weeks when Trump touts his kindness in signing the $2 trillion disaster relief bill recently passed by Congress that will bail out corporations, send a one-time cash infusion to many citizens, and expand unemployment benefits. Because behind the scenes, the president and his team are looking to take control of what has historically been a state’s right in order to keep hundreds of thousands from accessing a resource as essential as food. And they’re doing it at a time when it’s virtually impossible to meet the employment standards set by the USDA.