Federal Judge Thwarts Trump Plan To Starve 700,000 Americans Mid-Pandemic
This year marked the highest unemployment rate, ever, in the history of us keeping track of the unemployment rate. While it's not as high as it was in April, it's still 7.9 percent, which is pretty darned high. And that's not counting people who are long-term unemployed or who for whatever reason did not get unemployment benefits. Right now, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 12.6 million unemployed people in the US. That is so, so many people. That's like 24 Wyomings, or 12 Montanas, or six New Mexicos or four Nevadas or three Oregons or two Missouris or one Illinois worth of people. Only 6 states have populations of 12.6 million or more.
Most reasonable people who are not sadistic monsters would not consider it a particularly opportune time to cut food stamps, but as the Trump administration is made up entirely of sadistic monsters, that is exactly what they planned to do. The first of three measures meant to cut massive holes in the country's safety net, however, has been blocked by a federal judge who is not a sadistic monster.
In a scathing 67-page opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of D.C. condemned the Agriculture Department for failing to justify or even address the impact of the sweeping change on states, saying its shortcomings had been placed in stark relief amid the coronavirus pandemic, during which unemployment has quadrupled and rosters of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have grown by more than 17 percent, with more than 6 million new enrollees.
The rule "at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans," Howell wrote, adding that the Agriculture Department "has been icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought . . . been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country." The judge concluded that the department's "utter failure to address the issue renders the agency action arbitrary and capricious."
The Trump administration may have responded by asking "Have they no refuge or resource? Have they no prisons? Have they no workhouses?"
The new rule, had it gone into effect, would have interfered with the ability of states to extend the amount of time people can be on food stamps, based on the situation in the area where they live. Able-bodied adults with no dependents can only be on food stamps for three months in three years, unless they are working or in school for more than 80 hours a month. However, in areas where the unemployment rate is 2.5 percent or higher — meaning it is particularly difficult to find a job there — states are allowed to extend this period. The Trump administration wants to limit that to counties with unemployment rates of six percent or higher instead.
It was initially supposed to go into effect earlier this year, but was put on hold because of the pandemic. The new plan was for it to go into effect after the state of emergency was lifted. You know, because all of the people who lost their jobs during the pandemic should be able to find one immediately once it's over, even though many businesses have closed.
When he announced the rule change last year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said that it was "about restoring the original intent of food stamps . . . moving more able-bodied Americans to self-sufficiency." Sure, because if you starve people, it will be way easier for them to find a job — which they'll never bother to get themselves, so long as that $127 they can only spend on specific foods comes rolling in every month.
We're all lucky Judge Howell made this call, being that no one really wants to deal with an American remake of the French Revolution right now (I for one am still mad about the movie version of Les Mis), and those of us capable of normal human empathy don't really feel great about starving people to death as a motivational tool.
Hopefully, Trump won't be president next year and we can begin the process of surgically excising all his terrible, awful poor-hating rules and regulations. It's going to be a long process.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse