Back in December, the Trump administration instituted a new rule, meant to go into effect on April 1, that would have kicked about 700,000 people off of the SNAP program by making it more difficult for states to waive work requirements for their own residents.

Right now, there is a requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents who receive SNAP work at least 20 hours a week in order to keep their benefits. This is all well and good if you are able to find a job — a fairly difficult thing to do if you do not have food. One would imagine that literally passing out from hunger would not be a good look in a job interview. States, however, have been allowed to waive this requirement if it does not work for their purposes. Which is really, really important, because not all states are the same.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tried to explain at the time that there was basically no excuse for these able-bodied adults to not be able to find work in "the strongest economy in generations" (that did not age well!). Just last week, Perdue said that the rule would still go into effect, and that it would not be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

There is, of course, an excuse for people not finding work, and that is that not everyone lives in an area where the gig economy (the thing that is employing a whole lot of people right now) is particularly strong. It's not like they have Lyft or Instacart or Grubhub in rural areas.

The other "excuse" is that getting a job is not easy for a lot of people for a whole lot of reasons other than just being "lazy." If they are missing teeth, if they don't have a car, if they have a DUI and can't drive because of that, if they have a felony on their record, it's a whole lot harder to get a job than it is for other people. Even the gig economy jobs. And these people should be able to eat. Everyone should be able to eat.

So yeah, that was really gross and it was going to be really bad for people. But this past Friday, calling the rule change "arbitrary and capricious," the notoriously badass DC District Court Judge Beryl Howell put a stop to that shit, issuing a national preliminary injunction on the rule change going into effect.

She wrote:

The low-income Americans targeted by USDA's Final Rule depend on monthly SNAP benefits to avoid hunger. These SNAP participants may wield little political or economic power, but, nonetheless, USDA's proposed changes to take away nutrition benefits from almost 700,000 people prompted "more than 100,000 comments," the "majority" of which the agency concedes were opposed to the proposed changes. 84 Fed. Reg. at 66783–84.

Notwithstanding these critical comments, USDA proceeded in the challenged Final Rule to adopt changes that, in some respects, were more draconian than those initially proposed. Although the hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals who stand to lose their benefits had little direct voice in that rulemaking process, the process exists to protect them and ensure that the agency cannot terminate their benefits arbitrarily.

She also noted that perhaps now, during a pandemic in which lots and lots of people are losing their jobs or are unable to work — much less able to go out to interviews to get work — is not the right time for this bullshit.

In this country of plenty, the federal and state governments work together to ensure that low-income Americans and their families do not go hungry. The largest federal food assistance program that serves as the cornerstone of this joint federal-state effort to reduce hunger — and hunger's adverse effects on health, educational achievement, and housing security — is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. A new federal rule poised to go into effect in a few weeks, in April 2020, would dramatically alter the long-standing operations of the SNAP program, placing more stringent requirements on states' award of SNAP benefits with concomitant, virtually immediate effects on the lives, by the federal government's estimate, of over one million individuals currently receiving SNAP benefits. Of those million, nearly 700,000 would lose their benefits. 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.

Damn she's good.

So for now, at least, all of these people are safe and will be able to get food instead of wasting away in self-quarantine because they couldn't get a new job during a freaking pandemic. Thank you Judge Howell!


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Robyn Pennacchia

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


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