The US District Court for the District of Columbia issued an injunction late Friday blocking a rule change that would have cut food stamp benefits to nearly 700,000 people.
The rule would have affected able-bodied adults without children who receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), requiring them to work a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to continue receiving benefits past three months. The rule change would also have prevented states from waiving the work requirement based on economic conditions.
The rule change was set to take effect on April 1, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was adamant about moving forward with the change in spite of the current coronavirus pandemic, saying before a House Appropriations subcommittee that while the department had looked at delaying the rule, it had decided against delay. “If [people] can’t find work in an economy of 3.5 percent unemployment, I don’t know when they can,” Perdue said.
Nineteen states, the District of Columbia, New York City, and three private plaintiffs sued to enjoin the rule, and in her opinion District Judge Beryl Howell agreed. She found the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), stating that the hundreds of thousands of Americans who would be affected by the change had little say in the process. The rule change is therefore unlawful because it is arbitrary and capricious.
Judge Howell also called the USDA’s arguments against awarding a nationwide injunction “off-the-wall” and its reading of the APA “brazen in its ignorance of longstanding practice and precedent.” She reaffirmed the judicial branch’s ability to issue nationwide injunctions as a permissible form of equitable relief and consistent with the court’s power under Article III of the Constitution.
Furthermore, Howell noted that the ongoing “global pandemic poses widespread health risks,” and it is “essential” that officials be able “to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP.”