WASHINGTON (CN) — Fourteen states plus New York City and the District of Columbia brought a federal complaint Thursday over a new work requirement for food stamps that opponents say will strip benefits away from 700,000 Americans.
“There is no basis for this harsh rule, and Congress overwhelmingly agrees,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a press call about the suit — a 99-page doorstopper that is filed in Washington.
James says implementation of the rule will raise health care and homelessness costs for states that already face millions of dollars in administrative costs to implement the rule.
SNAP, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has helped keep low-income Americans from going hungry since 1977. The federal government pays for the benefits and then splits the program costs 50-50 with states that run it.
The new rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture would limit states’ ability to extend food stamps to certain adults beyond a three-month period.
Lawmakers tried adding a work requirement to the food-stamps program in 1996, specifying that able-bodied adults under 50, without dependents, had to work or train at least 20 hours a week.
As noted in the press call by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, however, “legislatures understood that not everyone is out of a job because they don’t want a job.”
Since then states with high unemployment rates or simply not enough jobs for ABAWDs — the abbreviation given in the lawsuit for able-bodied adults without dependents — have been able to apply for waivers from the requirement.
“Congress designed the waiver provision, which has not materially changed in two decades, to ensure that work requirements were not applied to individuals who reside in areas where meaningful employment opportunities were unavailable,” the new complaint says.
President Donald Trump changed that, however, with the 2018 Farm Bill. James and Racine say the various waiver restrictions that the bill contemplates are dangerous, arbitrary and untenable.
Among other things, the bill prevents states from defining the geographic scope of a waiver request, keeps them from using a range of data to show job numbers, and creates a new “unemployment threshold that is unrelated to local job opportunities,” according to the complaint.
“Because the ABAWD time limit’s purpose is to engage ABAWDs in the work force, it was never intended to apply to individuals who are unable to obtain employment,” the complaint continues.
James and Racine also say the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not go through the proper rulemaking process because stakeholders were not given adequate opportunity to comment. When people were allowed to discuss the proposed rule, the complaint notes that 100,000 comments, mostly against the change, poured in.
“When an agency decides to depart from decades-long policies and practices, as USDA did here, it must offer a reasoned explanation for doing so and for disregarding the facts and circumstances that supported the long-held policy,” the complaint states.
The states seek an injunction blocking the rule from taking effect in April 2020.
“It is arbitrary and it is capricious,” James said in Thursday’s press call. “To put it quite simply, it is unlawful.”