(CMC) — New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday announced that the ruling she secured, striking down the former administration’s attempt to deny food assistance to nearly 700,000 Americans, including Caribbean immigrants, by changing the rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will continue to have the force and effect of law following the dismissal of the federal government’s appeal from that ruling.
“This decision is a win for basic human decency,” James told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). “The former administration’s rule would have needlessly pushed hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Americans into greater economic uncertainty.”
“The attempted restrictions do not represent who we are as a nation – a nation that uplifts the communities that need it most. I am grateful that this rule will not be implemented, and I join my colleagues in urging a much-needed expansion to the SNAP programme,” she added.
In January 2020, James and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit challenging the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rule that would limit states’ ability to extend benefits from SNAP beyond a three-month period for certain adults.
The lawsuit argued that the rule directly undermined Congress’ intent for SNAP, that the USDA violated the federal rule-making process, and that the rule would impose significant regulatory burdens on the states while harming states’ economies and residents.
The rule was originally set to take effect on April 1, 2020, but Attorneys General James and Racine secured a preliminary injunction, in March 2020, from Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia that temporarily blocked the rule from taking effect while the matter was being litigated.
In October 2020, Chief Judge Howell struck down the rule in its entirety, protecting access to SNAP benefits for more than 50,000 people in New York City, and eliminating the risk of tens of thousands more throughout New York state going hungry.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Trump administration initially appealed the decision setting aside the rule, but, this past Monday, the Biden administration’s DOJ asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to dismiss the appeal, which the District of Columbia circuit court did late Tuesday afternoon.
As a result, Chief Judge Howell’s decision striking down the rule is now final, and the SNAP cuts proposed by the Trump administration will not go into effect.
James said SNAP has served as the country’s primary response to hunger since 1977 and has been a critical part of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty.
She said the program provides access to food for millions of Americans with limited income who would otherwise struggle with food insecurity.
While the federal government pays the full cost of SNAP benefits, it shares the costs of administering the program on a 50-50 basis with the states, which operate the program, James said.
She noted that Congress amended SNAP in 1996 with the goal of encouraging greater workforce participation among beneficiaries.
The changes introduced a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed individuals, aged 18 to 49, who are not disabled or raising children — “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs).
“Congress understood that states were best positioned to assess whether local economic conditions and labour markets provided ABAWDs reasonable employment opportunities,” James said. “As a result, the law allows a state to acquire a waiver of the ABAWD time limit for areas where the unemployment rate is above 10 percent, or if it presents data demonstrating that the area lacks sufficient jobs for ABAWDs.”
James said states were also given a limited number of one-month exemptions for individuals who would otherwise lose benefits under the time limit, and were permitted to carry over unused exemptions to safeguard against sudden economic downturns.