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Judge strikes down 'arbitrary and capricious' USDA rule ending food stamps for 700,000 unemployed

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., stuck down a Trump administration rule Sunday that had attempted to end food stamp benefits for up to 700,000 unemployed adults. The U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized the rule last year, but Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell had put a hold on its implementation in March, on the same day President Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency. Congress then froze the new rule's requirements for the duration of the state of emergency. In s scathing 67-page ruling, Howell formally struck the rule down.

The USDA's rule, designed to stop states from waiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements during economic downturns, "radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans," Howell wrote. The USDA "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," he added, and that "utter failure to address the issue renders the agency action arbitrary and capricious."

Two other proposed rule changes are still in the works; one would limit access to SNAP benefits for working poor families and the other would affect unity allowance deductions, The Washington Post reports. "A study by the Urban Institute indicated the combined impact of these rules would cut 3.7 million people from SNAP in an average month. Benefits would be reduced for millions more, and 982,000 students would lose automatic access to free or reduced-price school meals."