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U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell called the Department of Agriculture "icily silent"

By Eric Todisco
October 19, 2020 01:35 PM
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Food Stamps
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A federal judge in Washington D.C. has blocked a Trump administration rule that would have stripped food stamps from nearly 700,000 unemployed Americans.

In her 67-page ruling on Sunday, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell called the administration's proposed plan "arbitrary and capricious."

"The final rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans," Howell wrote in the ruling.

Howell also called out the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in her ruling for being "icily silent" about how many Americans would have been denied food stamps had the changes been put into effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The USDA did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment.

The ruling also estimated that as of May, two months after the pandemic broke out, the number of Americans that signed up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, rose "17 percent with over 6 million new enrollees."

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump
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The Trump's administration's proposed plan to cut food stamps was formalized by the USDA back in December. Had it passed in court, it would have slashed nearly $5.5 billion from SNAP over five years, according to the Washington Post.

That could have impacted 688,000 people losing their SNAP, CNN reported.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the time that the changes were made "in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program," according to NBC News.

In an attempt to challenge the USDA's ruling, a coalition of attorneys general from 19 states, D.C. and New York City filed a lawsuit back in January, CNN reported.

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The ruling was originally scheduled to take effect in April, but was blocked by Howell on March 13 – the same day Trump, 74, declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. Later that month, Congress voted to suspend work mandates in the food stamp program as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

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