Oregon has joined fifteen states and New York City in a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from eliminating food assistance for nearly 700,000 Americans.

According to a release from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the lawsuit challenges a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that would limit states’ ability to extend food stamp benefits in places where jobs are scarce. The coalition of state attorneys general is urging the court to declare the rule unlawful and issue an injunction to prevent it from going into effect on April 1, 2020.

“The food stamp program (known as “SNAP”) has helped vulnerable Oregonians for over 40 years," Rosenblum said. "It is hard to fathom why the federal government wants to punish thousands of adults in some of the most employment-impacted areas of our state—people who may not be able to find jobs—by taking away their access to food.”

More than 21,000 Oregonians who currently receive benefits could lose them beginning April 1, under the Trump Administration's plan.

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. Congress amended SNAP in 1996 to introduce a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed individuals aged 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising children. Congress believed that states were best positioned to assess whether local economic conditions and labor markets provided reasonable employment opportunities. The law allows a waiver of the three-month limit for areas where data is presented by the state demonstrating that the area lacks sufficient jobs.

In a declaration filed with the lawsuit, the Director of the Self Sufficiency Program for the Oregon Department of Human Services, Daniel Haun, explained that as of November 2019, Oregon had 347,941 households, for a total of 586,781 Oregonians, who receive SNAP benefits statewide. Of these individuals, 21,886 Oregonians are potentially affected if this rule goes into effect. Their average food benefit ranges from $166-$186 per month.

Over the last 24 years, Congress has maintained the criteria for states to obtain waivers, and allowed states to carry over unused exemptions. It has reauthorized the statute four times without limiting states’ discretion. Shortly after President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, USDA issued a proposed rule announcing these changes. The USDA received more than 100,000 comments—the majority expressing strong opposition from a broad range of stakeholders. Regardless, USDA issued the final rule.

In the lawsuit, the states argue that the new rule:

  • Contradicts statutory language and Congress’s intent for the food-stamp program
  • Raises healthcare and homelessness costs while lowering economic activity in the states
  • Amends the law for arbitrary and capricious reasons
  • Violates federal rulemaking process

In addition to Oregon, New York (lead) and Washington D.C. (lead), the participating states include California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, along with the City of New York.

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia.


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