Food stamps and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have long been vulnerable to cuts by Republicans. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic, which is wreaking financial havoc around the world, will reportedly not change that desire, even when faced with legal opposition. On March 13, chief judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against cutting SNAP benefits, an action which would have gone into effect on April 1. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reportedly told the Associated Press that they’re appealing.
In the judgement, Howell wrote that “nearly 700,000 would lose their benefits. Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential.”
Yet on March 18, a spokesperson for the USDA said the department “disagrees with the court’s reasoning and will appeal its decision,” calling the ruling “arbitrary and capricious,” according to the AP, following an emailed response. Currently, food stamp benefits are given to mentally and physically healthy adults without dependents, who work 20 or more hours weekly for three months in a 36-month period. National and world health organizations, however, are asking many to either self-quarantine or practice social distancing, which is putting added strain on the economy and on low-wage earning employees.
“You don’t want to have workers going out when they’re sick and trying to document the right number of hours just to keep their benefits,” Ellen Vollinger, legal director for Food Research & Action Center, told the AP.
In the meantime, Vollinger said the USDA may end up fighting a losing battle against Congress, which has recently passed economic bill protecting SNAP benefits.