Federal Judge Blocks Cuts to Food Stamps, Says Coronavirus Pandemic Makes Benefits 'Essential'

A federal judge cited the coronavirus on Friday to explain her decision to block the Trump administration's plan to cut food benefits.

Washington D.C. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell granted a preliminary injunction, stopping plans that would require more stringent work requirements on people seeking food stamps. The plan was estimated to cut as many as 700,000 people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or roughly 2 percent of enrollees, according to The New York Times.

"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," Howell wrote in the ruling.

The injunction was requested by attorneys general from fourteen states as well as New York City and the District of Columbia. Without the ruling, the cuts to SNAP would have taken effect next month. Two other proposed cuts to SNAP are pending, however. The blocked cut would have only granted three months' worth of benefits to unemployed, able-bodied adults without children.

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Friday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injuction against proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Getty

Last week, Democrats asked President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, to delay the planned cuts over the coronavirus outbreak. Two Democratic representatives, Georgia's Sanford D. Bishop Jr. and Connecticut's Rosa DeLauro, wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

"We urge you to immediately suspend any Department rulemaking that would reduce benefits or affect program eligibility. Enacting any such changes during this time will only exacerbate current economic anxiety and unnecessarily increase the burden on the very people who need assistance," Bishop and DeLauro wrote. "Instead, as considerations of a broader economic stimulus package progresses, we strongly believe expanding the SNAP benefit will be a vital anti-recession tool."

These requests were refused. Perdue explained that states would be able to waive limits on benefits for those affected by the pandemic.

"Obviously if your job says you can't come to work or you're sick in that way, that good cause would eliminate need for work requirements under this rule," Perdue said. "That will be under the discretion of the states to determine that good cause."

The USDA did announce this week, however, that schools that have closed due to the coronavirus outbreak will still be able to provide meals to low-income students.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.