Fourteen states, plus New York City and the District of Columbia, are suing the US Department of Agriculture over regulations that will require more food stamp recipients to work in order to receive benefits.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, already requires working-age adults without dependents or disabilities to consistently hold a job to benefit from the program.
But states can waive the work requirement in areas where there’s high unemployment or few jobs.
These new regulations would put an end to that option and could result in 688,000 people losing aid when the policy takes effect in April.
The administration argues these regulations keep people from becoming dependent in the long term.
Attorneys general in states represented in the suit called the proposed policy “heartless” and “cruel to its core.” Under the current rule, single, able-bodied adults can only receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for three months out of every 36-month period unless they work or receive training at least 20 hours a week.
Areas with higher unemployment rates or insufficient jobs were eligible to receive a waiver to that rule.
About 2.9 million single adults received food stamps in 2018, about 74 percent who were not employed, the USDA said.
Under the new requirements, the waivers will be tougher to get, tightening the definition of insufficient jobs and limiting the timeframe the areas can receive a waiver.
The USDA told reporters the new requirements are expected to cause about 688,000 people to lose SNAP benefits.
The department said it will save the government about $5.5 billion over five years.
In addition to Washington, D.C., and New York City, the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, joined the litigation.
“It’s hard to believe that the Administration wants to make it even harder than it already is for people to afford their lives and even harder for some people to afford to eat, but time and again they’ve shown us that’s what they’re up to,” Michigan Attorney General Keith Ellison said.
“It’s my job to protect the people.
When the federal government is out to hurt them, I’ll fight back for them.”