Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of states fighting to stop Trump’s efforts to take food assistance away from out-of-work Michiganders.
LANSING, Mich.—Attorney General Dana Nessel scored a victory for the hundreds of thousands of hungry Michiganders and blocked an initiative by President Donald Trump to limit access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the modern equivalent to food stamps.
Before the pandemic, a multi-state coalition including Michigan responded to a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) directive that placed a 20-hour-per-week work requirement on adults who sought support from SNAP, effectively locking anyone out of work out of the system. Anyone who took more than three months to find new employment would lose their access to food.
As NPR reports, the directive also limited the abilities of states to be flexible with providing SNAP support based on local economic conditions. States could only get work requirements waived for residents where the local unemployment rate was above 6%. Though the work requirements themselves weren’t new, as WWMT reports, being implemented by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2017.
“SNAP was specifically created to help Americans struggling with food insecurity and as we continue to navigate this pandemic, this assistance is more important than ever,” Nessel said. “Instead of helping Americans at a time when so many are facing hardships, the Trump administration chose to cruelly revoke vital food assistance that thousands of Michigan residents rely on.”
Nessel’s office explained that SNAP has been America’s primary response to addressing hunger, and attempts to curtail its effectiveness in exactly the way the USDA decision did failed to pass in Congress in 2018.
And though the lawsuit began in January, the events in the intervening months, notably the coronavirus pandemic, weighed on Chief Judge Beryl Howell as she reached her decision.
“[T]he backdrop of the pandemic has provided, in stark relief, [the] procedural and substantive flaws,” Howell wrote in the court’s decision. “The agency has been icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits if the changes had gone into effect during the pandemic as planned.”
She added, “In the pandemic’s wake, as of May 2020, SNAP rosters have grown by over 17% with over 6 million new enrollees.”
Howell ruled that the USDA violated the federal rulemaking process, countermanded Congressional intent evident in legislation funding SNAP, and was arbitrary and capricious.
“This is an important victory in favor of human decency,” said Nessel.
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And while this particular case was only tangentially connected to the coronavirus when it was filed, a separate case currently in the courts focuses on the Trump administration’s attempt to resist funding emergency SNAP during the pandemic as it is ordered to do by coronavirus relief legislation.
“COVID-19 has magnified the effects and challenges of food insecurity and increased the number of Michigan residents who struggle with the toxic stress of being food insecure,” said Phil Knight, chair of the new Food Security Council. “This is a non-partisan challenge, and while multi-layered, it is solvable for the second most diverse agricultural state in the US.”
Addressing food insecurity has been a major focus of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, especially during and following the coronavirus pandemic. The Food Security Council’s purpose is to study the causes of Michiganders’ food insecurity and design long-term solutions to those underlying issues.