Chase Martin, An Obama-appointed judge has allowed states to continue illegally abusing the food stamp program.
Late last Sunday, Judge Beryl A. Howell issued her ruling in a lawsuit by 19 states against the Trump administration, tearing down a critically important reform implemented by the Trump administration through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The reform, implemented through the rulemaking process observed by all federal government agencies, prevented states from fabricating high unemployment rates to provide welfare to ineligible individuals. These high unemployment rates were necessary for states to avoid tracking able-bodied adults without dependents, known as ABAWDs, receiving food stamps. Under federal law, ABAWDs are required to comply with work requirements, volunteer efforts, or the pursuit of educational studies related to work, to be able to receive food stamp benefits.
For years, states have been permitted to get away with this deception due to high unemployment rates, especially during the Obama administration. In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which was signed into law by President Clinton. PRWORA achieved the laudable bipartisan goal of promoting work and ending dependence on the federal government. Under the Trump administration, unemployment rates fell as low as 3.5 percent in February of 2020, the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years. Rather than take advantage of the millions of open jobs in the country, the poverty advocacy machine used devious tricks to increase the unemployment rate in major cities across the country.
What do potato and grain farmers in the Klamath Basin of Northern California have in common with the urban dwellers of Los Angeles? Not very much, in fact, they are separated by nearly 700 miles or a 10-hour car ride. However, the Department of Social Services in California, which operates CalFresh, would have us believe that one of the most rural areas in California is in the same employment zone as one of the most heavily populated and job dense cities in the country.
Earlier this year, the Opportunity Solutions Project and 11 other organizations filed an amicus brief in support of the Trump administration, urging the court to dismiss the complaint by states abusing the waiver process and refusing to require ABAWDs to work.
Unfortunately, Judge Howell, a liberal judge appointed by Obama in 2010, who helped enable the unsuccessful attempts by House Democrats to impeach President Trump, decided to legislate from the bench and tie the hands of the USDA. Her decision effectively strips the agency of any deference afforded it by decades of precedent, determining that the rule “radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice.” Howell applied the Chevron test in an analysis that is unnecessary and flawed. The Chevron test is only needed for implied congressional delegations as opposed to express delegations. In Children’s Hosp. Ass’n of Texas v. Azar, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that if the statute in question provides an express delegation of authority to the USDA, the only question for the Court to consider is whether the Rule is reasonable.
Judge Howell has let politics into her courtroom. Her ruling forces USDA to provide SNAP benefits to ineligible individuals, mostly single young men. Her ruling permits states to continue their abrogation of responsibility and enabled them to shackle their citizens to generational poverty, rather than promoting the pursuit of the American dream.
Chase Martin is the legal affairs director for the Foundation for Government Accountability.