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EPIC News – October 2020

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Western Center’s Proposition Guide

With election day drawing near and Californians sending in ballots, we prepared a Proposition Guide to help you navigate complicated propositions on the 2020 ballot. Check out the full guide for a better understanding of Western Center’s position on each proposition.

Western Center policy advocate Jessica Bartholow wrote a blog post further explaining our YES position on Proposition 25 to end money bail.

And our staff attorney Helen Tran wrote a post explaining why she supports Proposition 16 to allow affirmative action in California, alongside Western Center and many other Asian Americans. “Many of us, including myself, were not of voting age in 1996 when Prop 209 was passed. Or, we might have voted for it without realizing its ramifications in the ensuing decades and during a global pandemic. We’ve arrived at a moment now and we should take it head on: vote Yes on Prop 16.”


Judge Denies Trump Administration’s Attempt to Take Food From Unemployed Adults

Over the weekend, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down an attempt by the Trump Administration to stop food benefits for nearly 700,000 people via changes to the SNAP Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (“ABAWD”) Time Limit rule. Western Center was part of the California team that submitted a brief which appears to have significantly shaped the judge’s decision. Read our joint statement about the rule and decision here. 


2020 California Legislative Roundup

In case you missed it, here’s Western Center’s roundup of the 2020 California Legislative session, which concluded on September 30th. The roundup includes our sponsored and co-sponsored bills that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Because of COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills across issue areas this year, but we still saw important progress, including in the state budget — like the inclusion of immigrant ITIN tax filers in the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) program, and the restoration of CalWORKs assistance from 48 months to the full 60 months permitted under federal law, beginning in 2022.

Joint Statement: Federal Judge Strikes Down Trump Administration’s Attempt to Take Food Assistance from Hundreds of Thousands of Unemployed Americans

Yesterday, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down an attempt by the Trump Administration to stop food benefits for nearly 700,000 unemployed people referred to by the USDA as “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents,” or “ABAWDs” in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In the decision for District of Columbia et al v. U.S. Department of Agriculture et al, which comes seven months after the same judge issued a temporary preliminary injunction halting part of the rule, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell called the USDA’s proposed rule “arbitrary and capricious,” particularly because the department failed to address the high number of people who would lose access to food, in the midst of a pandemic, if the dramatic rule change was implemented.

Impact Fund Staff Attorney David Nahmias wrote an excellent article in July with substantial background on the so-called “ABAWD Time Limit rule” and the Trump Administration/USDA’s quest to make the already tight restrictions even tighter, over the objections of tens of thousands of public commenters. The USDA’s new rule would have restricted state authority to provide waivers to the time limit for obtaining work for people who are unemployed and in need of food assistance. For the past two decades, states have been allowed to provide waivers according to the economic and employment situations in their state, which, as Judge Howell pointed out in her decision, is particularly precarious right now because of the pandemic. The USDA’s proposed rule was an attempt to take away state discretion in favor of a harsh one-size-fits-all rule that would have taken food aid away from hundreds of thousands of people who need it.

Due to the rule’s potential to negatively impact a high number of Californians, Western Center on Law & Poverty immediately began organizing against it upon its release in December 2018, which led to the submission of hundreds of opposition comments from California’s broader anti-poverty community. In November of 2019, Western Center advocates met with the Office of Management and Budget at the White House to reinforce our opposition to the rule and organized others to do the same.

In early 2020, Impact Fund and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman joined Western Center to watch and support the D.C. case. Over the summer, we led a coalition of twenty-nine legal and advocacy organizations to submit an Amicus Brief, which appears to have had a substantial impact on the overall outcome of the case – particularly regarding the discretionary exemptions statute, which we argued the USDA had right back in 1999. In her decision, Judge Howell agreed with our interpretation of that statute through explicit mention of the State Plaintiffs’ reply brief, which refers heavily to our Amicus Brief. We are very proud to have had a hand in such a significant decision.

It’s important that this attempt by the USDA to take food aid away from people who need it was struck down, but it’s also important to note that the ABAWD Time Limit rule would not exist if it wasn’t for the 1996 welfare “reform” bill, which has done significant harm to communities across the country and solidified racial and economic disparities – including making the process for obtaining food aid incredibly onerous for people already struggling with systemic poverty. Last year, California Representative Barbara Lee introduced H.R.2809 – the Improving Access to Nutrition Act of 2019, to end the SNAP ABAWD Time Limit rule altogether. Western Center helped craft and subsequently endorsed H.R.2809, which has strong support from California’s anti-hunger community.

Yesterday’s ruling on the SNAP ABAWD Time Limit rule is very welcome news in the face of an ongoing pandemic, record unemployment, civil unrest, and persistent racial injustice. It means hundreds of thousands of people in this country will continue to have access to the food they need in the middle of multiple crises. Now that the baseline is safeguarded, we must continue to push for a long term fix to inhumane SNAP food stamp rules like the ABAWD Time Limit rule.

 

For questions contact:

Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications, Western Center on Law & Poverty — cmckinney[at]wclp.org, (214) 395-2755

Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation & Training, Impact Fund — LNako[at]impactfund.org, (510) 845-3473 ext. 307

Erik Cummins, Senior PR Manager, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman — erik.cummins[at]pillsburylaw.com, (415) 217-9341

 

 

 

 

 

 

California, 13 other states sue to stop Trump’s food stamp cuts

“Other groups at risk of losing their food stamps include people experiencing homelessness, veterans, people recently out of jail or prison and former foster youth, according to Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

For some, having to provide proof of working 20 hours per week may become a roadblock.

“They will have to go through a lot of hurdles to verify eligibility,” Bartholow said. “A lot of people don’t work in places that regularly provide a printed time-sheet.”

Read more

What Happens Next With Trump’s Food Benefit Cuts

“The food benefits rule finalized last week reduces states’ authority to set their own eligibility standards for the subset of SNAP beneficiaries who don’t have children and aren’t disabled.

“It’s pretty clear that the president acted outside of his authority,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. ”

Read more 

 

New Trump rule could eliminate food stamps for almost 200,000 Californians

“It will require almost every county to enforce the harsh time limit on providing nutrition assistance for adults who are working less than 20 hours each week, no matter how hard they are looking for a job, have irregular schedules, or are employed but unable to document their hours,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”

Read more

Statement on Western Center’s Opposition to Rule Change for Out-of-Work or Under-Employed SNAP Food Benefit Recipients 

The Trump administration published a rule today to cut SNAP benefits (food stamps) for hundreds of thousands of people who are out of work or under-employed. The government refers to these individuals as “able-bodied adults without dependents” or “ABAWDs.” The new rule circumvents the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress last December that rejected changes to SNAP ABAWD policy, a move which violates administrative law.

Western Center on Law & Poverty and our allies plan to fight the rule and protect our clients from the short and long-term harm of hunger that will result from its implementation.

Under existing law and guidance, people the government deems “ABAWDs” can only access food benefits for three months in a 36-month time period, but states have been given flexibility to waive the three-month time limit in counties and areas with insufficient jobs. The rule published by the Trump administration today removes these important protections which have been in place for over 20 years.

We are still analyzing the final rule, which is significantly different than the proposed rule, but we believe it will still result in unprecedented cuts to the country’s most successful anti-hunger program. There are approximately 700,000 Californians classified as ABAWDs who could be impacted by the rule. The USDA estimates the rule will cut over $5 billion in SNAP benefits to low-income Americans over the next five years.

The administration asserts that the rule will encourage people to work, but that notion is not grounded in fact. As Western Center advocates and many other experts have pointed out on numerous occasions, hunger does not make anyone productive. The physical and psychological toll of hunger is not a catalyst for work — it has the opposite effect. And while the USDA claims the rule will incentivize employment, it simultaneously targets people with well-documented barriers to work by undermining state flexibility to offer exemptions and waivers to the rule.

The Trump administration has not produced evidence to support this rule change, and it has not done due diligence to prove it will have the effect it claims. The administration will also try to divert attention away from SNAP cuts by highlighting the SNAP Employment and Training program for people who are out of work or underemployed; this is dishonest because people cut from SNAP can’t benefit equally from these services, and the USDA has not funded the program to serve even half of those who need it.

This is a blatant and alarming attempt to undermine Congress and ignore the policy preference of a broad, bipartisan swath of Americans, all to implement a cruel rule with dubious intentions. The administration suggests the change will restore the “dignity of work,” but there is nothing dignified about going to a job interview hungry, and nothing about the experience of hunger makes someone more employable.

Though the rule was published today, it does not go into effect until spring 2020, and once efforts to prevent its implementation are exhausted. This means that for now, impacted individuals should continue using benefits as normal.

It’s clear that this rule and other attempts by the administration to cut SNAP benefits were created by people who have never experienced the indignity of hunger. The integrity of the United States rests on the fundamental question of whether a country as wealthy as ours should allow people to go hungry, and if doing so helps them or our democracy be better. We firmly believe the answer is no.

 

CONTACT:

Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications, [email protected]

Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate, [email protected]

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