Dist. of Columbia v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., Civil Action No. 20-cv-00119 (BAH)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtBERYL A. HOWELL, Chief Judge
Citation496 F.Supp.3d 213
Parties DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, et al., Defendants. Bread for the City, et al., Plaintiffs, v. United States Department of Agriculture, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 20-cv-00119 (BAH)
Decision Date18 October 2020

496 F.Supp.3d 213

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, et al., Defendants.


Bread for the City, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
United States Department of Agriculture, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 20-cv-00119 (BAH)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed October 18, 2020


496 F.Supp.3d 217

Nicole Suzanne Hill, David Brunfeld, Vikram Swaruup, Kathleen M. Konopka, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff District of Columbia.

Eric R. Haren, Joel Marrero, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff State of New York.

Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs State of California, State of Maryland, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State of Nevada, State of Oregon, State of Rhode Island, State of Vermont, City of New York.

Joshua Perry, Office of the Connecticut Attorney General, Hartford, CT, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff State of Connecticut.

Toni L. Harris, Michigan Department of Attorney General, Lansing, MI, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff Dana Nessel.

Ali Patrick Afsharjavan, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, St. Paul, MN, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff State of Minnesota.

Marie Soueid, Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, Trenton, NJ, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff State of New Jersey.

Aimee D. Thomson, Office of the Attorney General, Philadelphia, PA, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Jessica Merry Samuels, Michelle S. Kallen, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, Matthew Colangelo, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Plaintiff Commonwealth of Virginia.

Chinh Q. Le, Pro Hac Vice, Jennifer F. Mezey, Nicole Dooley, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Daniel G. Jarcho, Kelley C. Barnaby, Hilla Shimshoni, Kaelyne Yumul Wietelman, Alston & Bird LLP, Washington, DC, Jean Richmann, Alston & Bird, San Francisco, CA, Raechel J. Bimmerle, Alston & Bird, L.L.P., Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs Bread for the City, Damon Smith, Geneva Tann.

Elizabeth Roberson-Young, Jeffrey VanDam, Illinois Attorney General's Office, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff State of Illinois.

Melissa Lewis, Dept. of the Attorney General, Honolulu, HI, for Plaintiff State of Hawaii.

Susan P. Herman, Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, ME, for Plaintiff State of Maine.

Chetan A. Patil, Liam Holland, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, Chief Judge

496 F.Supp.3d 218

Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rocked the economy, killed nearly 220,000 Americans,1 quadrupled the national unemployment rate,2 and dramatically increased the number of Americans forced to reckon with hunger this year,3 the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") is pursuing implementation of a Final Rule to "dramatically alter the long-standing operations" of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP"), by stripping States of their current flexibility in providing this food assistance benefit.

496 F.Supp.3d 219

D.C. v. U.S. Dep't of Agric. ("D.C. I") , 444 F. Supp. 3d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2020) ; see Final Rule, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents , 84 Fed. Reg. 66782 (Dec. 5, 2019) (to be codified at 7 C.F.R. pt. 273).

In March 2020, when this Court largely granted preliminary injunction requests from nineteen States, the District of Columbia and the City of New York, as well as private plaintiffs, USDA estimated the prospective changes to SNAP would affect over one million people, by newly subjecting them to time limits on their eligibility to receive food under this program, and kick almost 700,000 able-bodied adults without dependents ("ABAWDs") out of the SNAP program altogether. See 84 Fed. Reg. 66782, 66807, 66809 (touting savings "of about $1.1 billion per year" from reduction in SNAP benefit payments and estimating that 1,087,000 individuals would be newly subject to eligibility time limits and 688,000 individuals, in fiscal year (FY) 2021, will neither meet the new waiver requirement nor be exempt); ABAWD00000431 (Regulatory Impact Analysis), ECF No. 105-1. The agency has been icily silent about how many ABAWDs would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought in the Final Rule been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country and congressional action had not intervened to suspend any time limits on receipt of those benefits. In the pandemic's wake, as of May 2020, SNAP rosters have grown by over 17 percent with over 6 million new enrollees.4

More than merely silent, USDA strenuously objects to consideration of estimates, for example, that under the new restrictions in the Final Rule, only 10 percent, rather than the current 97 percent, of U.S. counties would have the flexibility to extend SNAP benefits to ABAWDs. See State Pls.’ Mem. in Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. ("State Pls.’ MSJ"), Ex. 1, Decl. of Edward Bolen, Sr. Policy Analyst, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) ("Bolen Decl."), ¶ 13, ECF No. 65-1; Defs.’ Cross-Mem. in Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. and in Opp'n to State Pls.’ MSJ ("Defs.’ Opp'n"), at 44 n. 22, ECF No. 92. Despite the agency's blinkered effort to downplay or disregard the predicted outcomes of the Final Rule, the backdrop of the pandemic has provided, in stark relief, its procedural and substantive flaws.

To be sure, States bear the statutory responsibility of aiding ABAWD SNAP recipients to transition into the workforce by providing vocational training and transitional support. To that end, the statutory scheme sets up mechanisms for the federal government to spur States to provide better services to their citizens to enable their self-sufficiency and move them off government assistance. See 84 Fed. Reg. at 66796 ("the Department expects States to support ABAWDs in their efforts to find work and meet the work requirement by expanding access to work programs and other supportive services for ABAWDs."); id. at 66807 ("the Department expects State agencies to do what they can to increase the employability of ABAWDs, and help them find and gain work."). At the same time, however, the over-arching goal of SNAP is to enable States to target nutrition benefits to those residents in need, with statutory provisions that protect that critical function. See 7 U.S.C. § 2011 (Congressional findings "that the limited food

496 F.Supp.3d 220

purchasing power of low-income households contributes to hunger and malnutrition among members of such households" and "[t]o alleviate such hunger and malnutrition, a supplemental nutrition assistance program ... will permit low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation.").

The Final Rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans. Whether USDA could, using a legally proper process, adequately explain how the Final Rule's changes both comport with the statutory scheme and make sense is a question for another day. For now, the agency has not done so.

For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment are GRANTED while the defendants’ cross-motions for summary judgment are DENIED, and the Final Rule is VACATED.

I. BACKGROUND

Familiarity with the statutory framework, regulatory background leading up to the December 5, 2019 promulgation of the Final Rule and the procedural history of this case, as comprehensively detailed in this Court's March 13, 2020 preliminary injunction decision, D.C. I , 444 F. Supp. 3d at 7–15, is assumed and only briefly summarized here.

A. Brief Overview of Statutory Requirements and the Regulatory Scheme Changed by Final Rule

Pursuant to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), which amended the Food Stamp Act of 1977, ABAWDs are generally limited to receiving SNAP benefits for 3 months in a 36-month period, unless certain work requirements are met. See 7 U.S.C. § 2015(o)(2).5 This time limit on ABAWD's SNAP benefits may be temporarily waived or exempted as provided in two separate statutory sections that the Final Rule is intended to implement. See 7 U.S.C. §§ 2015(o)(4)(A) (waivers), 2015(o)(6) (exemptions). Those statutory provisions and associated long-standing implementing regulations, originally made effective...

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2 practice notes
  • Missouri v. Biden, 4:21-cv-01329-MTS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • November 29, 2021
    ...this is the role, actually a duty, of CMS when promulgating a rule. See District of Colombia v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, 496 F.Supp.3d 213, 228 (D.D.C. 2020) (emphasizing that one purpose of notice and comment rulemaking is to “give affected parties an opportunity to develop evid......
  • EATERS, POWERLESS BY DESIGN.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 4, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...84 Fed. Reg. 66,782 (Dec. 5, 2019) (to be codified at 7 C.F.R. pt. 273); see also District of Columbia v. U.S. Dep't of Agrie., 496 F. Supp. 3d 213 (D.D.C. 2020) (finding the rule invalid on both procedural and substantive grounds and ordering vacatur), appeal dismissed, No. 20-5371, 2021 W......
1 cases
  • Missouri v. Biden, 4:21-cv-01329-MTS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • November 29, 2021
    ...this is the role, actually a duty, of CMS when promulgating a rule. See District of Colombia v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, 496 F.Supp.3d 213, 228 (D.D.C. 2020) (emphasizing that one purpose of notice and comment rulemaking is to “give affected parties an opportunity to develop evid......

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