Oregon sues Trump administration to protect food help for 21,000 Oregonians

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon attorney general

SALEM — About 21,800 Oregonians risk losing government benefits to help them buy food if a proposed federal rule goes into effect in April.

To prevent that, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has joined with more than a dozen other states to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to block the rule’s implementation, her office said Thursday.

Since the mid-1990s, the federal government has said that adults who are unemployed, younger than 50 and have no disability or children would get cut off from food stamps after three months if they don’t get a job or engage in job training.

But Congress allowed states to extend those benefits in areas where the state could show it was tough to find a job.

The Trump administration has now proposed “significantly limiting the state’s discretion” to provide extended food stamp benefits, either through waivers by area or through individual exemptions, the state attorneys general say.

The states suing the administration are asking that the rule be enjoined from going into effect and declared unlawful.

In the lawsuit, the attorneys general say the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, referred to as SNAP and more commonly known as food stamps, “has long been the country’s primary weapon against hunger and an important safety net for low-income Americans.”

The program helps feed about 586,000 people in Oregon, according to a declaration in the lawsuit by Daniel Haun, director of self-sufficiency programs at the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Of that group, about 21,800 could be impacted by the rule change proposed by the federal government.

“The food stamp program … has helped vulnerable Oregonians for over 40 years,” Rosenblum said in a statement Thursday. “It is hard to fathom why the federal government wants to punish thousands of adults in some of the most employment-impacted areas of our state — people who may not be able to find jobs — by taking away their access to food.”

In 2019, the state received waivers for 23 counties and seven reservations, Haun said. Under the rule change, only six counties would get the waivers that allow residents to be eligible for benefits beyond the standard three months.

The typical person who could be affected by the impending rule — 18- to 49-year-olds with no dependents or disabilities — receives $166 to $186 in food assistance each month, Haun said.

Recipients can include young adults transitioning out of foster care, veterans and survivors of domestic violence. Some can face barriers to getting a job, like not enough education, inadequate transportation, affordable housing or health care. Losing food benefits could have detrimental effects on nutrition and health, Haun said.

And while statewide unemployment is low at 3.9 percent, “that figure varies widely between urban and rural areas of the state, and among demographic groups,” Haun said.

Counties that have waivers have an unemployment rate of about 4.8 percent. 

Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 971-304-4148.