Labor, its allies, and the courts fight to stop Trump
USW Bat Light

WASHINGTON—It seems that everywhere he turns Trump is being trumped these days.

Record voter turnout during early voting doesn’t look like it is going well for the president.

Then, after dark, when the voting stops, the United Steelworkers are taking their “batlight” campaign across the country. They shine a Biden-Harris “batlight” on Trump towers and hotels in major cities across the country, encouraging more people to turn out to vote the following day.

And, in yet another daytime slap at the Trump plan to kill Americans, a federal judge has blocked his plan, in the midst of the pandemic, to immediately kick 700,000 poor single Americans off of food stamps.

Federal judge Beryl Howell is among the latest to trump Trump.

In a scathing Oct. 18 67-page ruling issued Sunday, the day after the Steelworkers aimed their “batlight” at Chicago’s Trump Tower, Howell, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in D.C., called the rule crafted by Trump’s Agriculture Department—which Congress put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic hit—“arbitrary and capricious” and not backed by any facts.

Her injunction makes that hold on Trump’s food stamp ban permanent, even after the hunger and joblessness the plague produced ends.

Not only would the Trump USDA have immediately kicked the “able-bodied adults without dependents” off the food stamp rolls, but it would have limited another 1.087 million people to just three months of food stamps over a three-year period, Howell said. Those moves would have “exponentially increased food insecurity,” the judge declared.

And she said both Trump moves were particularly cruel when the pandemic is ravaging the country, producing a depression and resulting high unemployment, conditions driving people to seek food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), in the first place.

They were also particularly cruel to people of color and other minorities. Howell noted—a point even USDA admitted in court.

“The department acknowledges the changes outlined in the final rule will likely impact…vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ populations, veterans, homeless populations, and those with disabilities, given the disproportionate rate of food insecurity and unemployment in those communities,” Howell wrote. “USDA kicked this problem bucket down the proverbial road.”

Howell’s ruling marks yet another reversal for Trump regime rules in federal courts, and the food stamp challenge is part of a concerted campaign by state Attorneys General, civil rights, and public interest groups—in this case, 19 AGs and a coalition of food banks—to halt Trump’s tries in their tracks.

Figures kept by New York University’s law school show Trump’s troops have won only 24 of 132 such lawsuits—and that was before this loss and another, five days before, to New York state alone. There, a federal judge tossed Trump’s retaliatory ban against New Yorkers’ participation in a special paid security pre-clearance program for frequent flyers.

Howell’s ruling drew cheers from the coalition of 19 state Attorneys General, led by New York’s Letitia James and D.C.’s Karl Racine, that challenged Trump’s food stamps rule in court, along with food advocacy groups.

“The agency has been icily silent about how many” single adults without kids “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 six million new enrollees,” Howell noted.

“WIN: A federal judge has denied the Trump admin’s attempt to cut #SNAP food benefits that would have left 700,000 Americans hungry and put their lives at risk. #DC was proud to help lead the fight against this heartless and unlawful move: #HandsOffSNAP” Racine tweeted. “Trump tried to take away food stamp benefits from 700,000 unemployed Americans. Our lawsuit stopped him,” Maryland Democratic AG Brian Frosh tweeted.

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“Kudos to all the advocates who worked to keep #HandsOffSNAP for thousands of families and individuals facing hunger,” tweeted the Feeding America coalition.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, provided context—numbers—for the impact of Trump’s food stamp ban in a prior discussion of the House-passed Heroes Act, the latest Democratic-proposed coronavirus relief bills (HR6800 and S925). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refuses to allow hearings, much less debate and votes, on either.

“Millions of adults (and many of their children) are struggling to get enough to eat, and facing significant housing hardship,” the center said late in September. “The failure of policymakers to enact comprehensive relief would mark an abdication of responsibility.”

“Some 10% of adults reported” to a Census Bureau survey that “their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days” over a two-week period in early September. Before the pandemic hit, only 3.7% of adults went hungry at some point last year.

“The pandemic has also exacerbated longstanding inequities and discrimination in jobs, wealth, and income, and, as a result, the share of Black and Latino adults experiencing such hardship is more than double that of white adults.” While one of every 10 adults “sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat,” the hunger rate for Black adults was 19% and for Latinx adults was 18%. It was 16% for multiracial and other adults, such as Native Americans, 7% for whites, and 6% for Asian adults.

Howell’s ruling may not be the last word on the fight over food. Trump’s fight to literally starve Americans during the pandemic comes as his administration makes clear that its plan to deal with the virus is simply to let it run wild. Health experts say the Trump approach could result in millions of additional deaths.

Unsatisfied with killing Americans that way, Trump, despite his losses in court, will not give up his plans to add to the crisis by slashing food stamps.

The Washington Post reported Trump’s USDA is still working on a proposed final rule that would kick millions more working poor off food stamps, by capping income deductions poor families could take for paying for utilities. More deductions equal lower income and let them qualify for food stamps.

Ending the utility deduction, along with banning states from seeking waivers from the overall Trump food stamp bans, would bounce 3.7 million people out of food stamps every month, the Urban Institute estimates. And another Trump USDA scheme would kick 982,000 poor kids off of subsidized school lunches, the institute says. Teachers unions make the point that such lunches are often the only nutritious meal poor kids eat each day.

The Steelworkers, meanwhile, say they will continue to shine their “batlight” at night in cities across the country, reminding people that they should come out to vote in an election that literally makes the difference between life and death.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.