- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration was sued Friday over work requirements enacted for more than 60,000 food stamp recipients that take effect with the new year.

The federal lawsuit was filed in New Orleans by advocacy groups on behalf of seven food stamp recipients who are threatened with losing the aid. They are seeking to stop the new requirements and are asking to get the case certified as a class-action lawsuit.

The Jindal administration let a federal waiver of work requirements expire Oct. 1. Adults aged 18 to 49 without children will soon have to work at least 20 hours per week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program to receive food stamps.

The suit charges that the move was done with too much haste and unlawfully denies food stamps to people.

Jindal spokesman Mike Reed described the lawsuit as “without merit.”

“Having a job is empowering, and it allows people to break the cycle of poverty,” Reed said in a statement. “Louisiana’s workforce is stronger than ever, and we want to encourage more people to join it.”

Jindal’s administration ends Jan. 11, so a decision on seeking a waiver of the work requirements will fall to Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.

On Friday, an Edwards spokesman said the new governor hasn’t made a decision yet on whether he’ll keep the work requirements in place or ask for another federal waiver.

Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement that the governor-elect’s transition team has been speaking with agencies to gather information about the issue.

“Determining the best way to make sure all of our citizens are cared for with dignity has been a top priority for the governor-elect,” Carbo said.

Prior to Jindal’s decision, Louisiana had received a waiver for the work requirements for the previous 18 years, the lawsuit said.

Stacey Gibson, a 45-year-old homeless man in New Orleans and one of the plaintiffs, said food stamps are vital for him.

“People need these benefits out here on the streets just to survive,” Gibson said in a telephone interview. He said he gets $194 a month in food stamps.

He said he buys what’s suitable for his life of living under bridges, behind houses and on park benches: “Juices, sandwich bread, wheat bread, cold cuts, canned foods.”

He said he was told he’d not be eligible for food stamps in the new year, and he worried he’d have to go without them because work is so hard to find. He picks up temporary work when he can, he said.

Under the new rules, he said, “if you don’t get work, you won’t eat.”

The lawsuit was brought by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and the National Center for Law & Economic Justice, a civil rights group based in New York.

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