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Judges block millions in state budget cuts

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A federal court is blocking some of the budget cuts Washington state made to a social services program for the disabled, threatening to force millions of dollars in renewed spending.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling released Friday that the regulations put disabled residents at risk of institutionalization. Judges issued a preliminary injunction that currently impacts a handful of people involved in the case, but state officials are concerned that it could eventually be extended to the 45,000 beneficiaries of the program.

“It’s a great deal of concern because of the cost associated with providing these increased services,” said Edward Dee, a state assistant attorney general. The reductions save a few million dollars each month.

State officials are appealing the ruling.

The cuts began at the beginning of this year after Gov. Chris Gregoire mandated across-the-board reductions in state agencies. To comply with the reductions, the Department of Health and Human Services reduced the number of hours of personal care services available under the state’s Medicaid plan. Personal care services provide help for basic tasks such as eating, bathing and dressing.

State officials argued that restoring the money for that program would force cuts elsewhere, impacting a different group of people. The Legislature has been cutting programs to deal with revenue shortfalls.

Two judges on the three-judge 9th Circuit panel said the state failed to identify specific programs that would cut if the lawsuit prevailed. They determined that it was in the state’s interest to award the injunction, although a third judge dissented.