The state of Washington slashed a food assistance program that benefits thousands of legal immigrants this month.
The benefit level was cut in half beginning July 1. The state Department of Social and Health Services notified recipients by mail.
The average household monthly benefit before the cuts went into effect was about $160, according to DSHS.
“The reduction is a cost-saving measure to help balance the state budget during difficult economic times,” said a statement from DSHS.
The cut saves $12.1 million in fiscal year 2013.
“It’s a very unjust cut because it only affects a certain group of folks who have kids and have expenditures just like anybody else,” said Linda Stone, Eastern Washington director of the Children’s Alliance. “We’ve already pledged to ask the Legislature to restore the funding when they come back into session in January.”
But getting the funding completely restored could prove difficult. For the last two years Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed eliminating food assistance completely, and it was also cut in half last year, a move upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
About 15,250 people statewide received the benefit in April, with more than 1,300 residing in Spokane County, according to DSHS.
Statewide, the majority of recipients are legal Mexican immigrants. In Spokane County, more than two-thirds are from the Republic of Marshall Islands.
The U.S. military conducted nuclear weapons testing there in the 1940s and ’50s that contaminated the land, resulting in a later agreement that allows Marshall Islands residents access to some social services here, as well as the ability to enter the U.S. for work, education and medical treatment without a green card.
Hemika Borran, who came to the U.S. from the Marshall Islands in 2010, said her benefit level was cut from $526 to $326 for a family of three. That means in a 30-day month, the family can spend about $1.20 per person, per meal, each day.
“We have to be careful what we buy,” Borran said. “It is not really much.”
Borran said the cuts make her sad because she struggles to provide for her 4-year-old son as she searches for a job and as her husband prepares to go to school to improve his English language skills.
Then-Gov. Gary Locke developed the state program in 1997 after Congress and President Bill Clinton cut food stamps for most immigrants in 1996.
Currently, refugees and legal immigrants who have had a green card for five or more years can qualify for federal food assistance.