SEATTLE – Thousands of poor immigrant families in Washington could soon face cuts in the food aid they receive, after a federal appeals court cleared the way Wednesday for lawmakers to reduce or eliminate the program.
The Legislature tried a year ago to cut the program in the face of severe budget woes, but the decision was blocked by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle. The judge sided with immigrants who claimed the decision was discriminatory and violated their rights to due process.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the state’s actions posed no such concerns.
The Department of Social and Health Services will consult with lawmakers about how they want to respond to the ruling. That could include pushing ahead with proposals in the House and Senate budgets to reduce the program’s spending, said Babs Roberts, director of the department’s Community Services Division.
She said the department was pleased the court found that the state had the authority to cut the program, but added: “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s very hard to celebrate this decision in any way, because it says you can go ahead and cut essential benefits to these families.”
The Food Assistance Program serves immigrants who are in the country legally and do not qualify for federal food stamps.
The Washington program serves about 10,500 households and costs about $16 million a year.
Budget proposals in the House and Senate would direct about $8 million a year to the program, enough to give each recipient $3 per day, said Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children’s Alliance.