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Judge Halts $7M Cut to Immigrants’ Food Stamps

SEATTLE (CN) - Washington will continue to provide food stamps for immigrants after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the state from killing the program.

The state was set to scrap the Food Assistance Program for Legal Immigrants on Feb. 1 in a bid to cut $7 million from the budget.

Lead plaintiff Monica Navarro Pimentel filed a class action in late January on behalf of approximately 10,350 households receiving the state-funded benefits to block the state's move. U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman quickly followed through with the order.

The ruling, dated Jan. 28, imposed a temporary restraining order and granted class action status, finding that the complaint showed a "likelihood of success on the merits."

"State budgetary considerations are not a compelling interest for a state to discriminate against aliens or immigrants," Pechman wrote.

Navarro Pimental says she can't supply an "adequate and nutritious diet" for her family without food stamps. Her complaint claims cutting food stamps for legal immigrants but not for U.S. citizens violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The judge noted that disagreed with each of the three challenges to the suit proffered by Washington Social and Health Services Secretary Susan Dreyfus.

Since the challenged program derives from state benefits, Pechman said it is subject to strict scrutiny, as opposed to the rational basis review afforded to federally funded programs.

The social services department [DSHS] argued that cutting the state program would not violate Equal Protection because federally funded food benefits would remain intact, but Pechman said that argument "misses the point."

"Regardless of whether the state continues to administer a federally funded food assistance program based on federal alien classifications, DSHS's decision to cut the state-funded program benefiting aliens exclusively is subject to strict scrutiny," Pechman wrote.

She also shot down the contention that the court should use rational basis review since the state's policy was not inconsistent with congressional law.

"Only if a uniform law set by Congress authorizes states to make decisions regarding the state-funded assistance programs would rational basis apply," the ruling states. That is not the case here, Pechman continued.

No hearing has been scheduled for arguments on a potential preliminary injunction.

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