Court Oks Food Stamp Cut-off to Non-citizens

Washington state’s cut off of food stamp help to non-citizens living legally in the U.S. did not violate their equal protection rights, a federal appeals court says.  The state planned to terminate its food assistance program for legal immigrants who became ineligible for federal food stamps following the 1996 welfare reform act passed.

A class action lawsuit followed by Monica Pimentel claiming terminating the rights of legal non-citizen residents violated their equal protection rights.  The trial judge in Washington certified the class and issued an injunction blocking the state from ending or reducing state-funded food help for class members.

The state appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state counters that its food assistance program gave benefits exclusively to legal immigrants who became ineligible for federal food stamps while denying that benefit to citizens and other qualified aliens.

The trouble for Pimentel is that no one else got the benefit the state wanted to cut off, making it difficult to claim unequal treatment and thus make an equal protection violation claim, according to the unsigned opinion.

Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, Margaret McKeown and Carlos Bea issued the decision.

The current maximum monthly benefit is $200 for one person and $666 for a household of four.

According to the 2011 state budget the program elimination of the program would save the state $7.2 million.  In 2010, roughly 10,600 households received some form of food assistance program funds, according to the court.

“Because Pimentel fails even to allege that the state has treated her less favorably than a similarly situated citizen of the state, her claim of alienage discrimination will fail on the merits,” the panel wrote.

The appeals court vacated the injunction against the state and ordered the case back to district court in Washington to allow the state to end the program.

 Case: Pimentel v. Dreyfus  No. 11-35237

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