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Food stamps reduced for up to 30,000 legal immigrants

Food stamps are getting cut in half next week for many of Washington’s legal immigrants. They were cut to help balance the state’s budget.

The food assistance goes to about 11,000 families. Counting their children, that could be nearly 30,000 people impacted statewide, according to estimates by the Children's Alliance, and advocacy group.

They’re immigrants who came here legally, from countries all over the world. Many have their "Green Cards," which means they have permanent resident status. Others are here under other programs.

Toby Guevin with the advocacy group One America says some of them fell on hard times.

"These are folks who have had jobs, and now lost their jobs. Families are struggling. They may be working jobs and the wages just are not high enough to provide for their family," he says.

One impacted group comes from the Marshall Islands. That’s where the U.S. military tested nuclear bombs in the Pacific, years ago, and the Marshallese get special rights to come to the US. They do pay taxes, but they don’t qualify for regular food stamps. 

As part of welfare reforms back in the 1990’s, the federal government restricted which immigrants can get food assistance. The biggest change required legal immigrants, with permanent status to wait until they've been here five years before they qualify.

Washington added a supplementary program, but the state can save $15 million a year by cutting the payments in half, beginning July 1st.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.