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Monica Navarro Pimentel v. Dreyfus

February 29, 2012

MONICA NAVARRO PIMENTEL, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DREYFUS, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington Marsha J. Pechman, Chief District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:11-cv-00119-MJP SUSAN

Per curiam.

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted August 29, 2011-Seattle, Washington

Before: Michael Daly Hawkins, M. Margaret McKeown, and Carlos T. Bea, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

PER CURIAM:

Plaintiff Monica Navarro Pimentel ("Pimentel") represents a class of legal immigrants in the state of Washington adversely affected by its recent termination of a state-funded food assistance program for legal immigrants, which exclusively benefitted Washington resident aliens who became ineligible for federal food stamps following the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.*fn1 Pimentel contends that the state, by eliminating food assistance to class members while continuing to administer federal food assistance to U.S. citizens and certain qualified aliens, violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and, by failing to provide class members adequate pre-deprivation notice and opportunity to be heard, also violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The district court granted preliminary injunctive relief on both counts, enjoining the state from terminating or reducing state-funded food assistance for class members and ordering the state to provide certain class members individualized determination notices before terminating or reducing their benefits. Susan Dreyfus ("Dreyfus"), in her capacity as Secretary of Washington's Department of Social and Health Services, appeals. We reverse, vacate the preliminary injunction, and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

I. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

A. The Federal Food Stamp Program

The Food Stamp Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq., established a state-administered, federal food assistance program, currently called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP"), for qualifying low-income households. SNAP's purpose is to alleviate hunger and malnutrition among low-income households and increase their food purchasing power by issuing food stamps and electronic benefits. See 7 U.S.C. § 2011.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture determines uniform program-eligibility criteria and benefit-calculation formulae, individual participating states are responsible for certifying qualifying households and issuing benefits. See id. §§ 2014-2017; 8 C.F.R. Part 273. State participation is optional, but participating states must submit a plan of operation to the federal government, comply with applicable federal laws and regulations, and agree to spend state funds to cover fifty percent of the program's administrative costs. Id. §§ 2020(e), 2025. The federal government pays for the other fifty percent of administrative costs, as well as the entire cost of the actual food benefits. Id. § 2025.

Although the program has excluded undocumented immigrants since its inception, most legal immigrants were eligible for federal food stamps prior to 1996 subject to the program's income qualifications.

B. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996

In 1996 Congress passed the Welfare Reform Act (or "PRWORA"),*fn2 which dramatically altered alien-eligibility requirements for federal public benefits*fn3 and for state and local public benefits.*fn4 One of its stated purposes was to fur- ther the national immigration policy that "aliens within the Nation's borders not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, their sponsors, and private organizations, and . . . [that] the availability of public benefits not constitute an incentive for immigration to the United States." 8 U.S.C. § 1601(2).

The Act classifies aliens into two general categories: "qualified aliens" and "non-qualified aliens." See id. § 1641. Qualified aliens include aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence, asylees, refugees, aliens paroled into the United States for at least one year, aliens whose deportation is being withheld, aliens who have been granted conditional entry, certain Cuban and Haitian entrants, and certain victims of battery or extreme cruelty by a spouse or other family member. See 8 U.S.C. § 1641(b)-(c). All other aliens are deemed non-qualified aliens. "Qualified" status is essentially a prerequisite for federal benefits: non-qualified aliens are, with some exceptions not relevant here, ineligible for federal benefits, see id. § 1611(a) & (b), whereas qualified aliens are eligible for federal benefits, including SNAP, only if they meet additional criteria. Generally, only qualified aliens who have maintained their qualified status for five or more years are eligible for federal benefits, though there are numerous exceptions to this rule.*fn5 Initially, the Act barred nearly all non-qualified aliens from even receiving state (or local) public benefits, including state-funded food assistance.*fn6 On the other hand, states administering state-funded programs are required to extend eligibility to certain classes of qualified aliens.*fn7 For any aliens neither barred from receiving nor required to receive state benefits, states were to determine their own eligibility requirements. See id. § 1622(a). A year after enactment, Congress extended this discretionary authority to cover any legal aliens rendered ineligible for federal food stamps by PRWORA's restrictions. See Title VII of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-18 (1997), codified at 7 U.S.C. § 2016(i). Under 7 U.S.C. § 2016(i), states may even issue SNAP benefits to such persons so long as the state then reimburses the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for the value of the benefit and for all administrative costs associated with its issuance. In other words, though states may issue federally ineligible legal aliens food benefits pursuant to the Food Stamp Act, such benefits are to be wholly funded by the state itself.

C. Washington's Food Assistance Program

Washington has participated in the federal food stamp program since its inception, distributing federal benefits to aliens and citizens without distinction through the Basic Food Program, which is administered by the state's Department of Social and Health Services ("DSHS"). See RCW 74.04.500 ("Food stamp program-Authorized").

Upon enactment of the Welfare Reform Act, however, Washington's food stamp program automatically conformed to the new eligibility requirements concerning aliens. See RCW 74.04.510 ("Food stamp program- Rules."). Thus, consistent with the federal guidelines, only U.S. citizens and certain qualified aliens remained eligible to receive federally funded SNAP benefits under the Basic Food Program. See WAC 388-424-0020.

In 1997, Washington exercised its option to continue providing newly SNAP-ineligible legal immigrants with state-funded food benefits, enacting the Food Assistance Program for Legal Immigrants ("FAP"), also administered by DSHS.*fn8

See RCW 74.08A.120 (providing that "[t]he rules for the state food assistance program shall follow exactly the rules of the federal food stamp program except for the provisions pertaining to immigrant status"). Under FAP, legal immigrants are eligible for state-funded food benefits if (1) they meet the prePRWORA alien-status requirements of the Food Stamp Act, and (2) their ineligibility for federal food stamps is due solely to PRWORA's alien-status eligibility provisions, as defined at WAC 388-424-0020. See WAC 388-424-0025.

DSHS began administering both SNAP and FAP benefits under its Basic Food Program, determining eligibility and monthly benefits at the household level. A Washington household is eligible for Basic Food benefits so long as at least one member of the household is eligible for either SNAP or FAP benefits. DSHS regulations allow households to receive both SNAP and FAP benefits, provided the total household benefit does not exceed a certain maximum allotment. See WAC 388-400-0045, 388-478-0060.*fn9 Legal immigrants residing in Washington who had been receiving federally funded Basic Food benefits pre-PRWORA but who no longer qualified for SNAP, experienced no break in their coverage. However, their benefits were now fully funded by the state.

DSHS uses a single application form and a single eligibility-review form for food, medical, cash, and other public benefits. Beyond asking applicants to indicate (1) whether they are U.S. citizens, and (2) if not, whether they have documentation of their immigration status, neither the application nor the eligibility-review form indicates two separate funding sources or otherwise distinguishes between federally and state-funded food benefits. Although DSHS determines each applicant's eligibility for either federal or state food benefits, it ...


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