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Justices Won’t Restore Food Stamps

March 27, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to force the government to restore food stamps and other benefits for legal immigrants cut off in a massive 1996 welfare overhaul.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal by Chicago officials and a group of noncitizen residents who said the 1996 law violated their equal-protection rights.

``The federal government ... is forbidden to balance its budget by denying welfare benefits to lawful permanent residents,″ the appeal had contended.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which dramatically cut welfare rolls nationwide, barred noncitizens living in this country from collecting food stamps and disability benefits through Supplemental Security Income.

Immigrants also were barred from collecting general welfare benefits and Medicaid until they live in the United States for five years.

The cutoff was intended to encourage immigrants to be self-sufficient and to ensure that welfare benefits do not create an incentive for people to emigrate to this country.

Congress later restored food stamps and SSI disability benefits to some immigrants living in the United States before August 1996.

The city of Chicago and a group of legal immigrants challenged the welfare law in federal court, saying it violated some immigrants’ equal-protection rights.

A federal judge upheld the limits on benefits, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The government is not required to give all aliens the same welfare benefits provided for citizens, the appeals court ruled.

In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for Chicago and the immigrants said Congress’ decision to allow people into the country but deny them benefits unfairly raises costs for state and local governments.

Justice Department lawyers said the benefit restrictions were a valid restriction on aliens’ conduct in the United States. They noted that the Supreme Court in 1996 let the government require immigrants to live in this country for five years before collecting Medicare.

The case is Chicago vs. Shalala, 99-898.

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On the Net: For the appeals court ruling: http://www.uscourts.gov./links.html and click on 7th Circuit.