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Legal Immigrants Hit Hard By State Budget Cuts

Lesley McClurg

Hard times just got harder for legal immigrants who receive food stamps from the state. Their benefits were cut in half yesterday. The move is part of many cutbacks to balance the state's budget.


It's not good news for many legal immigrants, especially for many families from the Marshall Islands. The country is part of the larger island group of Micronesia in the Northern Pacific Ocean. They're one of the largest immigrant groups affected by the cutbacks in food stamps.

Hidai: "Every day you are watching how much you feed your kids, just rationing whatever food you got left. Making sure everyone has enough to go on for the entire month and praying you're going to make it to the next month. "

That's Hidai Johnny. He lives with five other family members in a two–bedroom apartment in Spokane, Washington. His wife, their newborn, his grandparents and his cousin are all dependent on his income working at a Sears call center. Two members of his family receive food stamps. The cutbacks mean there will be $200 less each month to pay for food.

Hidai: "It's not pleasant being hungry. I guess hunger is something every age, gender, every race can speak about. 'Cause it's not pleasant. It shouldn't be happening here in America."

Marshallese families come to the US for a better life than they can have in their own country. The land in the Marshal Islands is toxic. That's because the US used the islands as a testing ground for atomic weapons during the Second World War. As part of the compensation for the damage, the US allows Marshallese families to live and work in the US, but they don't qualify for federal welfare assistance.

Since 1997 Washington state has picked up the slack by providing food assistance for legal immigrants who don't qualify for federal aid.

Hidai said many families will be hit harder than his own by the state's cutbacks.

Hidai: "You're talking Marshallese families with three families under one roof or four families under one roof. And when you have that happen to them, well you can basically double my situation and see how it goes for them. 'Cause it's, it's pretty hard."

Organizations working on behalf of immigrants are already planning to push legislators to help bring the money back next year. But for now, families like Hidai's will have to get by on less.

I'm Lesley McClurg for KUOW News.

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