In the first Circuit Court decision stopping a state from using the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act to reduce public benefits to new residents, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the June 4 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Levi blocking California's attempt to reduce public assistance benefits to eligible new state residents.
Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director with the ACLU of Southern California said, "This is the first case in the country challenging a state's attempt to use the 1996 federal welfare act to deny equal justice to the poor. This decision means that the Governor must remove his heel from the backs of poor women and children. California cannot detach itself from the union just to keep out poor people seeking a better life."
In issuing a preliminary injunction last summer, Judge Levi said that California may not institute laws that thwart the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by treating new state residents differently from longer-term residents. Today's ruling affirms the ban that stops Governor Wilson from reducing public assistance benefits to qualified families who have lived here for less than one year to the amount they would have received in the state they left. Such a reduction would mean that, for example, a family of four from Mississippi requiring basic assistance would receive $144 a month rather than California's allotment of $673.
Martha Davis, legal director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund said, "This landmark ruling is a victory for women fleeing domestic abuse, who are forced to move across state lines in order to avoid stalking and violence. Our constitution guarantees that women in this situation must be treated like all other California residents." The American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLUs of Northern California and San Diego/Imperial County represent plaintiffs in Roe vs Anderson [CIV-S-97-0529 DFL].