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California welfare cuts were unfair, court rules


SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a decision that could have repercussions across the nation, a federal appeals court has invalidated millions of dollars in California welfare cuts, saying government officials had failed to consider the hardship they would impose on poor families.

The 2-1 ruling yesterday by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the Bush administration violated federal law in 1992 when it approved the cuts without investigating the potential impact on the 2.7 million Californians who receive welfare payments.

Writing for the majority, Judge Alfred Goodwin said there was clear evidence the benefit reductions would put many segments of the welfare population at "increased risk of homelessness, inadequate nutrition, and a variety of emotional and physical problems."

The ruling applied specifically to a 1.3 percent reduction in Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits that was imposed Dec. 1, 1992. But lawyers on both sides of the issue said it could also nullify a further 2.7 percent reduction approved last year and a 2.3 percent cut scheduled to go into effect in September.

The three-judge panel did not specifically order that benefits be raised, but advocates for the poor said they believed restoration of benefits would be the ultimate result, if the ruling survives further challenges.

"I think some policy makers have felt there are no limits when they want to balance the budget by reducing living standards of poor families. . . . I think this decision will set a much stricter standard for that," said Casey McKeever, an attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which sued the state and federal government on behalf of welfare recipients.

Mr. McKeever said the ruling could revolutionize the way waivers of federal law are approved. If the ruling is upheld, he said, it would also force courts in other states to nullify welfare cuts.

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