The owners of a dozen Little Caesars pizza locations are suing the federal government over a recent decision by the Portland office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to kick them out of the food stamp program.

According to a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Portland, local USDA Food and Nutrition Service officials granted the Little Caesars franchisees the ability to accept food stamps for "take 'n' bake" pizzas in August 2010.

To qualify for the program, the Little Caesars franchisees had to set up separate companies and cash registers to handle the cold "take 'n' bake" pizzas, and demonstrate that not more than half of their revenues came from selling hot foods.

But USDA officials revoked their ability to accept food stamps last October, after inspections found that only about 5 percent of one pizza shop's revenues came from selling cold pizza, and that the operations shared a kitchen.

In a written opinion last month, the USDA administrative review officer assigned to the case described Little Caesars' "bafflement" at the revocation as "understandable," but nonetheless upheld the local office's decision.

The Little Caesars filed suit on Jan. 10, asking a judge to render the USDA decision invalid, and give Portlanders the power to buy their brand of cold pizza with Oregon Trail cards once again.

The franchises argue "withdrawal will have a detrimental effect not only on the business…[but] on store employees, a number of whom may lose their jobs if [food stamp] authorization is taken away, and area [food stamp] recipients, many of whom rely on [Little Caesars] take-n-bake offerings to at least in part satisfy their nutritional needs."