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Issue Alert - 05-01-02

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Jan 03, 2005

Issue Summary:

New Family Independence Agency (FIA) policy on State Emergency Relief (SER) disqualifications based on failure to pursue “potential resources” appears to be unlawful

Persons Affected:

Some individuals who are denied State Emergency Relief (SER) because of failure to pursue potential resources – including individuals who are denied for failure to apply or qualify for Food Assistance Program (FAP), or because they were fired from, quit, or reduced or refused employment prior to their application for SER.

For More Information:

Michigan Poverty Law Program 611 Church Street, Suite 4A Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000(734) 998-6100(734) 998-9125 Fax


State Emergency Relief

What's Happening?

FIA policy appears to conflict with the Administrative Rules for the SER program in several respects: 1. FIA POLICY UNLAWFULLY DENIES SER TO INDIVIDUALS WHO FAIL TO APPLY -- OR COMPLY WITH PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS -- FOR FAP AND MEDICAID FIA policy requires that individuals apply for Food Assistance Program (FAP – formerly known as Food Stamps) and Medicaid as a condition of eligibility. SER 203 p. 1. It also indicates that individuals who are denied eligibility for FAP or Medicaid because of noncompliance with program requirements will be denied SER. SER 203 pp 1-2.However, neither FAP nor Medicaid are assets or monies and, therefore, they are not “potential resources” under the Administrative Rules as set forth in “Background” above. Furthermore, federal law specifically prohibits the state from treating FAP as income or resources . 7 U.S.C. 2017(b). In addition, although the State Administrative Rules allow FIA to deny SER to individuals who fail to comply with procedural requirements for Family Independence Program (FIP, formerly Aid to Dependent Children and State Family Assistance), State Disability Assistance ( SDA) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), they do not allow denial of SER based on noncompliance with procedural requirements for FAP or Medicaid. See MAC Rule 400.7021 quoted in “Background,” above. Therefore, individuals should not be denied SER based on failure to apply, or comply with procedural requirements, for pursue FAP or Medicaid.2. FIA POLICY MAY UNLAWFULLY DENY SER TO INDIVIDUALS BECAUSE THEY QUIT, WERE FIRED, OR REFUSED OR REDUCED EMPLOYMENT WITHOUT GOOD CAUSE PRIOR TO APPLICATION FOR SER.The SER policy effective January 1, 2005 is not clear about whether an individual may be denied SER solely because they quit a job, were fired, or refused or reduced employment without good cause, regardless of whether that conduct resulted in ineligibility for another benefit program. See SER 203 pp. 1-2. However, FIA’s Program Policy Bulletin 2005—01, effective January 1, 2005, states, “Clients who quit a job are now ineligible for SER. SER ineligibility continues as long as the group member fails or refuses to take available action to pursue potential resources. Quitting a job is a failure to comply with a procedural requirement which may also result in reduced FIP, SDA, or FAP benefits or case closure.” The bulletin also states that the reason for the change is “FIA Appropriations Act for 2004,” although there do not appear to be any provisions in the 2004 or 2005 FIA appropriations acts that would support this change. Prior to January 1, 2005, SER policy clearly stated that being fired or refusing to accept work was an independent basis for denying SER, even if it did not affect eligibility for other programs. It is not clear whether the new policy is intended to eliminate employment-related conduct as an independent basis for denying SER. Under State Administrative Rules, an individual may be ineligible for SER if they fail to agree to PROSPECTIVELY take action to make potential resources available (such as accepting employment ), but there is no basis for denying SER solely because of failure to pursue potential resources in the past. SER may not be denied solely because an individual failed to take action to pursue a potential resource in the past, unless that action also constitutes failure to comply with a procedural requirement for FIP, SDA, or SSI that results in current ineligibility for one or more of those benefit programs. FIA policy is unlawful if it is interpreted to deny SER to individuals solely because they quit a job, were fired, or reduced or refused employment in the past. 3. FIA POLICY UNLAWFULLY DENIES SER TO INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE DISQUALIFIED FROM RECEIVING OTHER BENEFITS BECAUSE OF SUBSTANTIVE ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS.FIA policy imposes SER disqualifications when an individual fails to comply with “a PROGRAM requirement, such as an Employment-Related activity or Support Disqualification, which results in program ineligibility or program reduction. “ SER 203 p. 2 (emphasis added). The State Administrative Rules only permit FIA to deny SER if the individual is ineligible for FIP, SDA, or SSI because of a failure to comply with rules that are “procedural” rather than substantive in nature. See Background, above. FIA procedural policies, such as application, recertification, or verification policies are found in the Program Administrative Manual (PAM) while substantive requirements, such as employment requirements and child support cooperation are contained in the Program Eligibility manual (PEM). Because the SER Administrative Rules clearly allow disqualifications only when the denial of benefits under another program is based on PROCEDURAL – not substantive – rules, the FIA policy appears to be unlawful.The new policy is announced in Program Policy Bulletin (PPB) 2005-001, page 7 and is reflected in SER Manual 203 page 2. FIA’s PPBs and Manuals are available online at ( or by using the “Quick Link” at (

What Should Advocates Do?

1. Watch for clients who may be denied SER unlawfully based on program rules for FIP, FAP of Medicaid. 2. Advise clients to request hearings and seek legal help if they are denied SER under the new policy. 3. Legal Advocates who are going to a hearing should request that the Administrative Law Judge issue a “recommended hearing decision” stating that the SER policy should be declared unlawful. Advocates are encouraged to contact the Center for Civil Justice (CCJ) or the public benefits specialist at Michigan Poverty Law Program (MPLP) for additional help and for updated information on any discussions with FIA about the policy.

What Should Clients Do?

1. Apply for SER if you are experiencing an emergency . 2. If you are denied SER based on a program rule (as opposed to a procedural rule) under the FIP, FAP, or Medicaid Program, request an administrative hearing. 3. Suggest that your legal advocate contact CCJ or MPLP for additional and updated information about the issues raised in this alert.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate the "free" legal services or legal aid office that serves your county on the Michigan LawHelp web site ( or look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.