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Issue Alert - 07-02-02

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Date:

Feb 26, 2007

Program Area:

Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

Beginning February 1, 2007, parents of children with disabilities who are “attending school full time” as defined by the school will not be deferred from Work First. Parents of children with disabilities will be deferred from Work First if the child is not attending school full time.

Persons Affected:

Families receiving FIP that include school-age children with disabilities

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558 E-mail: info@ccj-mi.org

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


Background

The Family Independence Program (FIP) provides cash assistance to very low income families with children.   As a condition of receiving FIP, many parents or caretaker relative adults on the FIP grant must be working or must participate in the Work First employment and training program.  Some adults are excused (“deferred”) from work/Work First requirements if they can prove they have special circumstances.

 

For many years, under Michigan law, parents who care for children with disabilities have been exempt from participating in the Work First employment and training program as a condition of receiving Family Independence Program (FIP) cash assistance “to the extent that the individual, based on medical evidence and an assessment of need by the department, is severely restricted in his or her ability to participate in employment and training activities.” MCLA 400.57f(3)(f).  In order for the parent to qualify for this deferral, the child must have a disability that meets the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability standards (except duration).

 

In order to comply with Michigan law, Michigan policy has required DHS caseworkers to assess a  child’s needs for in-home care, based on each child’s individual needs.

 

Parents of children with disabilities also have been deferred if the child and the parent are actively participating in the Early On program, without a DHS assessment of the child’s medical condition or needs.

 

What's Happening?

 

Beginning February 1, 2007, DHS will no longer do an individualized assessment of the child’s needs.  Instead, the parent will be deferred only if (1) the child’s physical or mental impairment meets SSI disability standards (except duration), (2) a physician verifies that the child needs in-home care or supervision by the parent (or caretaker relative), and (3) the child is not attending school full time.   This may make it easier for parents of younger (not school age) children to qualify for a Work First deferral.

 

Also beginning February 1, 2007, parents whose children are attending school full time will NOT be deferred from Work First, regardless of the child’s disability-related needs.  “When the child’s lack of capacity for school participation is not obvious, or information is questionable” DHS caseworkers will require verification that the child is not attending school full time.  Full time school attendance “is defined by the institution” and is verified by a student enrollment verification form that the school fills out. 

 

Parents participating in Early On will continue to be deferred from Work First.

 

DHS policy requires all parents currently deferred due to the care of a child with disabilities to be reviewed between February 1, 2007 and September 30, 2007.

 

The bulletin announcing policy change (Interim Program Policy Bulletin 2007-003) is available online at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/PP-2007-003.pdf.

 

Potential Problems:

 

The new policy may cause problems for parents whose children have disabilities that require frequent absences from school due to their medical problems, medical appointments and treatments, etc.  It also may cause difficulties for parents who frequently must go to their child’s school because of disability-related behavioral or other problems.  Parents of children for whom child care is unavailable or unaffordable during non-school hours or on days when school is not in session also may experience considerable difficulty.

The new policy appears to violate state law, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, because DHS caseworkers no longer will be making an assessment of individual need.  In addition, the state law does not require parents to show that their child is not attending school full time in order to receive a deferral.  Thus, parents who are entitled to a deferral under state law may be denied a deferral under the new policy.

Furthermore, the state’s policy continues to violate the ADA and Section 504 because it does not recognize that a parent may need to be deferred from Work First to care for a child with a disability that does not meet SSI disability standards.  In addition, although pre-existing DHS policy in PEM 230A requires DHS to indicate the number of hours a parent is expected to participate in Work First and to indicate any limitations the client may have “based on the assessment”, the DHS worker will no longer be conducting an assessment, even if they know that the parent may need reasonable modifications in the work requirements because of a child’s disability. In addition, DHS will violate the ADA and Section 504 if their individualized assessment of the disability-related needs of the family under the previous policy showed that the parent should be exempt (i.e. participate zero hours) but they refuse to exempt the parent under current policy because the child’s school indicates that the child is attending school full time.

What Should Advocates Do?

Get the word out to agencies and organizations that work with children with disabilities that the policy is changing.

 

Legal advocates should assist clients with

o      Legal challenges to actions by DHS or the MWA that violate the ADA, Section 504, or the Michigan Social Welfare Act on Work First exemptions

o      Requesting DHS hearings and representation at hearings when benefits are terminated or reduced due to disability-related noncompliance, or when a family’s  self-sufficiency plan does not provide services needed to identify and/or address disability-related needs

o      Gathering evidence to verify disabilities and disability-related limits or needs

o      Claiming good cause for noncompliance and attending good cause “triage” meetings

o      Requesting accommodations related to a child’s disabilities

o      Filing MWA grievances when Work First assignments/family self-sufficiency plans do not accommodate disability-related needs

 

The Center for Civil Justice (see contact info above) is interested in hearing about disability-related problems in FIP/Work First and in working with advocates on these issues.

 

What Should Clients Do?

If you are the parent of a child with disabilities and you receive Family Independence Program (FIP) cash assistance, you may be entitled to a deferral (exemption) from Work First or to reasonable accommodations so that you can meet your child’s needs while you participate in Work First. 

If your child has a disability but is of school age, be prepared to provide information or verification to DHS if

  1. Your child is unable to attend school full time due to his/her disability
  2. Your child has frequent absences related to his/her disability
  3. You must frequently go to your child’s school during the school day because of his/her disability
  4. Your child’s disability make it impossible to find appropriate, available child care for him/her when school is cancelled or during before and after school hours
  5. Other factors related to your child’s disability make it difficult or impossible for you to participate in work/Work First (for example, meeting your child’s disability-related needs when he or she is not in school makes it necessary for you to sleep, shop, and do housework, etc. while your child is in school).

 

Ask your caseworker for any help or arrangements that you think you would need in order to be able to participate in work/Work First while still meeting your child’s needs.  Keep a record of any requests you make.

 

If you are assigned to Work First

1.     Do what you are able to do, even if you know there will be problems down the line. 

2.     Tell your DHS and Work First caseworkers about your child’s disability-related needs or limitations and ask them to make changes or provide services that you and your child need.  

3.     Keep track of your conversations with, or messages left for, the DHS and Work First caseworkers.  (Keep a notebook or mark them on your calendar.) 

4.     Seek legal advice (see the box below) if you believe you should be deferred from Work First because of your child’s disability-related needs, or if DHS or Work First do not make changes or provide services that you need because of your child’s disability.

5.     Tell your DHS and Work First caseworker right away if you must miss an assignment because of your child’s disability-related needs.

 

Do not ignore the notices you receive from DHS or the Work First agency.  Many of the notices have deadlines for you to do something.  If you miss the deadlines, your family may be cut off assistance for 3 months or longer.

 

 

Seek legal advice if

  1. You are assigned to Work First and you cannot comply with the assignment because of your child’s needs.
  2. You receive a notice that you have failed to comply with Work First requirements.
  3. You receive a notice that your FIP or other assistance is being cut off.

 

If you receive notice your benefits are being cut off because you did not comply with Work First requirements and you think the cut off is wrong,

  1. Ask for a hearing.  Your benefits will continue if DHS receives your written hearing request within 12 days after the date on the cut off notice.  You can ask for a hearing up to 90 days after the notice is sent, but you will not keep you benefits pending the outcome of the hearing unless the hearing request is received within the 12 days period.

2.  Seek legal advice.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at MichiganLegalAid.org. You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.