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Issue Alert - 08-01-02

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Date:

Feb 12, 2008

Program Area:

Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

Penalties for noncompliance with child support requirements appear to violate state law and policy when triggered by noncompliance of an ineligible grantee or disqualified grantee

Persons Affected:

Some FAP recipients who quit or reduce work, or do not comply with cash assistance (FIP) employment or self-sufficiency related requirements

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 Department of Human Services (DHS) imposes a child support non-cooperation penalty when certain individuals fail to cooperate, without good cause, with efforts to establish paternity or collect child support for children who receive Family Independence Program (FIP).   The penalty for child support non-cooperation is a minimum one-month disqualification from FIP for the entire group that had been receiving FIP.  See generally DHS Program Eligibility Manual Item 255. DHS Program Policy Bulletins and policies are available online at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/html/.

What's Happening?

In January 2008, DHS issued Program Policy Bulletin (PPB) 2008-001, which stated that noncooperation by FIP ineligible grantees or disqualified grantees would result in the child support non-cooperation penalty. 

This change, which would result in more families being cut off FIP for at least a month, appears to violate both state law and the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) own policy.   Under both the Social Welfare Act and DHS policy, penalties are only authorized if the person who fails to cooperate with child support and paternity requirements is eligible for, and receiving, FIP for him- or her-self.   When a family member is ineligible for FIP (such as a parent who is an undocumented or ineligible immigrant, or is unable to document citizenship under DHS’s new verification requirements), or chooses not to apply for FIP for him or herself, (such as a grandparent raising grandchildren), that individual’s failure to cooperate with paternity or child support requirements should not result in termination of FIP to the children who are receiving FIP.

DHS policy states that it will apply penalties only if an “individual required to cooperate”  fails to cooperate (PEM 255 page 10).  Under written DHS policy, individuals who are not eligible for FIP for themselves are not required to cooperate with child support requirements.   Only a list of specified persons “in the eligible group” are required to cooperate with paternity and child support requirements (PEM 255 page 8). 

DHS defines the “eligible group” as the members of the “program group” who are “eligible for FIP.”  PEM 210 page 8.  Under PEM 210, a person who “fails to meet a nonfinancial eligibility factor or is disqualified for any reason” is not a member of the eligible group, and thus, under PEM 255, would not be required to cooperate with child support requirements. 

Likewise, a “needy caretaker other than a parent or stepparent” can choose to be excluded from both the program group and the eligible group, and a parent who receives SSI cannot be a program group – or, in turn, an eligible group -- member. PEM 210 page 3-4. Therefore, the children receiving FIP cannot be cut off based on child support non-cooperation by these “ineligible grantees.”

The written DHS policy is consistent with the Social Welfare Act, which authorizes FIP child support penalties only “if a recipient fails, without good cause, to comply with applicable child support requirements…”  MCLA 400.576g(16) (emphasis added).  See also MCLA 400.57d(3)(c).  Although an ineligible or disqualified individual may be a grantee (the person whose name is on the FIP grant), only eligible individuals are recipients (persons for whom the FIP grant is paid).  The Social Welfare Act, like state policy, labels as the “program group” the persons whose income and assets are considered in determining FIP eligibility. MCLA 400.57(1)(k).  However, the Act uses the label “family independence assistance group,” when it refers to the eligible group – i.e., “those members of a program group who receive family independence assistance.” MCLA 400.57(1)(f).  Under both the Act and DHS policy, child support noncooperation penalties are only authorized when an eligible recipient fails to cooperate without good cause. 

What Should Advocates Do?

Watch for households that experience or are threatened with termination of FIP due to child support non-cooperation by a family member who is not eligible for FIP or who has chosen to be an ineligible grantee.

Assist families in contesting FIP terminations that are triggered by child support noncooperation by an individuals who is an ineligible or disqualified grantee.

Assist families in claiming good cause for noncooperation when appropriate.

What Should Clients Do?

Do not ignore notices about cooperation with child support or paternity requirements, penalties or sanctions.

If you are told you must cooperate with paternity or child support requirements and you believe you have a good reason for not cooperating, claim good cause and get legal advice.  (See “Finding help” below.)

Seek legal advice immediately if you receive notice that FIP may be terminated because of noncooperation with child support or paternity requirements.  (See “Finding Help” below.)

Submit an original, signed hearing request to DHS before the date your FIP is scheduled to end.  If DHS receives the original hearing request before the date they intend to terminate the FIP,  FIP will continue until the hearing is held and a decision is issued.

Attend or call in for any meetings that are scheduled to discuss your noncooperation.   If possible, have a legal advocate attend with you.

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.