Personal tools

Issue Alert - 08-10-11

Document Actions
Date:

Oct 15, 2009

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP – formerly known as food stamps)

Issue Summary:

DHS policy on work- or self-sufficiency-related penalties against Food Assistance Program benefits is clarified but still appears to violate federal law in some circumstances

Persons Affected:

FAP applicants and recipients

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

Under federal law, recipients of Food Assistance Program ((FAP) benefits (previously known as Food Stamps) may be disqualified from receiving FAP for a certain period of time if they are (1) fail to comply with FAP work requirements and (2) are not exempt (deferred) from FAP work requirements.  7 USC 2015(d)(1).

In general, compliance with FAP work requirements means not refusing, reducing or quitting work without good cause (unless you are still employed and making at least 30 times minimum wage per week.)

An individual is exempt from FAP work requirements under federal law if he or she is complying with Family Independence Program (FIP) cash assistance work requirements.  However, if the deferred individual then fails to comply with FIP work requirements without good cause, the individual will be disqualified from FAP.  7 USC 2015(d) (2)(A).

What's Happening?

Effective October 1, 2008, the Department of Human Services has clarified the steps that caseworkers must follow before a household’s FAP can be affected by noncompliance with work- or self-sufficiency-related activities.  The policy is in the DHS Program Eligibility Manual (PEM) 233B.  

The DHS PEM is available online at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/pem/pem.pdf.

FOR FAP APPLICANTS AND RECIPIENTS WHO ARE NOT RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE,

An individual will be disqualified from receiving FAP if s/he is not deferred (exempt) from work requirements and has refused, reduced, or quit work without good cause.   Deferrals are explained in PEM 230B and good cause is defined in PEM 233B.  Other family members will not be disqualified, but the income and expenses of the disqualified individual will continue to be counted when determining the household’s FAP eligibility and FAP grant amount.

DHS must give the individual an opportunity to claim good cause BEFORE it makes a decision to disqualify the individual.  The opportunity to claim good cause may be provided at the time the individual calls to report the job loss or reduction in hours, if the DHS caseworkers speaks directly with the individual.  Otherwise, the caseworker must send a notice to the individual, asking him or her to provide information about good cause.  If the individual does not claim good cause within the time allowed, or DHS decides that good cause does not exist, then the caseworker will issue a negative action notice explaining the disqualification the fact that the individual can reapply and receive FAP before the end of the disqualification period if s/he becomes deferred.

FOR FAP RECIPIENTS WHO ALSO ARE RECEIVING FAMILY INDEPENDENCE PROGRAM (FIP) CASH ASSISTANCE

No increase in FAP due to 3- or 12-month loss of FIP

Even though their income will decrease because their FIP is terminated for 3 or 12 months, a family subject to a penalty for noncompliance with FIP work- or self-sufficiency –related requirements under PEM 233A will not receive an increase in their FAP grant based on the loss of FIP until the 3- or 12-month FIP penalty period has expired.  PEM 233B.  This penalty will ALWAYS  be applied when the FIP penalty is applied – even if the noncompliant individual is deferred under FAP policy (PEM 230B) or has good cause under FAP policy (PEM 233B).

Disqualification of noncompliant individual

The individual who has been noncompliant with FIP requirements also will be disqualified from receiving FAP if the individual is not deferred from FAP work requirements (see PEM 230B) and does not have good cause – under the FAP good cause definitions in PEM 233B -- for the noncompliance.  Both the deferrals and the good cause reasons are broader for FAP than they are for FIP. 

Under the policy effective October 1, 2008, DHS will send out a negative action notice, regarding the family’s FAP,  before it holds a triage meeting and determines whether the individual had good cause for the noncompliance.  This appears to violate federal law, which does not authorize a termination of FAP unless the state agency has first determined that the noncompliance was “without good cause.”  See  7 USC 2015(d)(1) and 7 CFR 273.7(f)(1)(i).    Negative action notices are not supposed to be sent until the agency has “determine[d] that the noncompliance was without good cause.

The length of the individual disqualification from FAP will be different than the full family disqualification from receiving FIP, as shown in the table below.

 

1st noncompliance

2nd noncompliance

3rd noncompliance

FIP

3 months

3 months

12 months

FAP

1 month

6 months

6 months

In addition, the number of instances of noncompliance may be different for purposes of determining the length of the FIP and FAP disqualifications, (because (1) a noncompliance is counted for purposes of FIP disqualification only if it occurred after March 31, 2007; (2) an instance may occur when the individual was receiving one type of benefits (FIP or FAP), but not the other; (3) instances are counted on a cumulative, family basis for FIP but on an individual basis for FAP; and (4) an instance may be counted for purposes of FIP but not FAP because of the differences in deferrals and good cause for the two programs).  



What Should Advocates Do?

Ensure DHS uses FAP deferral and good cause reasons when it decides whether or not to impose penalties against FAP benefits.  Educate clients about the importance of claiming and verifying good cause and responding to notices quickly.

What Should Clients Do?

Seek legal advice immediately if you receive notice that your application for FAP is denied, or your FAP  is reduced, stopped, or not increased as a penalty for noncompliance with work- or self-sufficiency –related requirements.

Respond to all notices from your caseworker.

Request a hearing within 90 days if you believe the decision to reduce, stop, or not increase your FAP is incorrect.  Assistance will continue at current levels if DHS receives your original, signed hearing request BEFORE the date the FAP is supposed to terminate (usually 12 days after the date DHS issues the termination notice).

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.