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Issue Alert - 10-01-07

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Date:

Jan 05, 2010

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP, also known as Food Stamps)

Issue Summary:

DHS has issued policy allowing most FAP interviews to be done by telephone

Persons Affected:

Persons applying, or having eligibility redetermined, for FAP

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

DHS must interview the applicant or recipient before it can approve an application for Food Assistance Program (“FAP”, previously known as Food Stamps) or extend FAP eligibility at redetermination (when an earlier approval is expiring).    Michigan has received a waiver from the federal government that allows it to do FAP interviews by telephone, rather than requiring an “in-person” interview.

What's Happening?

In all FAP cases that do not also involve eligibility for cash assistance (Family Independence Program (“FIP”) or State Disability Assistance (“SDA”)), DHS will schedule a telephone interview.  The applicant or recipient will receive a notice telling them the time and date when the DHS caseworker will call for the interview, and their right to request an in-person interview if they prefer.

Telephone interviews have the potential to be much more convenient and efficient than in-person interviews, for both clients and caseworkers.  Unfortunately, advocates report that many clients are not being called by their caseworkers for scheduled telephone interviews and then are unable to reach the caseworker by telephone, resulting in the loss of FAP benefits or delays in getting FAP approved.

 

DHS is aware of many of the problems with telephone interviews and is taking some steps to make the system work better.  However, staffing shortages and high caseloads will likely continue to result in problems for some clients.

What Should Advocates Do?

1.     Help clients document and report problems with telephone interviews.

Advocate for immediate reinstatement of benefits when clients have returned

1.     redetermination paperwork and benefits are terminated because DHS has failed to provide a timely telephone interview.  

2.     Help clients request hearings and connect with a legal advocate when benefits are improperly terminated, reduced, or delayed.

3.     Refer clients to CCJ’s Food and Nutrition Helpline for additional information. Toll free: 1 (800) 481-4989.

 

Contact Jackie Doig at CCJ (jdoig@ccj-mi.org) with information about clients suffering harm because of unlawful delays in processing initial applications for FAP.  (FAP applications must be processed in 30 days; expedited processing (7 days) is required for persons with less than $150 in monthly gross income and $100 in liquid assets, or whose shelter expenses are greater than their gross monthly income plus liquid resources).

What Should Clients Do?

1.      Make sure you are available for your phone interview at the scheduled date and time.  DHS expects you to be available for at least 15 minutes, in case they are running late.

2.      Request an in-person interview if you are able to go to the DHS office and if you expect there may be problems getting a phone interview.  (For example, you sometimes run out of minutes on your phone, or you share a phone with others and cannot be sure it will be available at a specific time, etc.)   Write the request on your FAP application or redetermination papers and call the worker if you are NOT scheduled for an in-person interview as requested.

3.      Call the Food and Nutrition Helpline if you have problems getting or keeping FAP.  Toll free: 1 (800) 481-4989.

Seek legal help if your FAP is improperly denied, cut off, or delayed. See below for information about finding legal help.

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.