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Issue Alert - 10-07-02

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Date:

Jul 16, 2010

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP, also known as Food Stamps or SNAP) State Disability Assistance (SDA) and Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

DHS no longer requires caseworkers to extend the time for providing verification at least once when the applicant or recipient cannot provide the verification despite a reasonable effort

Persons Affected:

Persons applying, or having eligibility redetermined, for FAP or FIP

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, DHS must give households written information about the verifications they must submit and the department’s obligation to assist the household in getting verifications if the household is cooperating.   7 USC 2020(e) (3) and 7 CFR 273.2(c) (5).   DHS “must assist the household in obtaining this verification provided the household is cooperating with the State agency.”  7 CFR 273.2(f)(5)(i).   A household can be denied FAP if it refuses to cooperate.  Federal law clearly states that refusal to cooperate is more than a failure to cooperate and Federal law also says that to be denied for this reason, “the household must be able to cooperate, but clearly demonstrate that it will not take actions that it can take and that are required to complete the application process. … If there is any question as to whether the household has merely failed to cooperate, as opposed to refused to cooperate, the household shall not be denied, and the agency shall provide assistance[.]”  7 CFR 273.2(d)(1).

What's Happening?

Effective July 1, 2010, DHS rewrote its FAP and FIP policy to delete the requirement that “If the

client cannot provide the verification despite a reasonable effort, extend the time limit at least once.”     The policy now reads as follows:

FIP, SDA, CDC, FAP   Allow the client 10 calendar days (or other time limit specified in policy) to provide the verification you request.   Exception:  For CDC only, if the client cannot provide the verification despite a reasonable effort, extend the time limit at least once.”

The previous policy was consistent with federal law governing the FAP program, which requires DHS to provide help with verification when the applicant or recipient is cooperating with DHS.

The current policy violates federal law by (apparently) not allowing caseworkers to extend the time limit for providing verification in FIP, SDA, and FAP cases.

The DHS verification policy instructs caseworkers to “Send a negative action notice when:

·   The client indicates refusal to provide a verification, or

·   The time period given has elapsed and the client has not made a reasonable effort to provide it.”

(emphasis in original).  This language should be used by advocates to protect their clients’ rights. 

 Caseworkers likely will be confused because the policy is inconsistent.

The Policy Bulletin from DHS that introduced this change says it is based on “Clarification from FNS [the federal agency that oversees the FAP program]”.  CCJ has received a copy of the clarification, which appears to violate federal law and contradicts other interpretations issued by FNS.  CCJ is attempting to get FNS to resolve this problem with DHS.

The policy eliminating extensions of time is of particular concern because many DHS mailings are not being sent on the day they are dated and clients are unable to communicate timely with caseworkers via telephone to get clarifications or answers to questions they may have about requested verifications, or to get help with verifications. 

What Should Advocates Do?

1.    Help clients document and report to DHS their “reasonable efforts” and any problems obtaining verifications within DHS deadlines.

2.    Help clients communicate and document requests for additional time.

3.    Monitor DHS responses to requests for extensions of time and share information with other advocates, such as MPLP and CCJ (see contact information at the top of the Alert).

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

Help clients request hearings and connect with a legal advocate when benefits are improperly terminated, reduced, or delayed.  (See Finding Help below)

What Should Clients Do?

1.    Tell your caseworker if you are trying to get verification but having problems, or if you need more time.  If possible, put your request for help or more time in writing.

2.    Keep track of the efforts you make to get verification.

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 FIP, FAP, or SDA 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.