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Issue Alert - 11-10-04

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Date:

Oct 10, 2011

Program Area:

Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

DHS has issued new policies and procedures regarding penalties for non-compliance with Work Participation Program requirements

Persons Affected:

Most families on 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

Since 2007, the Department of Human Services has imposed penalties for noncompliance, without good cause, with Family Independence Program (FIP) work participation program activities that increase as the FIP recipient accumulates more “instances of noncompliance”.    (The FIP work participation program previously was called Work First or JET.)   The 2007 legislation explicitly applied the graduated penalties beginning April 1, 2007 and ending September 30, 2011.  2006 Pub Act 468 and 2007 Pub Act 9; enacting MCLA 400.57g(10) and (17).

Earlier this year, Governor Snyder signed legislation that, among other things, increases the penalties for noncompliance with work participation program requirements and eliminates the procedure for DHS to forgive a first instance of noncompliance.  2011 Public Act 131, amending MCLA 400.57g.

What's Happening?

DHS has issued policy in the Bridges Eligibility Manual (BEM 233A) implementing new penalties and procedures for noncompliance with FIP work participation requirements effective October 1, 2011.

This Issue Alert summarizes the policy, which is available online at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/bem/233A.pdf  or can be accessed via the link to

DHS policies at mplp.org.

Under the new policy, the following penalties apply:

1.    First instance – 3 months

2.   Second instance – 6 months

3.   Third instance – lifetime

DHS policy applies the policy retroactively, by counting any sanction that occurred on or after April 1, 2007.  BEM 233A p. 6.  Penalty counts are done on an individual basis.  DHS policy says “Individual penalties served after October 1, 2011 will be added to the individual’s existing penalty count.”   Id.  The policy includes an example of a person whose penalty began before October 1, 2011 and ended after October 1, 2011, and indicates that policies imposed prior to October 1, 2011 will not be lengthened under the new policy, but any future penalties imposed on or after October 1, 2011 will be determined under the new policy outlined above.  BEM 233A p. 6-7.   Note:  The legislature did NOT include any language in amended MCLA 400.57g that would make the new penalties retroactive.

DHS policy says that a group’s penalty is “based on the individual with the highest penalty counter”.    However, read the examples in the policy carefully, as it is not entirely clear how this will be applied. 

Because the penalty count is done on an individual basis, if the person who was noncompliant leaves the group, the group no longer will be subject to that person’s penalties.  If the group reapplies for FIP after a person who has triggered penalties leaves the group, DHS will do a Front End Eligibility (FEE) fraud investigation to verify that the person has actually left the home, before the FIP will be re-opened.

An individual with penalties who moves into someone else’s group will bring their penalty counter with them and may cause that group to be penalized.

It is not entirely clear what triggers Bridges to consider the penalty counter when determining a group’s eligibility (e.g. only when a new noncompliance is entered into Bridges, only when a member is added to a group?).  It also is not clear whether Bridges is programmed to accurately determine whether a person is subject to a lifetime sanction for a post 10/1/11 3rd noncompliance or is only subject to a 12 month sanction for a pre-10/1/11 3rd sanction.   Advocates should carefully examine any cases involving penalties.

DHS will continue to schedule triage meetings to discuss good cause for noncompliance with work participation requirements.  DHS will not offer an opportunity to “:cure” or have an instance of noncompliance forgiven.  The noncompliance will count as an “instance” unless the individual establishes “good cause”.  See BEM 233A for a list of “good cause” reasons.  It will be more important than ever for families to report good cause and attend triage meetings in person or by phone.  Advocates should assist whenever possible.

Penalties should never be applied against:

·         Ineligible grantees

·         Ineligible immigrants

·         Single parents of a child under age 6 who do not have access to appropriate, affordable childcare (See Issue Alert 11-10-03 regarding recent changes in CDC payments).

DHS policy includes a procedure for reviewing cases before they are subject to lifetime penalties.   The review involves managers as well as the caseworker and requires review of:

·         The Family Automated Screening Tool (FAST) and Family Self-Sufficiency Plan (FSSP), to be sure all barriers have been addressed,

·         The One-Stop Management Information System (OSMIS) case notes and history that correspond to the Bridges sanction history

·         Case notes in the file and in Bridges

·         Triage results, to determine whether consistent with client statements and possible documentation of good cause

·         Penalty counter and noncooperation records in Bridges, to ensure accuracy and confirm the lifetime sanction is based on an appropriate count

 BEM 233A p. 9. 

What Should Advocates Do?

 

1.   Educate clients and community organizations about the sanction policy

2.   Assist clients who have good cause in claiming good cause and presenting documentation at triage meetings

Help clients request and present information at administrative hearings when appropriate.

What Should Clients Do?

1.   Let your DHS worker and your worker at the agency that runs your work participation program know if you have reasons for not attending, being late, etc.

2.   Ask for child care or transportation help if you need it.  Let DHS and the work participation program know if you cannot find affordable childcare because DHS does not oay for travel time.

3.       Attend any triage meetings that are scheduled.  Try to get legal advice and someone to advocate for you at the meeting.

Ask for a hearing if your FIP is terminated because of penalties and you disagree with the decision.   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.