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Issue Alert - WorkFirst Deferrals Based on Disability BEM 230A

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Oct 21, 2011

Program Area:

Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

DHS has revised its policy on exemptions from Jobs Education Training (JET) requirements for persons with disabilities. The new policy eliminates exemptions for three groups of people which had been added in 2007. The new policy still requires caseworkers to identify people with disabilities and to identify reasonable accommodations .

Persons Affected:

FIP applicants or recipients with mental and/or physical impairments that prevent them from participating in DHS's work participation program (JET).

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: Michigan Poverty Law Program 220 E. Huron, #600A, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. (734) 998-6100 (734) 998-9125 Fax Email:


Under prior law, applicants for, and recipients of, Family Independence Program (FIP) cash assistance were exempt from participation in the Jobs Education Training (JET) program if they were “suffering from a physical or mental impairment that meets federal supplemental security income disability standards, except that no minimum duration is required”. There were specific subsections that exempted the following individuals:

-An individual with low intellectual capacity or learning disabilities that impede comprehension and prevent success in acquiring basic reading, writing, and math skills, including, but not limited to, an individual with an intelligence quotient less than 80.

-An individual with documented chronic mental health problems that cannot be controlled through treatment or medication.

- An individual with physical limitations on his or her ability to perform routine manual labor tasks, including, but not limited to, bending or lifting, combined with intellectual capacity or learning disabilities.

With the passage of Public Act 132, the assessment of ability to participate in the work program has changed. The Department of Human Services (DHS) will determine whether each individual is eligible to participate in the JET program or if the individual is exempt from JET program participation.

Recipients of federal disability benefits, SSI and Social Security Disabililty (RSDI), are deferred from the JET program.

What's Happening?

The new law has many new components, including time limits on cash assistance and new sanctions. In addition, the assessment of an applicant's/recipient's ability to participate in the work program has changed.

Short-term Disability

If an applicant or recipient has a mental or physical impairment expected to last less than three months and which prevents participation, he or she may be deferred for up to three months. The person must verify this using the DHS medical needs forms or other written statement from an MD/DO. A medical review date will be set not to exceed three month from the date of approval.

Long-Term Disability

There is a two-step process for determining long-term disability.

Step One: Establishment of Disability

When an individual requests a deferral based on disability that will last longer than 90 days, he/she must provide verification. If the person does not, they will be referred to the JET program

Step Two: Defining the Disability

For verified disabilities over 90 days, the individual must complete a medical packet that will be submitted to the Medical Review Team (MRT). If the client does not provide DHS with the requested information, they may be placed into closure for failure to provide needed documentation.

The MRT will make one of three decisions on the request for deferral: disabled, "work-ready with limitations, or "work-ready". If it is determined that the client is not disabled, she will be referred to the work participation program.

Clients may have limitations that support the need for special accommodations which may include a reduction in the number of hours they are able to participate. Even if a person is deferred from attending JET, he/she may be required to participate in other work-readiness activities. Clients may be asked to participate in self-sufficiency and family strengthening activities even if they are deferred from the work participation program or work activities and may be subject to penalties if they do not participate as required. An individual may be in compliance with their work plan, even if not working full-time, because the plan is accommodating an impairment or disability.

Some deferred individuals may volunteer to participate in self-suffiency activities. However, it is important to note that noncompliance penalties apply to ALL voluntary participants when the person is noncompliant with activities agreed to on the FSSP or assigned by the work participation program. If a volunteer discovers that she is not able to participate as agreed to, she must let her worker know immediately or risk being sanctioned.

What Should Advocates Do?

Ensure the new policy is applied correctly.

Assist clients in obtaining and providing medical evidence that they meet deferral criteria.

Help clients with disabilities in requesting reasonable accommodations (extra help, modification of policies or requirements) to ensure that they benefit from FIP and employment and training services.

What Should Clients Do?

Seek legal advice if you are assigned to JET and are unable to successfully participate because of disabilities.

File a grievance with the one-stop service center if you disagree with the activities assigned at the work participation program.

Seek legal advice immediately if you are denied or terminated from FIP.

Request a hearing if you believe the decision was incorrect. Assistance will continue at current levels if DHS receives your original, signed hearing BEFORE the date the FIP is supposed to terminate (usually 12 days after the date DHS issues the termination notice).Remember that being denied a deferral is not considered a negative action and therefore a hearing is not permitted. It is not until you are sanctioned for non-participation that a hearing can be requested.

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 You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.