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Issue Alert - 13-06-11

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Date:

Jun 13, 2013

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP)

Issue Summary:

Expanded Definition of FAP Trafficking

Persons Affected:

FAP 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

Michigan’s definition of trafficking relating to Food Assistance (FAP) benefits has followed federal regulation.  FAP trafficking has been defined simply as the buying or selling of FAP benefits for cash or consideration other than eligible food.  The definition in the federal regulation, after an extensive review process, has been expanded and Michigan’s definition in BAM 700 is being changed to reflect the federal changes.  The federal definition can be found at 7 CFR 271.2. 

 

 

What's Happening?

Following changes in the definition of trafficking in federal food assistance regulations, effective July 1, 2013, DHS policy BAM 700 includes an expanded definition of trafficking:   

 Trafficking is: 

·         The buying and selling of FAP benefits for cash or consideration other than eligible food.  Examples would be liquor, exchange of firearms, ammunition, explosives or controlled substances. 

·         Selling products purchased with FAP benefits for cash or consideration other than eligible food.

·         Purchasing containers with deposits, dumping/discarding product and then returning containers to obtain cash refund deposits. 

The link to BAM 700 is http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/OLMWeb/exf/bam/700.pdf

The first two bullets seem to restate and clarify the former definition with examples.  However, the third bullet is new and is an expansion.  Purchasing containers with deposits, dumping/discarding product and then returning containers to obtain cash refund deposits is commonly referred to as “water dumping”.  USDA took the position during the regulation review process that it was significant enough to be included in the definition. 

We are concerned that there is no reference to intent in the definition (in either federal regulations or state policy).  The issue of intent applies to all bulleted statements but is of particular concern when it comes to the water dumping issue.  We suspect that recipients who innocently dump out the contents of a bottle of a product for which there was a deposit in the presence of someone who contacts DHS could be facing scrutiny, including sanctions or IPV for trafficking without any intent.  

What Should Advocates Do?

1.    Educate clients and community organizations about the new definition of trafficking. 

2.    Be aware that some innocent actions might be construed as trafficking and help clients respond to questions or challenges by DHS.

3.    Provide information to CCJ about families that are being harmed by the new policy.  Please call CCJ at the number at the top of this form, to find out how to communicate information to CCJ.

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

What Should Clients Do?

1.   Contact CCJ’s Helpline at 1-800-481-4989 for help understanding the new definition of trafficking and for assistance if it is applied to you. 

2.   Seek legal advice if you are told your FAP benefits are going to be terminated due to trafficking.   

3.   Read your notices carefully.  If some or all of your benefits are ending, you have the right to request a hearing.  If DHS receives your hearing request within the deadline given in your notice, you will continue to receive benefits at the current level (but if you lose, will owe DHS any assistance you were not entitled to).  Seek legal help if you request a hearing.

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.
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