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Issue Alert - 13-06-12

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Date:

Jun 17, 2013

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP) and Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

DHS has issued new interview requirements for FAP applicants and recipients with expenses that exceed income, and allowed interviews to be waived for some FIP applicants and member adds

Persons Affected:

FAP and FIP applicants and recipients who participate in a DHS interview

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800) 724-7441 (989) 755-3558 Fax 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

Most Department of Human Services (DHS)-administered programs require an interview and verification of certain information about the household’s circumstances or financial need when the household first applies or is going through redetermination or recertification.  The purpose of the interview is, in part, to gather information for determining a group’s eligibility.  Under longstanding DHS Policy, the caseworker should use the interview to resolve any unclear or inconsistent information

What's Happening?

Effective July 1, 2013, DHS has added new interview requirements for households applying for Food Assistance Program benefits (FAP) who have expenses that exceed their income.  The new requirement is the section on “Interviews,” pages 13-15 in Bridges Administrative Manual (BAM) 115, entitled “Application Processing.”  The new requirement is announced and summarized in Bridges Policy Bulletin 2013-011, page 4, available at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/OLMWeb/exf/BP-2013-011.pdf.  The new BAM 115 policy is available prior to July 1, 2013 at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/OLMWeb/exf/bam/115.pdf.

The new policy requires the caseworker to “have a discussion with them and document the case” if a household’s expenses exceed their income.  The policy require DHS caseworkers to “[d]etermine the client’s expenses and current situation” by “[a]dding all of the client’s expenses such as rent, mortgage, utilities, taxes, etc.,” without verifying their actual bills, but also without using the heat and utility standards.  The policy does not explicitly limit the inquiry to expenses that would be considered in budgeting FAP (i.e. shelter, utility, child support, and, in some cases, childcare and medical expenses).  DHS caseworkers are instructed to use the average heat and utility bills a household is responsible to pay.  The policy does not require DHS to use average income in making the comparison. 

As part of this inquiry, DHS specialists/caseworkers are instructed to determine at the Interview whether clients are behind on their bills, if someone else is paying their bills, etc., and DHS specialists/caseworkers are supposed to document the household’s current financial situation.  (Note that payments made by a third party to a supplier or provider of a service generally is not considered as income to the household.  See BEM 500, p. 8.)  If a specialist/caseworker decides the application information is in some way still questionable, the specialist/caseworker is directed to open the case and refer it to the DHS Front End Eligibility office (FEE).  FEE is a program in which DHS eligibility staff may request a pre-eligibility investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) when initial, redetermination, or recertification applications contain “suspicious or error prone information.”  FEE agents investigate, substantiate or refute discrepancies and suspicious activities, and are supposed to share their findings with specialists/caseworkers within 10 days, before the case is to be opened or recertified.  As an example, according to the policy at page 14, if a household satisfies the specialist/caseworker that it is not current on its bills (such as with shutoff, eviction, or foreclosure notices, etc.), or someone else is paying its bills, a referral to FEE may not be necessary.

With regard to Interviews for FIP, the policy simply states at page 15:  “The local office may exempt a relative caretaker or unrelated caretaker ineligible grantee and dependent child member adds from the FIP interview requirements.”  

What Should Advocates Do?

1.            Educate clients and advocates about these changes.  Prepare them for questions during the Interview process concerning their income, expenses, utility and other bills, and any other potentially unclear or inconsistent information.

2.          Help clients applying for or receiving Food Assistance Program (FAP) benefits communicate with specialists/caseworkers to make sure that they have provided clear and consistent information about their income and expenses.  Help them obtain verification when necessary and bring it to the Interview.  Please call or refer clients to CCJ’s Food Assistance Helpline, 1-800-481-4989, if they encounter problems or have questions about the application process. 

3.          For Genesee County only, clients with Family Independence Program (FIP) questions can call our Family Economic Security project at 1-810-244-8044.

4.          Help clients request hearings if their cases or benefits are wrongfully denied or terminated for alleged unclear or inconsistent information in the verification process. 

5.     Help clients find legal advice if they request a hearing (see below).

What Should Clients Do?

1.            Seek an advocate or legal advice if you are questioned or interviewed about your income, expenses, bills, and other eligibility and verification information, and you suspect that the caseworker is not clear on these matters for your case.  Be prepared for questions during the Interview process concerning your income, expenses, utility and other bills.  This is especially true if your expenses exceed your income, if someone else pays your bills, if you are generally behind in any of your bills, or if other information you have provided to DHS is unclear or inconsistent.  Bring any needed verification to the Interview. 

2.            Communicate with your caseworker, either directly or through an advocate, to find out exactly what information is unclear or inconsistent in your case, and what is needed to resolve the situation.  Call CCJ’s Food Assistance Helpline if you have questions or problems involving the FAP program.  The toll-free Helpline number is 1-800-481-4989.  

 3.            Read your Notices carefully.  If some or all of your benefits are ending, you have the right to request a hearing.  Be sure to submit your hearing request within the deadline given in your Notice (90 days from the date the notice was sent).  In some cases you will be able to keep your current level of benefits if you request a hearing before an early deadline stated in the letter (usually 10 to 12 days from the date the Notice is sent).  However, if you lose at the hearing, you might owe DHS any benefits 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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