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Issue Alert - 13-06-01

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Date:

Jun 11, 2013

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP) and Cash Assistance Program (FIP). Possibly Child Development and Care Program (CDC) and State Disability Assistance Program (SDA) and Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA).

Issue Summary:

Information from a data match (apparently with the Michigan State Police) is being used by DHS to terminate assistance to households. Termination notices to recipients state that a member of the group “is not eligible for assistance due to a criminal justice disqualification”.

Persons Affected:

FAP, FIP, RAP, CDC and SDA recipients who are flagged in matches with unidentified data bases containing information about outstanding warrants, parole/probation violations, or other criminal justice disqualification criteria – even if the data is inaccurate.

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 (“MPLP”) 611 Church Street, Suite 4A Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000 (734) 998-6100 (734) 998-9125 Fax


Background

In the past, Department of Human Services (DHS) policy BEM 203, Criminal Justice Disqualifications, contained five categories of criminal justice disqualifications.  The five categories are based on: (1) Duplicate receipt of assistance, (2) Probation and Parole Violations, (3) Two drug felony convictions after July 1996, (4) Food Assistance trafficking, and (5) Fugitive felons.

A “Fugitive Felon” is defined by DHS as a person who:

  • -      Is subject to arrest under an outstanding warrant arising from a felony charge against that person (this includes persons charged with felony welfare fraud who fail to appear in court).
  • -      Is subject to arrest under an outstanding warrant for extradition arising from a criminal charge against that person in another jurisdiction.
  • -      Admits to being a fugitive felon.

Individuals or groups affected by one of the disqualifications may receive a notice that FIP, SDA, FAP, RCA, or CDC has been denied, reduced, or terminated because: 

“You or a member of your group is not eligible for assistance due to a criminal justice disqualification. Please contact your local law enforcement agency to resolve.

 Manual Item(s): BEM 203, ERM 202.”

What's Happening?

Effective June 1, 2013, the policy on disqualification of “fugitive felons” was moved from BEM 203 to BEM 204.  The new policies are available online at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/bem/204.pdf and http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/bem/203.pdf.

 DHS notices to “fleeing felons” or their family members will continue to use the general “criminal justice disqualification” quoted in the Background section, above, which does not explain which of the “criminal justice disqualifications” is at issue.  In addition, DHS has indicated that the notices sent to “fleeing felons” will continue to cite BEM 203 (not BEM 204) until at least July 14, 2013.

 The Center for Civil Justice believes the notices and the DHS fleeing felon policy violate federal law.

The notices sent by DHS do not meet legal requirements of the due process clause under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) law.  The notices DHS sends are too very general.  They do not give details about the reasons for cutting, denying, or stopping FAP.  They do not give enough specific information for people to understand why the disqualification is happening and what they would have to prove to show DHS is wrong about disqualifying them, or to get their Food Assistance back again.

The “fugitive felon” policy disqualifies people who are still eligible for Food Assistance under federal law.  DHS is stopping or denying FAP benefits to people who are not intentionally trying to avoid arrest, jail, or prosecution.  Many people are disqualified even though they don’t know that there is an outstanding felony warrant for their arrest, and even though law enforcement is not actively seeking to arrest them.  This violates federal law.

What Should Advocates Do?

1.          Educate clients and community organizations about these issues. 

2.          Let CCJ know about families who receive inadequate “criminal disqualification” notices or are terminated because of a felony warrant.  Please call or refer clients to CCJ at our Flint office Helpline, if they receive inadequate notices.  The Helpline number is (800) 481-4989.  CCJ will want to see the Notice the client received so, if you can assist clients with faxing the notice to CCJ, that would be helpful too.

Help clients communicate with caseworkers to gather more information about the basis of the disqualification.  Caseworkers can access Bridges for some data. 

What Should Clients Do?

1.      Call CCJ’s Helpline at (800) 481-4989 if you are sent a Notice that your benefits case is going to be denied or terminated due to criminal justice disqualification. 

 2.      Call CCJ if you get an improper Notice.  You can call our toll-free Helpline at (800) 481-4989.

3.       Communicate with your caseworker, either directly or through an advocate, to find out exactly what the reason is for criminal justice disqualification. 

 

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.