Food Assistance Cut Off Without Due Process

August 25, 2016

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) cut off food assistance to Walter Barry, a low-income, developmentally disabled adult, because Mr. Barry’s identity had been used by someone else who committed a crime.  Under a DHHS policy that automatically denies food assistance to anyone with an outstanding felony warrant, Mr. Barry’s benefits were terminated, even after he proved at an administrative hearing that the warrant was based on a crime that was committed by someone else. 

Under federal food assistance law, states cannot terminate assistance based on outstanding warrants unless the state first determines that the person receiving benefits is in fact fleeing from justice.  In 2013 the Center for Civil Justice and the ACLU of Michigan filed a class action lawsuit seeking to ensure that individuals like Mr. Barry do not go hungry due to the state’s unlawful policy. 

In January 2015 Judge Judith Levy issued a decision ruling that DHHS could not deny benefits to people like Mr. Barry and certifying a class of approximately 20,000 people who are eligible for retroactive or future assistance as a result of the case.  The state appealed, and in August 2016 the Sixth Circuit affirmed Judge Levy’s decision, clearing the way to restore an estimated $60 million in retroactive food assistance benefits owed to low-income households. 

(Barry v. Lyon; ACLU Attorney Miriam Aukerman and Legal Fellow Sofia Nelson; Jacqueline Doig, Katie Linehan and Elan Nichols of the Center for Civil Justice.)

To view the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket, click here.