Barry v. Lyon: Online Help Center For Disqualification Of Public Benefits

NOTICE ABOUT FOOD LOST DUE TO POWER OUTAGES:  If you lost food purchased with back benefits you received from this lawsuit, you must file a claim with DHHS WITHIN 10 DAYS OF WHEN YOU LOST THE FOOD.  Write out a statement about what food you lost, when you lost it (which could be several days after the storm was over) and include the language: “I understand that there are penalties for intentional misrepresentation of facts, including but not limited to, a charge of penalty for a false claim.” Make sure to date your statement and make a copy of it before you take it to DHHS. Please call the Barry Call Center at 313 578 6826 and let us know that you have filed a claim. 

Class members may file objections to the motion for attorney’s fees filed in the  Barry v. Lyon lawsuit.  For more information, see the Notice of Proposed Attorney’s Fee Settlement and the Attorney’s Fee Motion.

RESTORATION OF BACK FOOD ASSISTANCE PROGRAM BENEFITS

The Basics

Note:    Please read the Notice of Lump Sum Payment and the Food Assistance Notice of Denial of Payment for Back Benefits carefully. Those notices answer most of the questions that advocates or class members may have about the restoration of benefits

  1. The 2017 Barry v. Lyon Notices – who are they sent to?

On January 5, 2017, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) sent notices to roughly 18,200 class members who were denied or cut off of FAP and given a notice that said they were being disqualified because of a “criminal justice disqualification” (“CJDQ notice”). Those CJDQ notices were declared unlawful and enjoined by the court in the Barry case. The class members were disqualified in whole or in part because of Michigan’s fleeing felon policy, which also was declared unlawful and enjoined in the Barry case. These disqualifications occurred between December 30, 2012 and January 9, 2015.

MDHHS initially sent class members a notice about the Barry v. Lyon case back in 2015. Some class members did not receive this Class Notice in 2015 because MDHHS was unable to locate a current address for them or because their mail was lost or stolen.[1]

The Two Types of 2017 Barry v. Lyon Notices

                    ​1.Lump Sum/Opt Out Notices

Most class members will receive a notice telling them that they will receive a lump sum of $3,120 in FAP benefits unless they file an opt out form with MDHHS within 30 days of the date the Lump Sum Notice is sent to them. The opt out form is included with the Lump Sum notice.  A sample of the notice and opt out form is available here

Most individuals will not benefit from filing the form to opt out. And once you opt out, you cannot opt back in.

2. Notice of Denial

About 500 class members were denied or cut off FAP both because of DHHS’s fleeing felon policy and because of another reason.  They will get a notice explained in the other reason and giving them an opportunity to request a hearing to dispute the other reason. A sample of the denial notice and the hearing form is available here.   If they pursue a hearing and win, then they will receive a Lump Sum/Opt Out notice.

  1. Common Questions

1. When will I get my lump sum FAP benefits?

If you do not opt out, the $3,120 lump sum will be deposited to the your Bridge Card between 31 and 120 days after the Lump Sum Notice is sent to you.  For most people, that will be between February 4 and May 5, 2017.  

If you never had a Bridge Card, MDHHS will send you one.  If you had a Bridge Card but it is lost, you must contact the MDHHS Processing Unit at (877) 522-8050. 

  1.  What happens if I do not spend the lump sum right away?

All of the FAP benefits on your EBT/Bridge card will remain available for you to spend as long as you use the card at least once every 12 months.  In other words, unless you go for 12 continuous months without using your Bridge card, your benefits will not be taken away.

REMEMBER IT IS A CRIME TO TRADE OR SELL FOOD ASSISTANCE BENEFITS (“trafficking”) and you could be disqualified from receiving FAP for many years or for life if you are convicted of trafficking.

  1. Why didn’t I get the 2017 notice?

If you are not a member of the Barry class, you will not get a notice. Only people who lost food assistance benefits under the “fleeing felon” policy and who received a criminal justice disqualification notice are potentially able to get back food assistance benefits as a result of the Barry case.

If you received the 2015 Barry class notice, or if you believe you are a class member, it is still possible that you will not get the 2017 notice.  MDHHS may be unable to locate your current address, or your mail may have been lost or stolen.  You can contact the MDHHS Processing Center at (877) 522-8050 or the ACLU’s Barry v. Lyon Call Center at (313)578-6826 to find out whether you are a class member and what address MDHHS used in mailing the notice to you. (Please note that the ACLU Call Center may not have complete records of the addresses where the January notices were sent until the end of January.)

  1. Should I take the lump sum or should I send in the form to opt out?

Most class members will be better off accepting the lump sum. If you received the lump sum notice and you want to get the lump sum, you do not have to do anything.

If you opt out, you cannot change your mind and ask for the lump sum later.

Do not opt out unless you are sure that

  • you can provide the documentation and verification of your circumstances during the period you were disqualified and
  • you would have been eligible for more than $3,120 in FAP for the period you were disqualified. 

If you opt out, MDHHS will make an individualized determination of the amount of FAP benefits you would have received if you had not been illegally disqualified.  DHHS’s usual policies for verification of eligibility and for calculating benefit amounts will be used in deciding what amount (if any) you will get.  

The lump sum payment equals 24 months at $130 per month. MDHHS imposed Criminal Justice Disqualifications under the fleeing felon policy during the months January 2013 through December 2014. (Most class members were not disqualified for the full 24 months.) $130 is the average per person FAP grant in Michigan during that time.

You can estimate how much FAP you might have been denied because of the Criminal Justice Disqualification by figuring out how many months you were disqualified and how much you would have received without the disqualification. 

The FAP Calculator on the Michiganlegalhelp.org website is one tool you can use to ESTIMATE how much you would have received without a disqualification. However, the FAP Calculator uses current standards for FAP, which are different than the standards that were used during the months that the Criminal Justice Disqualifications occurred. The calculator will only give you a rough estimate. The link to the FAP Calculator is https://lawhelpinteractive.org/Interview/GenerateInterview/5403/engine.

The ACLU has a call center to answer questions, but the line has been very busy. Most callers should expect that the call center will have to call them back and should leave a reliable phone number where they can be reached. Because of the volume of calls, the helpline will not be able to do individualized FAP budget calculations for most callers at this time.

The ACLU call center number is (313) 578-6826.

You may be able to get individualized advice about whether to opt out by contacting your local legal aid or legal services program.  You can locate your local program by going to http://michiganlegalhelp.org/organizations-courts.

  1.  I Got a Food Assistance Notice of Denial of Payment for Back benefits Under the Barry v.  Lyon Lawsuit – Should I Send in the Hearing Request Form?

The Food Assistance Denial of Payment Notice will tell the other reason that you were disqualified from or denied FAP at the time that MDHHS gave you a Criminal Justice Disqualification Notice.  If you think that reason was wrong and that you can prove it was wrong, you should request a hearing.

You may be able to get individualized advice about whether to request a hearing, or representation at the hearing, by contacting your local legal aid or legal services program.  You can locate your local program by going to http://michiganlegalhelp.org/organizations-courts

 

[1] The  2015 Class Notice   explained how to get back on benefits for the future.  It also instructed class members how to appeal past denials of cash or childcare benefits. In addition, that notice instructed some class members to submit a claim for back FAP benefits.  Subsequent negotiations, which created the streamlined restoration process outline in the 2017 Notices made the 2015 claim forms unnecessary.


 

THE RULING AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

On August 25, 2016, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld  a January 2015 class action decision that required the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to stop denying food assistance to people in need based on a computer match with a list of people named on outstanding felony warrants. 

MDHHS had been using the computer match to automatically deny or cut off benefits, without considering the individual circumstances on a case by case basis, as required by federal law. MDHHS must follow the federal rules, which only allow denial of benefits if a person is intentionally fleeing and actively sought by law enforcement officials.

As a result of the federal court decisions, tens of thousands of low income households that are eligible under federal standards will receive the benefits they are entitled to, because they will not be denied or cut off food assistance simply because the computer match shows there is a felony warrant in their name.

A much smaller number of individuals may still be disqualified from receiving food assistance if MDHHS determines that they meet the federal standard (intentionally fleeing from -- and actively sought by -- law enforcement).

The appeals court also affirmed the district court’s decision that MDHHS cannot disqualify low income individuals from receiving cash, food, or child care assistance without giving them a notice explaining in detail why they are being disqualified, so that they can decide whether there has been a mistake and whether they should pursue a hearing to correct the mistake.

Any individuals disqualified from receiving benefits because MDHHS decides they are fleeing to avoid arrest or prosecution for a felony crime will have to be given a notice that includes information such as the type of crime they are charged with, the place where the warrant was issued, and whether MDHHS has decided that they are intentionally fleeing and actively sought by law enforcement.  

The appeals court decision paves the way for MDHHS to obtain federal agency approval for a plan to restore back food assistance benefits to roughly 20,000 individuals who were denied or cut off of food assistance during the December 2013 to January 2015 period that MDHHS was sending inadequate notices and applying the automated disqualifications to people named in felony warrants.  

Once the plan is finalized and approved, the individuals who were unlawfully denied benefits will be notified, and back benefits will be paid out to those who qualify.

Anyone who thinks they may be eligible for back food assistance benefit under the lawsuit should make sure that MDHHS has their current address.  Individuals who currently receive assistance from MDHHS can contact their caseworker or use Mibridges to update their address.  Individuals not receiving MDHHS assistance can call MDHHS at 877-522-8050 to report their current address. 

Information will be posted at aclumich.org/publicbenefits as soon as the plan for providing back benefits to class members is approved. Check the website for up to date information.


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