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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ind. Decisions - "Indiana can't deny welfare without explaining reason"

Today's Supreme Court opinion in Sheila Perdue, et al. v. Michael A. Gargano, et al. (ILB entry here) is the subject of an AP story this evening reported by Charles Wilson. Some quotes:

The Indiana Supreme Court said Thursday that the state Family and Social Services Administration can’t deny Medicaid, food stamps or welfare to people without first doing a better job of telling them why.

The unanimous ruling came in a four-year-old class action lawsuit that challenged the way the outsourcing of the state’s welfare system dealt with clients. The system has since been modified, but a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which filed the lawsuit in 2008, said the problem persists.

In a 23-page opinion, the justices said the state agency violated applicants’ due process rights when it sent them notices that stated their benefits were denied because they had failed to cooperate without citing a specific reason. The 2008 lawsuit argued that the agency sent notices denying or cutting off Medicaid, welfare or food stamps because of missing documents in clients’ applications, but never told clients which documents were missing.

And from a press release from ACLU of Indiana:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana won the class-action lawsuit that will result in changes to the intake process used by Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration for applicants and recipients of Medicaid, Food Stamp, TANF and Hoosier Healthwise benefits.

Prior to today's decision, FSSA routinely denied benefits to program applicants, and terminated benefits to Hoosiers already enrolled, without providing adequate information, explanation or assistance. FSSA mailed applicants and recipients denial letters-sometimes to the wrong addresses-saying they had "failed to cooperate" with a process that involved submitting as many as 20-30 documents to verify eligibility to participate, including bank statements, identification cards and utility bills. If even one of the requested documents was missing, FSSA would reject the application.

The Indiana Supreme Court said, however, that FSSA's failure to specify which documents it believed were not received violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"The state's fundamental obligation to inform benefit applicants of the specific reasons for denying claims has been established for more than 40 years," said ACLU of Indiana staff attorney Gavin M. Rose. "We are exceedingly pleased with the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling to provide for the neediest among us where the state had voluntarily failed to do so."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 22, 2012 07:05 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions