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Man's lawsuit claims Indiana agency broke law

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A decision by Indiana's social services agency to stop helping hundreds of severely developmentally disabled people in a Medicaid waiver program pay for food violates state law and forces them to do without other necessities so they can eat, the father of an autistic man on public assistance claims.

Indianapolis attorney Steven Dick filed an administrative appeal with the Family and Social Services Administration in December and again in March on behalf of his 28-year-old son, according to previously unreleased documents provided to The Associated Press.

The food allowance was part of a larger subsidy called the Residential Living Allowance. The agency stopped providing the food allowance in fall 2010. It previously had reduced the allowance for those who receive food stamps — a move that welfare advocates and legal experts said was in violation of federal law. The agency ended the benefit weeks after saying it would stop reducing it.

Dick claimed at the time that the move was retaliation for a related lawsuit he filed against the agency. That lawsuit was later settled out of court.

Spokesman Neal Moore said that the Family and Social Services Administration would not comment on Dick's appeal. But he did say there hadn't been any change in the Residential Living Allowance policy since 2010 and the agency hadn't received any complaints.

An administrative hearing on Dick's appeal that was scheduled for Thursday has been rescheduled for Aug. 22, according to the agency.

The administrative law judge at the hearing could deny Dick's appeal, opening the way for him to file a class-action lawsuit, or find that the policy does violate state law, forcing the agency to pay for groceries.

Reinstating the food allowance would cost the agency an estimated $900,000 at a time when the state is running a $2 billion surplus, much of which comes from money returned by agencies to the state's General Fund, said Erik Gonzalez, a fiscal analyst with the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee.

"For a small amount of money, these people can be appropriately served," Gonzalez said Tuesday. "If they don't have these kinds of supports, they're going to end up in institutions, which will be even more expensive," he added.

After the agency did away with the food allowance, Democratic Rep. William Crawford of Indianapolis sponsored legislation to force the agency to reinstate it, but the bill didn't get a hearing in committee, Gonzalez said.

Now, the only money Dick's son receives for groceries is $173 a month in food stamps, Dick said.

"He's supposed to subsist on that or do without," Dick said. "We've had to cut back and eliminate other things. All he gets is his Social Security and food stamps. If eating more important than new clothes or something else, that's where money has to be put."

Dick's son is enrolled in a state program that provides money to help the developmentally disabled live on their own. Dick said his son lives in an Indianapolis apartment with a roommate who also is autistic. Both function at the 6 or 7-year-old level and are in the same Medicaid waiver program, Dick said.

"They're surviving; they're just living at a sub-poverty level," he said.

Dick claims in his appeal that the agency's decision to do away with the state food benefit nearly two years ago violates an Indiana law that requires the state to cover "the actual costs of room and board expenses" for those in the Medicaid waiver program.

The Sept. 1, 2010, policy statement from the agency includes rent, utilities, telephone and property insurance — but not groceries — as allowable expenses. Gonzalez called the way the agency discontinued the food allowance without mentioning it as "sleight of hand."

At the time the policy was issued, an agency spokesman confirmed that it no longer covered groceries.

"If you're now saying that we're not allowed to include meals, then you're violating the state law," said Dick.

John Dickerson, executive director of The Arc, an advocacy group for Indiana's developmentally disabled, said Tuesday that he wasn't aware of anyone going hungry without the grocery allowance. Indiana requires everyone receiving assistance for developmental disabilities to apply for food stamps. But he acknowledged that many are forced to do without other things to make sure they get enough food, and many are unhappy with the extra bureaucratic step that is now required.

Dickerson said the shift was part of a pattern of trade-offs that resulted from Indiana's effort to conserve state funds by increasing the use of federal programs.

"We're living in a time when unfortunately we have to stretch every dollar as far as we can," he said.

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  • Wondering
    The child's attorney is his father. Interesting??
  • Wondering
    I realize that all people need food to eat, and I do realize that food costs are going up. However, even those who work every day often have to make a choice between buying groceries or buying something else, such as new clothes. Those who are retired also have to make those choices, medicine/food/roof/heat???, often with the food coming in last place. However, we (the govt) cannot continue on the path that we are now on...the money will run out. I am not in agreement that the persons who function on this development level should be residing on their own. A group home would be a better choice.
  • Only $173 a month?
    I budget $100 a month for food. I do feel bad that the disabled child does not have parents or family members who are able to help him. Or maybe they just aren't willing to help. I wonder if the child's attorney ever thought to help someone else with no regard to the impact of his own wallet.
    • sigh
      I would agree with Andrew. His father is still alive, it is his child, let him care for the guy. I'm sure there are plenty of folks in that situation who have no one to turn to for assistance other than the state. Help THEM. If the parents are still alive and active enough to go around filing law suits, they can assist their children. Grown or not.
    • How about you take care of them
      with the mentality of a 7 year old they are not intelligent enough to live on their own. You (the parents) had them, you pay for their needs and care.
    • ?
      I dont think you read the part where theres a 2 BILLION dollar surplus. 900000 sounds like a lot, but its only .00045% of 2 BILLION dollars.
    • Man's Lawsuit Claim
      I think more details are needed before anyone can pass judgement. What is the cost of rent, are untilities included? Are they eligible for a Section 8 voucher? Is medical care provided? Have they taken advantage of a food bank or checked out the clothing offered by different charitable organizations? Bottom line, it's not always necessary to totally rely on government assistance when there are people and organizations who are available and willing to help.
    • Find A Better Way
      I'm glad that some in state government are willing to say 'No' to the demands of those who drain state resources. I'm sympathetic to the pleas of Mr. Dick and those in similar situations. The article says something I found interesting, "For a small amount of money...". That is the exact problem with so many other states, there are so many "small amounts of money" going for various programs that the result in crushingly large amount that isn't sustainable.
    • Daniels Cronies are bullies
      This guy is qualified to run Purdue. Daniel's and his flunkies are a pathetic bunch. This young man is disabled. Karma is due them.

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