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Indiana accused of cutting aid to food stamp users

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For at least a decade, potentially thousands of Indiana's neediest adults have seen some of their state aid payments slashed simply because they receive food stamps — a practice that advocates and legal experts say is a clear violation of federal law.

The policy has affected people with developmental disabilities who need financial help to live independently and who receive additional assistance to buy groceries. The issue apparently went unnoticed for years until this month, when the father of a severely autistic Indianapolis man challenged it in court.

"I've never heard of a state being confused about this before. The law is unambiguous," said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

Under the current system, when the federal government raises food stamp amounts, Indiana officials reduce grocery allowances so a person's total food benefits do not exceed $200 a month.

But since 1964, federal law has barred states from counting food stamps as income or using them to reduce any other public benefits.

"It's clear as could be," said Dennis Frick, an attorney with Indiana Legal Services' Senior Law Project. "I think they got caught."

Both the Department of Agriculture, which administers food stamps, and federal Medicaid officials say they are reviewing the issue. Gov. Mitch Daniels said "it's worth having a look" at the practice in light of the lawsuit filed by the autistic man and his father.

Marcus Barlow, a spokesman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said agency attorneys do not believe federal law was broken when officials balanced food stamp payments against a state-run supplemental aid program.

Barlow said Indiana has counted food stamps as a "benefit," not as income, as opponents contend, since at least 2000.

"Receiving a benefit reduces their need," Barlow said. "If your need has been reduced, then you should reduce the supplemental program."

The state's philosophy is to use federal dollars first so that the state can stretch its own money, Barlow said.

"We stand behind our practice because we have a finite set of resources, and we have to make sure those resources are going to the most needy," he said.

But legal experts say courts have consistently upheld the law that says other assistance cannot be reduced because someone is receiving food stamps.

Welfare officials in other states said they were surprised Indiana would even try to count food stamps against other benefits.

"Frankly, we're shocked that anyone does," said Brad Deen, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Indiana's practice may have gone unnoticed by federal officials because the state's policy did not directly affect food stamp payments.

"When the law is misapplied, it usually is inside the food stamp program, not outside," said Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the Food Research and Action Center in Washington.

The practice is just the latest indictment of how Indiana handles services for its most vulnerable residents.

The federal government levied a $1.2 million penalty last month against the state's social service agency for miscalculating food stamp benefits.

The state also drew criticism from the Department of Agriculture in recent years for not processing food stamps in a timely manner as part of a project to privatize some welfare payment processing. That plan caused countless complaints that ultimately led the state in October to scrap a $1.3 billion contract with IBM in favor of a public-private hybrid system.

In another troubled project, the state tried to reduce payments made to foster parents by shifting many special-needs children into lower-paying categories — a move that outraged advocates.

In the most recent case, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Dick, 26, who cannot speak and functions at the level of a 6-year-old.

Dick is enrolled in state programs that provide money to help the developmentally disabled live on their own, including buying groceries.

"You can't use food stamps when you're calculating an entitlement program, but this is a state-run supplemental program," Barlow said.

Michael Dick's father, Steven, said it's time for the state to follow the federal rules.

Steven Dick, an attorney, said his son's only income is a monthly $674 Social Security disability check. Michael lives in a small rented home with another disabled man and pays $350 a month in rent, not including utilities.

He said his son requires a 24-hour caretaker to help him bathe, dress or go anywhere.

"He's a happy child, but he functions as though he's a child," he said.

When his food stamp benefits were raised to as much as $99 a month, Michael Dick's grocery allowance was reduced from $139 to as low as $101.

Steven Dick said he and his son appealed the decision and lost, then decided to sue. The lawsuit was filed July 9 in Marion County Superior Court.

The $200 cap set by the state is arbitrary and has not been adjusted in at least six years, the lawsuit said.

"And $200 a month a decade ago bought a hell of a lot more groceries than it does today," Steven Dick said.

The number of people affected by the policy is not clear.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for people enrolled in Indiana's Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver Program and estimates thousands of people could be affected. The website of the state's social services agency says about 6,700 people were enrolled in that program as of May.

But Barlow said only about 440 people in that program receive the additional assistance involved, and not all of those get a food allowance.

Regardless of the number, Dick said, the state policy hurts those who often lack recourse.

"The problem this class of people face is they're in a position of either take it or do without as far as the state is concerned, and 90 percent of them don't have the wherewithal to fight the system," Steven Dick said. "They have no way of fighting for what should be a right for them."

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  • no sense
    I know how you feel.i know of something else. I know someone that lives with the kids father guess the state don't know,but she gets snap,doesn't have to work for them,apparently goes to another state applying their not saying she's on them in another state,so she gets them in 2 states i don't know how she gets away with it but she does. The people that are honest can't get it.
  • Drug Convictions
    Indiana's law is very hard on food stamps and convictions of drugs. If you got a conviction before 1996 then you are exempt from their rules but anything after you are not exempt.
    It sucks
  • Unfair
    Why is it people on assistance (food stamps) able to get a tax check??? Seriously everyone that gets assistance should use there tax check and pay back all us working class that dint get tax check and no asdistance.,how is it a couple can make 12,000.00 for the year get food stamps free unsurance free xmas gifts heat bill paid and get 8,000.00 back in tax check. Cause there to lazy to actually work cause they get it sll fee. Now for a couple that works to get by and lives pay check to pay check and has to py for food insurance for us and r kuds and pay for school lunch and school books. And get no tax tax check back .. System is all wrong... Wake up amercia
  • Need insight
    I just wanted to know if things have gotten better with the food stamp program in indiana since this article hit the scene. It is now 2012,and I was considering moving to indiana.im on social security and have a small child, so I dont want to see her go without. Thanks
  • denied felon
    i was denied food stamp assistance because i had a drug conviction 9 years ago. NINE years! Why? i thought i paid that debt when they sent me to prison. I havent had a drug offense since 2003. But if i had a child i could get $200.00 a month cash but not food stamps.WOW
    • Same here
      Wow, I have the same problem. No one answers or calls back. When I finally did get through concerning my food stamps being cut from $120 to $25 my case worker told me it wouldn't do any good to appeal, they would just deny me. I have my son at least 1/4 of the time (114 days of the year documented). I am also fully disabled due to construction fall. I guess I should just be grateful that I have friends who will loan me money whenever my boy comes for the weekend, week or even half the summer. The Indiana Ultra-Conservatives truly are without natural affection. Hungry? Crippled? TOUGH!
    • Denied assistance
      I am not sure who to contact or even what to do. The system is so unfair. I am a full time nursing student with absolutely no income. I am living with my mother and taking care of her. She just recently was diagnosed with lung cancer and she is allowing me to live with her for free if I help her around the house and with her needs. But, I have to feed myself, she can't afford to take care of me. I am 46 years old and a junior in the BSN program in college. So, i applied for foodstamps thinking this would help me get by, I was denied today. She explained to me, that even though i never saw one penny of the money that I receive in school loans, grants, pell grants, whatever... it is considered income and I am denied~! This is so unfair. If I sat at home and did nothing, I would be eligible, but because I am going to school full time and have to borrow the money to pay for it, I am not eligible.
      • 2bme7
        I'm POA for my sister. Her food stamps was cut from 200 -175 - 147 - 101 now 87.00 month. She takes 12-14 different meds. She has to watch what she eats,no junk or cheap food which alot of people are force to eat. She needs alot fresh foods, no sugar, carbs, soduim, $87.00 dollars month does not buy the proper food. She can not have any box or TV dinners, to get the healthly food it must be from strach. She has to use Splenda for sugar thats $8.00 a bag not even a pound. She can't use regular dairy procuts, very little can food, it has to be frozen or fresh, the list goes on. If they want to cut back on food stamps let the people buy the proper food, no junk food, pop,or anything that is a fast food item.
      • To Get Help
        This is what i did to complain about to our great state of Indiana :) Try these numbers to file a complaint....
        U.S. Department of Agriculture
        Director, Office of Civil Rights
        1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
        Washington D.C. 20250-9410
        (800) 795-3272 (Voice) and (202)720-6382 (TTY)
        U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
        Director, Office for Civil Rights,
        Room 506-F
        HHS Building
        200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
        Washington, D.C. 20201
        (202) 619-0403 (Voice)
        (202) 619-3257 (TTY)
        The last phone number i ended up with was this one...312-353-0578....ask for..Christina
      • Why not answer
        This is what gets me about the food stamp office in indiana they want to help you tell you this all the time but yet they never answer their phone they never call you back they make you go 3-4 months without benefits 2 times a year when they do the recertification I have 3 small children and am raising them on my own paying rent utitlities and everything on 546 ddollars a month and to go 3-4 months without foodstamps is killing me I need help with these problems and cant find anyne to help me because no one answers the phone...
        • foodstamps
          state of Indiana is a joke. A never govwerment state run mess. Not there money why do they care. I am Disabled and hate and I can work. I like to work and for get this mess. Michael Ladd Michael75065@Yahoo.com
          Richmond Indiana
        • I have always paid my taxes
          I filed for help from food stamps May 25, 2010. It is now July 29, 2010 and still have not been approved or denied.My unemployment benefits ran out in June. My husband finally found work making $8.00 an hour. I call to see if I will be able to get help and all they can tell me is that I will get a notice by mail. This is so unfair we have always worked and paid our taxes. Does anyone care that we can not pay our bills because we need to eat.
        • IN Welfare HORRIFIC
          Affiliated Computer Services, for $profit$ company, has created many of the
          core issues. They lack ethical standards of responsibility and accountability
          which derives from the top corporate management and oozes down to middle and
          lower management. Their management staffs are deficient and uncommitted in
          identifying the fundamental problems. Politics is dominant in upper and middle
          management, and middle mangers make arbitrary decisions and usually do not
          suffer the consequences. Nor are they held responsible for the mess. In other
          words, the exploitation and castigation of those working any position other some
          form of management will continue. The operative assumption should be that
          someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find
          out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action to find
          initiatives to improve client services, total claim results, operational
          efficiency, and staff retention. An effective organizational structure that
          would facilitate working relationships between the various entities and have a
          set order and control that would enable monitoring of all processes. Using a
          divisional structure indisputably isn't working. A matrix type program would be
          evidently a more considerable approach.

          Our Brothers and our Sisters so desperately are in need of services. They are
          being denied their right of benefits in a fallible process. Their subsistence
          is being raped by corporate greed; our people waiting 4 months for food and our
          people waiting 6 months for health coverage. This company has fabricated their
          reports while those in my church congregation suffer and our neighbors and our
          children suffer. It's as bad as the man that began approaching a widow in the
          congregation for money. Indubitably GROSS NEGLIGENCE.
          Their greed and self absorbed agendas try to convince others to deny reality so
          their power-seeking missions can continue unobstructed. The corporate managers
          in Indianapolis, manipulate the truth, and capitalize on anything that suits
          their purpose, even if it stands to destroy other aspects of life; human life.
          They are power-hungry people distorting the truth by making it seem they have
          more power by falsifying reports and lying to justify the of the emotional fear
          as a weapon with which to overpower. Don't be deluded by the rhetoric of their
          forked tongues.
        • Dale and Taxes
          I think Dale is talking about federal income tax, not sales tax.
        • HELP!
          What gets me is when going the other way - I know of cases where people on unemployment, for example, were denied Food Stamps. UI is a "benefit", not "income", which is how they denied the FS. Folks on Unemployment have to eat, too, you know.
        • food
          Dale - check your receipt next time. You are NOT paying taxes on your food. So, do you think others should??? Hmmmmmmm....
        • confused
          So the gov't is responsible for Michael's financial obligations as well as the costs for his life skills development. What does his litigious attorney father pay for? Or is it everyone else's responsibility to pay for his kid?
        • food isn't taxed
          Food isn't subject to taxation.
        • I have to Pay
          I have to pay taxes on the money I use for food. Why shouldn't people who receive food stamps have to pay? If they don't pay we shouldn't have to pay.
          • The state need to change
            you can not live on 101.00 month, the cost of food is high, by the time you come out of the store you only have three bags and maybe two dollar on your food stamp card. Indiana you real need to stop.

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