Category Archives: public benefits

Low-income Marylanders with disabilities file lawsuit over Medicaid delays

Last week, the Public Justice Center and the Homeless Persons Representation Project filed a class-action lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Human Resources to challenge longstanding delays in processing applications for and providing Medicaid benefits to eligible adults with disabilities.  For these low-income Maryland residents with serious medical needs, Medicaid is the only way they can afford critical doctor care and prescription drugs.

“No one should have to go through this,” said Mary Lou, the named plaintiff, who had been waiting for nearly a year for desperately needed medical benefits.  “It’s just wrong and I want to do my part to make sure other people don’t have to suffer and get sicker just because they don’t have the money or the insurance.”

Mary Lou lost her insurance benefits after her husband was laid off due to the economy.  Soon, she was unable to pay to see doctors to help her manage her disabilities.  Mary Lou had no other choice but to apply for Medicaid. Although an eligibility determination is supposed to be made within 60 days under state law, Mary Lou had been waiting for a decision for more than 233 days.

“Her case is typical of others I see everyday,” said Carolyn Johnson of the Homeless Persons Representation Project.  “People with serious medical conditions apply for Medicaid and then wait months, often more than a year, for the state to process their applications and provide benefits.  During that time they can’t afford to see doctors or afford testing and treatment, including prescriptions and medical supplies.  So they go without healthcare until serious conditions deteriorate and become acute or life-threatening, which often means they end up in the emergency room costing the state far more money.”

According to the state’s own report, as of December 31, 2012, there were 20,007 pending applications for MA-ABD statewide, meaning the state still had not processed and determined eligibility on these cases.  Of the pending cases, 9,940, almost half, were categorized as untimely due to “agency delay.”  Throughout all of 2012, the number of untimely pending cases never dropped below 8,300, indicating a severe and chronic backlog.

“These numbers represent real people, who are very vulnerable, very sick and need treatment,” said Camilla Roberson of the Public Justice Center. “These delays have been going on for years and are getting worse. The consequences are felt by every poor applicant whose health deteriorates each day he or she goes without needed care and by society at large when it pays for emergency room visits and hospitalization, as well as the lost potential for stabilization or recovery.”

Added Jenny Pelaez, an attorney from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York: “The plaintiff, and others like her, are in dire need.  It’s unconscionable that any state, and especially Maryland — which is often thought to be at the forefront of healthcare reform — is keeping some of its neediest and most vulnerable citizens waiting for something as fundamental as healthcare access because of bureaucratic backlogs.  It’s a violation of law and basic human decency.”

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Court restores Social Security benefits for thousands

As many as 140,000 Americans nationwide will get their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits restored as a result of an order issued by Judge Sidney H. Stein in a federal court in Manhattan on April 13, 2012.

The benefits in question date back to October 2006 and may total $1 billion.
The order is the culmination of more than five years of litigation in Clark v. Astrue – Docket No. 06-15521 (S.D.N.Y.) – a case brought against the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) challenging its practice of relying exclusively on outstanding probation and parole warrants as sufficient evidence that individuals are in fact violating a condition of probation or parole as a basis for denying them benefits.

Rather than check the facts of a case, SSA merely matched warrant databases against its records. When it found a probation or parole warrant in the name of someone who was receiving benefits, SSA checked with law enforcement and, if the law enforcement agency was not actively pursuing the individual, SSA would cut off that individual’s benefits. In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the agency’s practice of relying solely on outstanding probation or parole violation arrest warrants to suspend or deny benefits conflicted with the plain meaning of the Social Security Act.

Under Judge Stein’s order, the SSA is enjoined from denying or suspending benefits in this manner and must reinstate all previously suspended benefits retroactive to the date the benefits were suspended. The SSA has until June 12, 2012, to submit a plan setting forth its anticipated time frames for implementing the terms of the order.

For more, click here.

Food stamps reduce poverty

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A new study by the Agriculture Department has found that food stamps, one of the country’s largest social safety net programs, reduced the poverty rate substantially during the recent recession. The food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study, a significant impact for a social program whose effects often go unnoticed by policy makers.

To read the entire article, click here.

Terminally ill die while waiting for Social Security because of backlogs

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that backlogs at the Social Security Administration are so large that some terminally ill people die before they can collect benefits that are due to them–like this deceased Legal Aid client.

“One person who died waiting was Dexter E. Penny of District Heights, Md., who applied for disability benefits in February 2009 after being diagnosed with colon cancer,” the article said. “His initial application was denied. Then his first appeal was denied on the grounds that he didn’t provide enough medical records.

“Mr. Penny, a mason, approached the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau for help a year after his first application. He couldn’t understand why terminal cancer wouldn’t qualify him for benefits, says his sister, Diane Penny.

Kate Lang, his lawyer, called four hospitals seeking additional records. Mr. Penny’s condition worsened. By September 2010, he was told he had stage-four cancer. Mr. Penny, 50 years old, was nearly broke and dying in the hospital and the agency wanted more accurate documentation to determine whether he was able to work, according to his sister.

“On Dec. 15, 2010, the agency informed him by letter that he had been granted benefits. Mr. Penny had died nine days earlier. The letter arrived the day of his funeral. On Jan. 31, the government sent him another letter saying his benefits had been revoked because he hadn’t responded to the agency’s questions in a timely manner.”

More seek Legal Aid in hard times

From yesterday’s Washington Post: As Maryland Legal Aid celebrates its centennial this year, the national housing crisis, which has hit suburban Washington hard, is making the work it does even more vital.

At the same time, the agency, like similar organizations across the country, is grappling with funding cuts that make it harder to help the increasing number of people in need of assistance in civil cases.

For example, Prince George’s, the second-most-populous jurisdiction in the state, has endured more foreclosures than any other in Maryland. And the economic downturn has brought Legal Aid prospective clients that the organization would not have seen 10 years ago.

“I review a lot of the intakes, and we’re getting people from Potomac calling us,” [said Legal Aid supervising attorney Teresa Cooke]. “But these individuals are now actually financially eligible for our services.”

To read the article, click here.

Lawyers of last resort

The Annapolis Capital profiled two Maryland Legal Aid clients as part of its “Getting By” series about the recession. David Gaines of Annapolis and Margaret Sullivan of Glen Burnie lost their jobs, and when they ran into legal difficulties getting unemployment benefits, they had turned to Legal Aid for help.

“Gaines, a middle-aged Annapolis man, lost his $60,000 job in 2009 and needed help getting his unemployment benefits reinstated,” the article said. “Sullivan, an 82-year-old woman who has worked her entire adult life, was laid off last year from her job at an Annapolis department store. When she had problems obtaining unemployment benefits, she, too, had nowhere else to turn.

“In the past, these were not the typical clients at the state’s largest nonprofit organization providing free legal services to the poor,” the article continued. “But as the economy has slowed, these former middle-income wage earners are flocking to Maryland Legal Aid to take seats next to the traditional low-income clients.”

To read the article, click here.

Social workers team up with Legal Aid lawyers

When clients come to Maryland Legal Aid, they’re often desperate. In addition to a pressing legal problem, they’re grappling with other issues that drive their lives into a crisis — no money, no housing or no medical care. Sometimes all of the above.

You could say they need a social worker almost as badly as a lawyer.

And you’d be right.

That’s why Legal Aid and the University of Maryland School of Social Work created a program that integrates first-year graduate social work students into the nonprofit law firm’s practice in downtown Baltimore.

“Clients come to us with a host of problems — the presenting legal problem, plus community-based needs,” said Cornelia Bright Gordon, chief attorney of Legal Aid’s administrative law and intake units. “For example, many people have barriers, such as mental health issues, that may interfere with the success of the legal problem. They need access to services to make the legal work stick.

“Since Legal Aid is the law firm of last resort, our clients are in true crisis,” Bright Gordon said. “They come in with threats of immediate eviction, no money or food in the house, and some are desperately ill, with no access to medical services and no insurance.”

The three-year-old project helps stabilize clients and bring their lives back to a state of equilibrium. “It’s a collaborative process between a lawyer and a trained social worker with hands-on, clinical therapeutic experience who is supervising four interns,” she said.

To read the entire Daily Record column, click here.