61. Coming in for an interview before the certification period is over
Most of the time, households only have interviews when they first apply for food stamps or need to be recertified. [MPP §§ 63-300.4, 504.61(d); 7 C.F.R. §§ 273.2(e)(1) and 273.14(c)(2).] Sometimes, however, the food stamp office will ask (via written notice) the household to come in for an interview in the middle of the certification period.
If it is not clear from the notice, it is important for the household to find out in advance why the county wants the household to come in. Households do have to go to some kinds of meetings, but do not for other kinds of meetings. The food stamp office might want the household to meet with the worker about changes in the household’s case. It might want the household to meet with someone from the employment and training program, to talk about getting work or training. It might want the household to meet with people in its quality control (QC) department.
Households do not have to have an interview with the eligibility worker until it is time to be recertified. That said, it is a good idea to go in anyway if the worker has a fair reason for wanting to meet with household. Households should ask if anyone else will be at the interview. The household can always ask whether the meeting can be conducted by phone, or bring in a representative or friend for support and as a witness.
Households are required to comply with food stamp work program requirements [MPP § 63-407.8; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)], which may include an interview with the work program staff. Failure to attend an appointment with the employment and training program without good cause and if not exempt, can lead to the termination of the non-compliant household member’s food stamps, until the household member attends the appointment. [MPP §§ 63-407.86; 63-407.5; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f).]
Applicant and recipient households must attend appointments with the “quality control unit.” [MPP § 63-505.12; 7 C.F.R. §§ 275.3(c)(5), 275.12(g)(1)(ii).] (Quality control decides if the food stamp office is giving food stamps to the right people and in the right amounts.) If the household does not come for a quality control (“QC”) interview or does not provide the requested information, without good cause, the food stamp office will deny or cut off the food stamps of the household. [MPP § 63-505.12-.13; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(d)(2).] If the non-cooperating person leaves the household during the QC penalty period, the ineligibility will follow that person. [75 Fed.Reg 33422.]
Once a person has been cut off for not cooperating with the quality control unit, it can get back on food stamps only if it reapplies and gives the food stamp office the information it requests, or waits 125 days to nine months to reapply and meets all verification and eligibility requirements at that time. [MPP § 63-505.13; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(d)(2); 75 Fed.Reg 33422.] (It is not required, but would not be surprising to have the case referred for a fraud investigation upon reapplication.) In addition, the household also will have to verify all of the information in household application to get back on food stamps, not just questionable information. [MPP § 63-505.132; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(1)(ix).]
The quality control unit is not the same thing as the “fraud investigation unit” (also known as SIU or the special investigations unit). (See the note below for more about notice requirements related to fraud investigations.)
A key point to be mindful of is that members of a food stamp household do not have to talk with the fraud unit. The household should talk to a lawyer first before speaking with anyone from the fraud unit. If the household has not talked to a lawyer, and someone from a fraud unit comes into an interview the household is having with a worker, the household can leave. It is fine for recipients to find out the subject of the investigation, and then state that they would like to consult with an attorney prior to answering any questions. The fraud investigators are not to threaten or intimidate recipients into confessing. If this occurs, recipients should be advised of the right to file a complaint. If, however, the eligibility worker requests verification of a condition of eligibility, even if related to the suspected fraud, the household must cooperate or risk being terminated for a failure to verify or complete the QR 7 reporting form.