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25. Failure of the food stamp office to act on an application within 30 days

Want some case authority about enforcement of the 30-day processing rule? Knock yourself out!

Sometimes the food stamp office will not decide if applicants qualify for food stamps within 30 calendar days after they apply.

If the food stamp office does not approve or turn down an application after the normal 30 days, it must decide who is at fault. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(1); MPP § 63-301.41.]  If the food stamp office has all of the information it needs to approve or deny an application, the delay is its fault and it should act right away. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(3)(i); MPP § 63-301.41.]  An applicant may be able to get the food stamp office to move faster by talking to a supervisor or manager.

The delay might be the applicant’s fault if:

Even if the applicant has not done some of these things, the delay is the food stamp office’s fault unless it has helped the applicant do what was required. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(1)(ii); MPP § 63-301.41.]

This means that:

  • if the applicant does not complete the application form, the food stamp office must have offered to help to fill it out [7 C.F.R.§ 273.2(h) (1)(i)(A); MPP § 301.411 (a).]; and
  • if someone in the household who is not exempt from having to register for work has not registered, the food stamp office must have told the applicant that person had to register and given the applicant at least ten days to get that person registered [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(1)(B); MPP § 63-301.41.]; or
  • if the applicant did not give the food stamp office verification that it wanted, the food stamp office must have told the applicant what it wanted, offered to help the applicant get it, and given the applicant at least ten days to get it. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(1)(i)(C); MPP § 63-301.41.]
  • If the food stamp office sends the applicant a notice saying s/he missed the scheduled interview and that it is his or her responsibility to reschedule the interview, the applicant must call to reschedule within 30 days from the date of the application. If the applicant did not show up at the first interview and the food stamp office cannot give him or her a new interview until after the 20th day after the day the application was submitted, the applicant must appear at the new interview, bring in all required verification, and register for work everyone in the household who is not exempt. The applicant must do all of this by the 30th day after having turned in the application. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(1)(i)(D).]  Otherwise, the delay will be deemed the applicant’s fault, not the county’s.

    For more information on notices of missed interviews and rescheduling interviews, see the FNS Questions & Answers on the Final Rule on Noncitizen, Eligibility and Certification Provisions of PRWORA – Second Section, specifically sections “I” and “N.”

    if the applicant did not show up for the interview, the food stamp office must have told the applicant about the missed appointment and that it is the applicant’s responsibility to schedule a second interview date; or

(Still with us? Well, there’s more, people! …)

If it is the applicant’s fault that the food stamp office was not able to decide on the application within the first 30 days after application, the applicant cannot get food stamps for the month in which the application was filed. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i); MPP § 63-301.42.]  A 1988 Policy Memorandum from FNS interprets 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(ii) to mean that when the food stamp office cannot act on an application within 30 days due to the household’s fault, the household is only entitled to food stamps starting with the date the household did what was needed for the food stamp office to process its application. [See FNS Policy Memorandum 88-4, from Bruce A. Clutter, Acting Director, Program Development Division, reaffirming the interpretation in Policy Memo 84-13.]

If the problem is the applicant’s failure to turn in proof, the food stamp office may choose whether to deny the application or “pend” it by allowing the applicant another 30 days to complete the actions that were not done within the first 30 days. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i); MPP § 63-301.41.]  Although the county welfare department may choose whether to deny or pend the application, it must apply the same choice to all households in the county and may not choose to deny some applications and pend others. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i)(A).]  The food stamp office may send the applicant either a notice of denial or a notice of pending status on the 30th day. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i)(A).]

If the reason the food stamp office cannot act on the application is because the applicant has not given proof that the food stamp office says it needs, the county only has to give the applicant 30 days from the day it first asked for the proof. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i).]  But the food stamp office should not turn the household down for not giving proof that the county needs unless the county has offered to help the applicant houshold get it. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.2(f)(5)(i) and (h)(1)(i)(C); MPP § 63-301.41; see also Siemion v. Department of Public Aid, 522 N.E.2d 627 (Ill.App. 1988); Maldonado v. Dept. of Health and Rehabilitative Services, 478 So.2d 1136 (Fla.App. 1985).]  The food stamp office cannot make you have an appointment or see a worker to turn in proof. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(5)(i); see also Dickson v. Department of Public Welfare, 503 A.2d 86 (Pa.Cmwlth 1986); Ream v. Department of Public Welfare, 500 A.2d 1274 (Pa.Cmwlth 1985).]  If the problem is not the applicant’s failure to turn in proof, the food stamp office will send a notice denying the application. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i).]

Some states allow “good cause” exceptions for failure to return a request for verification. See, e.g., Diaz v. Wing, 755 N.Y.S.2d 34 (App.Div. 2003) (holding that the ALJ’s determination, that claimant did not have a mental condition establishing good cause to justify failure to return a request for information about earned income, was not supported by substantial record evidence, such as to warrant termination of claimant’s welfare benefits).

If a notice of denial is sent and if the applying household takes the required action within 60 days of the original date of application, the application must be re-opened without requiring a new application. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i)(A).]  If a notice of pending status is sent, the applying household is allowed only 30 days to take the required action without having to submit a new application. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i)(A).]  If the applicant does not comply within the second 30 day period or the 60 day period, the food stamp office does not have to send another notice. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(i)(A), 273.10(g)(ii).]

If the applicant, during the second 30 days after making the initial application, complies with the requirements that s/he missed in the first 30 days and otherwise qualifies, the food stamp office must give the applicant food stamps starting in the month after the month the application was initially filed. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(ii).]

If the delay was the food stamp office’s fault, it cannot deny the application unless it gets information that shows that the applicant does not qualify. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(3)(i); MPP § 63-301.43.]  Instead, the food stamp office must send the applicant a notice by the 30th day after application to tell the applicant that it is holding the application as “pending.” This notice also must tell the applicant what, if anything, the applicant must do to get the food stamp office to decide if the applicant qualifies for food stamps. [7 C.F.R. § 273.10(g)(1)(iii); MPP § 63-504.22.]  For example, if the food stamp office needs more verification, the notice must tell the applicant what it needs. If the delay was the food stamp office’s fault and it finds the applicant eligible during the second 30 days, it must give the applicant food stamps back to the day the applicant first handed in a signed food stamp application with the name and address on it. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(3)(ii), MPP § 63-301.43-301.44]  (See the section about food stamp applicants and CalWORKs diversion for related information.)

If the applicant qualifies for food stamps benefits and the delay in the first 30 days was the food stamp office’s fault, it must give the household food stamps back to the date it applied, even if the food stamp office does not decide on the application until more than 60 days after the applicant first applied. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(4)(i).]

Finally — worst-case-county-caused-delay scenario — if the food stamp office has not decided on the application at the end of 60 days from the date of first application and the delay is the county’s fault and the file is otherwise complete, then in California the county must proceed to process that original application. [MPP § 63-301.64.]  That’s the name of that tune!

Examples of court decisions about enforcement of the 30-day processing rules:

Federal law requires the food stamp office to process all applications, not just most of them, on time. See Reynolds v. Giuliani, 35 F. Supp. 2d 331 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Alexander v. Hill, 549 F. Supp. 1355 (W.D.N. C. 1982), aff’d 707 F.2d 780 (4th Cir. 1983); Robidoux v. Kitchel, 876 F. Supp. 575 (D. Vt. 1995). A heavy caseload does not justify the food stamp office’s delay. Robertson v. Jackson, 766 F. Supp. 470 (E.D. Va. 1991), aff’d, 972 F. 2d 529 (4th Cir. 1992); Tompkins v. Dempsey, 293 N. W. 2d 771 Mich. Ct. App.1980). Should a state agency fail to comply with federal rules for handling cases, a court can order changes in the agency’s operations, including maximum caseloads and detailed case processing timetables. See Urbina Quern, 482 F. Supp. 1013 (N.D.Ill. 1980); see also Diaz v. Bost, C.A. No. H-983082 (S.D. Tex., Jan. 28, 2000) (consent order). Some participants have filed lawsuits to force states to meet the 30-day deadline. See Lidie v. California, 478 F. 2d. 552 (9th Cir. 1973); Robertson v. Jackson, 766 F. Supp. 470, 474 (E.D. Va. 1991) (finding that state broadly failed to adhere to application processing deadlines in both expedited and non-expedited cases, characterizing the processing delays unauthorized application quotas and other violations as “intolerable, heartless, and blatant disregard of the law,” and holding that, although local boards handle day-to-day administration of the program in Virginia, the state could be held responsible for violations and that lack of resources was no excuse for failure to provide plaintiffs their statutory entitlements); Robidoux v. Celani, 987 F.2d 931 (2d Cir. 1993) (reinstating § 1983 claims alleging unlawful delay in processing of food stamps application and determining eligibility).

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