Lawsuit gives families chance to appeal loss of benefits

May 03, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Department of Human Resources will offer more than 10,000 Baltimore families the opportunity to challenge the reduction or termination of their welfare benefits this month after a lawsuit contended they were not adequately informed of their appeal rights.

The class action suit was filed in March against the state agency and the city Department of Social Services, claiming the agencies had effectively denied the appeal rights of thousands of families taken off welfare rolls.

The suit, filed by Family Investment Program legal clinic of Baltimore, named as its lead plaintiff an East Baltimore mother of four who tried to appeal the loss of food stamps and a welfare grant but was not allowed to do so. State officials have reinstated the family's benefits until the woman's appeal can be heard.

State law guarantees welfare recipients the right to challenge a change in benefits within 90 days of the change, but J. Peter Sabonis, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, which runs the legal clinic, said city social service workers have routinely prevented clients from appealing.

Under the agreement, the state has until May 11 to send notices of the right to appeal to an estimated 8,554 families whose benefits have been reduced or cut off since Dec. 18. Another estimated 2,278 families who might lose welfare benefits within the next month are to be notified by May 25.

The state has agreed to make it easier for welfare clients to appeal decisions on their benefits by including appeal forms with cutoff notices. Beginning May 11, families will be able to make appeals by phone on the department's information line, 800-332-6347.

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