By Diane Bukowski
July 16, 2012
DETROIT –Genessee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut today threatened to hold Maura Corrigan, director of the state’s Department of Human Services, in contempt of court if the state does not process all outstanding re-applications for state public assistance by Aug. 10.
“These cases [were] not being processed in a timely manner in spite of DHS promises that they would be expedited, and families are suffering as a result,” said Jackie Doig, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Civil Justice (CCJ). “DHS created a slow, cumbersome process for handling class members’ applications, with the end result that they still are not receiving assistance because of the unlawful policy.”
The Saginaw-based CCJ filed the state lawsuit after U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman said he could not rule on state issues in their original case, filed on behalf of thousands of families cut off beginning last November.
Another hearing is set for Aug. 20 in front of Neithercut, in the 7th Circuit Court in Flint, to assess the state’s compliance.
Families were allowed to re-apply for Family Independence Assistance (FIP) after Neithercut earlier barred the state from cutting them off based on time limits counted from prior to October 1, 2007.
That was the date former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s 2006 order cutting off lifetime assistance after four years went into effect. In August, 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation re-affirming her order and adding tougher provisions.
Neithercut’s order was overturned July 3 by the Court of Appeals (COA), but the Center for Civil Justice said July 16 that it plans to appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Because the COA denied the state’s order for immediate effect, the CCJ said it will not go into effect until at least Aug. 8, and certain families can still re-apply in the interim. (See link to CCJ story at end of this article for more information.)
Last year, a Detroit mother of eight, “Cathy Smith,” told VOD that she feared her children would be forced into the life of abusive foster care she led from the age of 2 if her benefits remained cut-off. Smith has severe health problems including a back injury, diabetes, asthma, a kidney disorder, and carpal tunnel syndrome, which ended her ten-year career as a waitress.
“Two of my sons have graduated from high school and are working, so they can help us out,” she said. “I have two other children in high school, one in middle school, and two in elementary school. They have zero absences. They go to school every day, because I want to make sure that they have it better than I did.”
She said she fears the state’s Child Protective Services division will take the six children still at home if she loses her ability to provide a roof over their heads.
The state reported earlier that it currently has a large budget surplus, but is battling all attempts by poor families, as well as cities like Detroit to which it allegedly owes over $307 million, to benefit from that surplus.
Click on JUDGE ORDERS DHS TO PROCESS 100 PERCENT OF APPLICATIONS BY AUGUST 10, 2012 for further information from Center for Civil Justice. The CCJ website is at http://ccj-mi.org/. Its phone number is 800-724-7441.