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Class Action Plaintiff Sues State for Lagging in Mandated Quick Delivery of Emergency Food, Cash Assistance and Medical Help

April 29, 2009
A Baltimore County resident today sued Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) Secretary, Brenda Donald, complaining about months-long delays in processing applications that are designed to quickly meet urgent needs for food, medical care, and temporary subsistence income. The plaintiff is pleading for immediate help for her family and others like them.
 
Miracyle Thompson brought the class action in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Her desperate situation represents the harm being experienced by thousands of others. Ms. Thompson is eight months pregnant and the mother of two young sons who have chronic health problems. Her husband works on commission, and makes only $400-450 every two weeks, while the family pays $400 per month in rent. Federal and state law mandate that eligible applicants be given food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) no later than 30 days after they apply.
 
Ms. Thompson applied for food stamps and Medicaid for her family in late February. In over two months, she has yet to see any benefits for her husband or children. “We are going to a soup kitchen and my husband and I are skipping meals, but our sons aren’t getting what they need, and they have special health care requirements,” she said. The Department sent her a letter dated March 30, 2009, excusing the lag as “an agency delay beyond our control.”  “I’ve called and called DSS, but since I got that letter, I haven’t gotten a call back,” Ms. Thompson reported.
 
Miracyle Thompson is just one of thousands of new applicants for this critical aid whose ranks have swelled during the last year of economic difficulty. Yet the problem of serious delays in processing benefits has existed for over a decade. Recent economic turmoil has only made the situation worse. Three legal organizations have joined together to represent Ms. Thompson and others in a similar situation to prevent even more harm to larger numbers of Maryland families.
 
“The state is breaking the law because of its delay, and that delay is causing real suffering to increasing numbers of people,” said Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney with the Homeless Persons Representation Project, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs.
 
According to the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute (MBTPI), since 2001, DHR has lost over 1400 full-time staff positions, most of which were positions processing benefits applications. And the agency is projected to lose over 250 more in FY2010 despite federal stimulus money that can be used to help pay the cost for adequate staffing.
 
Debra Gardner, Legal Director of the Public Justice Center, decried the systemic failure. “The state must attend to its neediest and most vulnerable citizens,” she said. “These programs are about the basics of life: food, shelter and health care. Delay can mean distress, disability, even death. Secretary Donald didn’t cause this crisis at the beginning, but we are counting on her to fix it before it gets any worse.”
 
Added Laura Redman, a lawyer from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, “Ms. Thompson and others like her are facing real emergencies; it’s unconscionable that Maryland is keeping them waiting in violation of law and basic human decency.”
 
 In addition to Debra Gardner of the Public Justic Center, the Plaintiff in this case is represented by Carolyn Johnson and Francine Hahn of the Homeless Persons Representation Project and Marc Cohan and others from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
 
UPDATE:  THE DAY THE SUIT WAS FILED, COUNSEL FOR SECRETARY DONALD CALLED TO SAY THAT MIRACYLE THOMPSON AND HER FAMILY WILL HAVE THEIR FOOD STAMPS AND MEDICAL ASSISTANCE FIRST THING TOMORROW MORNING!



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