Justice Addressed: Too many applicants can spoil the benefits

Our client is a single mother with HIV in her 50s and she lives with just her teenage daughter. For more than ten years, she has been separated from her husband, but he visits their daughter periodically. He is struggling with housing stability and occasionally uses his wife’s address to receive mail.

Last October, the client received a notice terminating her daughter’s Medical Assistance benefits. She immediately filed an appeal, then called the AIDS Law Project.

From a quick review of her file, we saw that the County Assistance Office (CAO) erroneously included our client’s husband into the household count even though she reported a two-person household when she applied for benefits.

We contacted the CAO with regards to her appeal and learned that our client’s husband had applied for benefits for himself using our client’s address. When he applied, he did not know that our client and their daughter were receiving public benefits.

By applying for benefits using her address, the husband not only put their daughter’s medical benefits at risk, but also subjected the client to investigation for welfare fraud. From the perspective of the CAO, she had not reported her household size accurately for the last ten years.

In pursuing her appeal, we provided ten years of tax documents, school records, bills, and property records to show that our client’s husband was not part of the household. The CAO then sent their own investigator to confirm that her husband was not living in her household.

The CAO investigator confirmed her husband’s current residence. With that information in hand, we successfully represented her at an appeal in early January. At the hearing, the CAO agreed to remove the husband from our client’s household in their records, drop the fraud investigation, and restore her daughter’s Medical Assistance benefits.

An innocent miscommunication could have had dramatic negative outcome for this family. For clients receiving public benefits, it is essential that they review the notices they get from the County Assistance Offices and call for assistance if something isn’t right.