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Advocates Achieve Settlement with Suffolk County Department of Social Services

Will help those hardest hit by recession receive food and medical assistance more quickly

May 7, 2009

Empire Justice Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) today announced a settlement with Suffolk County Department of Social Services (SCDSS) that will ensure that needy families and individuals, including those who have recently lost their jobs

and those whose wages are insufficient to meet their needs, will have their applications for Food Stamps and Medicaid processed within the time frames required by state and federal law. The settlement also provides expedited processing to those families in immediate need of food or medical care. This agreement will end a long standing practice by the County of processing applications often weeks longer than permitted by law.

“In many cases our clients who had been diagnosed with serious medical problems that required ongoing medication, treatment and special diets were waiting more than double the amount of time the law allows the local DSS to process applications,” said Linda Hassberg, Senior Attorney with Empire Justice Center and co-counsel in the lawsuit.

One class member who was pregnant had high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. She applied for Food Stamps because she had no money for food and had been relying on a church and a food pantry to get by. At the time she became a class member she was almost seven months pregnant and had gained only nine pounds. She had been waiting for approval of her Food Stamp application for three months.

Another class member had applied for Medicaid after she was brought to the Emergency Room suffering from a grand mal seizure. When she became a class member her application had already been pending for five months – during that time she had been unable to attend the necessary follow up appointments and was only able to fill anti-seizure prescriptions by borrowing money from her sister.

“The timeframes for processing applications are designed to get critical assistance to our neediest families without delay. Hungry children should not be forced to wait while bureaucrats take their time,” said Laura Redman, of NCLEJ and co counsel in the lawsuit. “Yet, in the case of Suffolk County DSS, we found that there were consistent delays in processing applications – for Food Stamps and Medicaid. Soup kitchens, food pantries, and hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed by the demand for help in these times. While some families can turn to neighbors or over-stressed voluntary resources, the failure of the County to act in a timely manner caused many low-income working families and those who recently lost their jobs to suffer from a lack of food or medical care,” noted Ms. Redman.

As a result of the settlement, signed by the parties and awaiting approval by the Court, Suffolk County DSS has agreed to process claims in the timeframe required by law and will ensure that for those who are in immediate need, expedited food stamp benefits will continue until a regular food stamp case is opened and Medicaid cases will be expedited for those with emergencies. Empire Justice Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice will continue to monitor applications and will receive regular reports on how long it is taking to process cases from SCDSS.

A hearing on the settlement will be held at the United States Eastern District Court before the Honorable Joseph Bianco on June 8, 2009. Information on the hearing and the complete Stipulation and Order of Settlement are posted on the websites of the Empire Justice Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

“We are pleased with the outcome and are confident that it will result in more people getting the assistance they need in a more timely manner” concluded Ms. Hassberg.

Empire Justice Center is a non-profit legal services organization with offices in Albany, Rochester, White Plains and Central Islip. Empire Justice provides support and training to legal services offices statewide, undertakes policy research and analysis, and engages in legislative and administrative advocacy. The organization also represents low-income individuals, as well as classes of New Yorkers, in a wide range of poverty law areas.

The National Center for Law and Economic Justice advances the cause of economic justice for low-income families, individuals and communities across the country. NCLEJ has forged an ambitious agenda of litigation, policy advocacy, and support for low-income organizing. They work in partnership with national public interest advocates, private law firms, legal services lawyers, and grassroots groups.

 





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