LSLA in Action
She couldn't risk losing the food stamps; too often,they meant the difference between decent meals and hunger for her family.
When she received her paychecks twice a month, Cathy always gave the amount of her checks a second glance, perhaps more than the average person. Since she was paid hourly for her work at a convenience store, a change in hours could require a call to her Health and Human Services caseworker. When Cathy applied for food stamps, her caseworker, Betty, was clear -- Cathy should report income changes as an increase in her wages could affect the food stamps she received for herself and her young daughter, Brandy. Cathy knew she would have no trouble following the rules. She couldn't risk losing the food stamps; too often, they meant the difference between decent meals and hunger for her family.
One Christmas, Cathy's supervisor asked her to work additional hours, and although it was a busy time of year to work more than normal, she was happy for the increase in her paycheck, especially during the holidays. But she also knew the change required a call to her caseworker. Betty said not to worry, the wage increase was not permanent and the added hours were not guaranteed. Besides, the amount of the increase was not enough to reduce Cathy's food stamps. In fact, Betty told Cathy it wasn't necessary to report this type of increase at all. When Cathy was asked to work more hours the following week because the store was short-handed, she didn't call Betty to report the extra income, remembering what she was told about these small, unexpected increases the last time they spoke.
Soon after, the Health and Human Services Commission contacted Cathy. She was accused of not reporting the wage increases and receiving an overpayment in benefits. Health and Human Services called her actions fraudulent and advised Cathy that the food stamps she heavily relied upon would be terminated for one year. Cathy panicked, knowing she and Brandy would have a hard time making ends meet without them. She called Lone Star Legal Aid, and the firm's Angleton office knew it had to take action to help Cathy. Unfortunately, her circumstances are not unusual. Caseworkers frequently are overworked and under stress, and sometimes to avoid the additional paperwork, they give clients what ultimately turns out to be bad advice.
At the Health and Human Services appeal, the hearing officer would not acknowledge the caseworker's mistake, but LSLA, well versed in HHS policy, asserted that the food stamps overpayment did not reach the HHS three consecutive month threshold that would trigger a one-year suspension. That was a critical point the hearing officer could not ignore, and HHS reversed its decision, reinstating Cathy's food stamps. LSLA's vigorous advocacy helped Cathy not only re-establish her family's stability, but also ensure that her daughter's nutritional needs were met.