Friday, November 18, 2011
Judge Ezra rules state must issue food stamps in a timely manner
by Larry Geller
A Maui resident filed an application for food stamps but did not hear anything from the Department of Human Services office for almost a month. When she inquired, she learned that her file had been transferred to the Oahu DHS office.
According to a complaint filed in federal court, she tried to contact DHS multiple times to inquire as to the status of her application but to no avail.
Her application had entered the black hole of SNAP (food stamp) applications at DHS. It turns out that she was not alone. So Lawyers for Equal Justice (led by attorney Victor Germiniani), along with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and the National Center for Economic Justice filed a class action suit in federal court.
In the course of the trial, DHS asserted to the court that the plaintiff had since received her benefit, but could not even provide evidence on the record to substantiate that statement.
Judge David Ezra issued an injunction against the state on Wednesday.
The law is clear. From the judge’s order:
Pursuant to federal law, DHS is required to process food stamp applications within thirty days after application and provide ongoing SNAP benefits to eligible applicants no later than thirty days after application…. Additionally, expedited SNAP benefits must be provided to eligible households no later than seven days following the date of application.
Food stamps were crucial to the survival of this particular plaintiff. Both she and her husband are disabled and live on $677 per month of Social Security income.
Her situation is not unique, and is the reason for the timeliness requirements of the federal law.
Judge Ezra ordered the parties to draw up a form of injunction within 30 days.
Once again, Hawaii’s failure to follow laws protecting its most vulnerable citizens had to be straightened out by the federal court. Additionally, at a time of severe budget crunch, the state will be responsible for attorneys fees that could have been avoided had the state simply followed the applicable law.