On June 19, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved the negotiated settlement in Richard C. v. Proud, 12 Civ. 5942, which challenged the State’s failure to advise individuals facing SNAP (Food Stamp) employment sanctions that they had the ability to stop the sanctions from going into effect. Richard C. also challenged the State’s failure to adjudicate SNAP fair hearings in a timely manner. As a result of the settlement, in November 2013 over $80 million in benefits were distributed to over 100,000 families, as described in the press release linked below.
The class action suit was filed on August 2, 2012, and on January 2, 2013, the court approved the parties’ stipulation to certify two classes, one consisting of applicants and recipients who, since August 3, 2009, had or will request a fair hearing regarding SNAP benefits, where no cash assistance issues are raised, and where the State did not or does not issue a decision after fair hearing within 60 days. The other class consists of SNAP applicants and recipients who, since August 3, 2009, were issued notices of adverse action based upon an alleged failure to comply with SNAP work requirements and that resulted in a disqualification for SNAP benefits for 2, 4, or 6 months and did not inform the individual of the action they could have taken to avoid the sanction before it began. The settlement was reached after discovery was conducted and prior to a hearing scheduled on plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunctive relief.
As many as 200,000 improperly issued employment sanctions will be erased as part of the settlement, and the State has agreed to issue back benefits to each individual who was wrongly denied or terminated from SNAP due to an alleged employment violation between August 3, 2009 and December 14, 2012. The back awards will be issued within the next five months and are expected to total over $80 million.
In accordance with the settlement, the State also agreed to suspend its SNAP employment sanction process as of December 14, 2012 and work toward implementing a new sanction process which complies with federal law. The revised process, once it starts up again, will provide a “second chance” notice toward individuals facing employment sanctions; this notice will advise individuals of what actions they can take to stop the employment sanction from going into effect. The State will issue individual notices to all class members who had been wrongly sanctioned; the notices will explain the provision of restored benefits and expungement of prior sanctions.
Finally, the State has committed to processing SNAP fair hearings in a timely fashion in accordance with federal law. “SNAP only” fair hearing decisions will be issued within 60 days of the date of the initial fair hearing request.
As part of the settlement agreement, the State will provide monitoring data to class counsel for 24 months.
Marc Cohan, Tedde Tasheff, and Jenny Pelaez of NCLEJ are co-counsel with the Legal Aid Society, Empire Justice Center, and Cooley LLP (pro bono counsel).