INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court said Thursday that the state
Family and Social Services Administration can’t deny Medicaid, food stamps
or welfare to people without first doing a better job of telling them why.
The unanimous ruling came in a four-year-old class action lawsuit that
challenged the way the outsourcing of the state’s welfare system dealt with
clients. The system has since been modified, but a lawyer for the American
Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which filed the lawsuit in 2008, said the
In a 23-page opinion, the justices said FSSA violated applicants’ due
process rights when it sent them notices that stated their benefits were
denied because they had failed to cooperate without citing a specific
reason. The 2008 lawsuit argued that the FSSA sent notices denying or
cutting off Medicaid, welfare or food stamps because of missing documents in
clients’ applications, but never told clients which documents were missing.
In one case, the agency cut off Medicaid to a woman with hearing problems
and other disabilities after a telephone interview that she had trouble
understanding and refused to meet with her in person. The justices said the
agency’s treatment of the woman violated federal law including the Americans
with Disabilities Act.
The woman had wanted to talk with a caseworker, but the ruling said only
that FSSA must accommodate her disability but wasn’t obligated to provide a
“I think a lot of those issues have likely been resolved by the fact that
they did get away from the modernization effort and revamped their offices
so there is a little more person-to-person contact,” ACLU attorney Gavin
The woman whose benefits were cut off sued on behalf of all people who
applied for or received public benefits from the FSSA. Rose said that could
be as many as a million people.
FSSA spokesman Neal Moore said the agency was reviewing the ruling and had
The modernization effort involving a team of private vendors began in 2007
and introduced call centers, the Internet and fax machines as means to apply
for benefits. It took away specific state caseworkers assigned to each
household. But Gov. Mitch Daniels canceled the contract with IBM, the main
vendor, in 2009 following problems that included lost documents, lengthy
hold times for its call centers and too many errors in processing of food
stamps and Medicaid.
After Daniels fired IBM, FSSA took its place as the leader among several
subcontractors in the automation project and has gradually introduced a new
system, dubbing it “hybrid.” The system adds more face-to-face caseworker
interaction with clients during the welfare application process.