Thousands of Michigan residents have received payouts from the state following a $47 million settlement alleging food assistance was wrongfully cut off to deserving families.
Between 2013 and 2014, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his Department of Health and Human Services began enforcing a state law which stopped benefits from going to individuals wanted for various crimes.
Cases of mistaken identity as well as outdated information led to a class action. The suit grew to encompass nearly 20,000 Michiganders, all of whom had assistance for purchasing food cut off due to Snyder’s dictate.
The AP reports the State of Michigan lost two decisions in federal court. The eventual settlement determined that a lump-sum of $3,120 would be paid out to each of the plaintiffs, redeemable in the form of food assistance.
As of April 2017, about 15,000 plaintiffs have received their settlement checks, which total $47 million, according to HHS spokesman Bob Wheaton.
“The process is still ongoing,” said Wheaton, noting the HHS might have to pay out millions more if other Michiganders come forward.
In Detroit, the Associated Press spoke to Myticka Brooks, who was barred from receiving assistance by the Snyder administration for almost two years. Although her four children were still able to receive benefits, she herself said the personal loss made feeding her family difficult.
“I called every court in Michigan, I think,” said Brooks. “Did I have any outstanding warrant? Was I in trouble? What did I do? I still don’t know.”
Others, like Sheryl Wade of Eastpointe, say they were disqualified for reasons bordering on frivolous.
Wade claims she was discarded by the HHS due to a ‘bad check warrant’ that had been issued two decades ago.
Still more, cited by the Detroit Free Press, were turned away from receiving benefits due to being victims of identity theft. Walter Barry, a 46-year old disabled man from Detroit, told the Free Press he’d been stiffed out of food stamps after his nephew identified himself as Walter during an arrest.
Barry’s case was specifically mentioned by the 6th Circuit Court in its rulings.
“His story… well illustrates the difficulties that the bare-bones Michigan system can produce,” read the document, which upheld an earlier judgment.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the cross-checking system was extremely primitive. Using two lists of names – one for individuals wanted for crimes and the other for individuals receiving public assistance – matches and duplicates were identified and then barred from receiving food assistance.
“Computers make mistakes,” said ACLU staff attorney Miriam Aukerman, who helped challenge the system and its legality. “None of us want to have our lives ruined by some computer algorithm. What’s important here is the state can’t cut corners anymore. It can’t automatically cut people off from desperately needed assistance.”