The Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Monday that people whose food stamp applications are delayed can sue the state in federal court.
The ruling comes two years after U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Bryant issued a preliminary injunction against the Department of Social Services. Bryant concluded that DSS was responsible for an “ongoing, persistent systemic failure to comply with the strict unambiguous mandates imposed by the [Food Stamp Act].”
A unanimous three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that food stamp recipients can sue to enforce the timely processing of applications. It also ruled there’s nothing in the federal regulations that excuses DSS from providing food stamps within the specified time.
Greater Hartford Legal Aid’s Lucy Potter, who filed the initial action with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in federal court, said language in the state plan guiding the amount of time the state has to process an application — within seven or 30 days depending on income — was always clear.
“We are very pleased that the Second Circuit unanimously upheld Judge Bryant’s ruling,” Potter said. “It not only helps ensure that eligible Connecticut residents will be able to get basic nutrition and sustenance in a timely way, but will be an important precedent around the country.”
She said since the ruling two years ago, DSS has made some progress on processing food stamp applications, but it still fails to process a number of them and is still not in compliance with Bryant’s initial order. Bryant’s order requires the state to achieve a 97 percent timely processing rate.
She said it’s up to about 94 percent for the 30-day applications, and 86 percent for the seven-day applications.
As of March 2015, there were 443,000 Connecticut residents in 230,000 households receiving assistance under the federal program. In April, there were 8,010 applications for seven-day processing and 6,947 for 30-day processing.
A spokesman for the Department of Social Services said they are reviewing the decision with the Attorney General’s office.
“While we are disappointed at not prevailing in the decision, the broader picture is Connecticut’s tremendous improvement,” David Dearborn, a spokesman for the agency, said.
The maximum food stamp benefit that a single person can receive is $194 per month; the maximum that a family of four can get is $649 per month. The amount of the benefit depends on income and expenses of the individual and the family. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of food stamps for families and individuals and 50 percent of the state’s administrative costs.