A federal judge has ordered the District of Columbia government to stop cutting off food stamp and medical assistance benefits to indigent disabled persons who lose their General Public Assistance (GPA) benefits for failing to file required medical reports.
U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green issued the temporary restraining order Wednesday in a lawsuit filed on behalf of five recipients or applicants for general public assistance, the city's program for those who are temporarily out of work because of physical or mental disability and ineligible for other programs such as unemployment compensation. About 3,500 persons receive GPA benefits each month.
The suit contends that the Department of Human Services improperly terminates GPA benefits, denies food stamps and medical assistance to persons terminated from GPA, fails to process applications or issue food stamps within the legally required time limits and does not issue proper notices of denial.
The suit, brought by lawyers from the Urban Law Institute and the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, names as defendants Mayor Marion Barry, Department of Human Services director James Buford and four of Buford's subordinates. The suit asks that those denied the benefits be given them and that the allegedly illegal practices be stopped.
Green ordered only that the improper practices be stopped, noting in her order that the city already has agreed to send checks within a week to the five plaintiffs.
Green's temporary restraining order will remain in effect for 30 days. Then she will hear arguments on whether the suit should be declared a class action on behalf of all affected GPA applicants, and whether the order should stand.
The maximum monthly payments under the GPA plan are $189.56 for an individual and $236.75 per couple.
The District's Medical Assistance Program provides care in city facilities to poor persons ineligible for federal programs such as Medicaid. The federal food stamp program, administered locally, provides poverty-stricken households with coupons redeemable for groceries.