The District government agreed yesterday to process residents' requests for emergency assistance within eight working days of receiving their applications, and if a person is facing immediate eviction or foreclosure to consider the request the same day it is made.
The agreement is spelled out in a consent judgment filed in U.S. District Court here yesterday in a case brought in 1982 by the Neighborhood Legal Services program on behalf of a woman who was facing eviction and whose request for help had been delayed for more than 30 days.
"This provides a real framework for the city to operate the program with specific guidelines," said Christopher Whittingham of Neighborhood Legal Services. He said the Emergency Assistance Program, which dispenses more than $1 million a year in aid, has not had any deadlines.
"This will make the administration of the program much easier and should result in quicker decisions and better decisions for all the applicants," Whittingham said.
Program officials could not be reached for comment.
The Emergency Assistance Program, funded partly by the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, is administered by the Department of Human Services. It is designed to provide emergency help for families who need food or money to remain together in one household.
According to Whittingham, at the time the case was made a class action in 1984, the program was receiving 800 to 1,000 applications a month.
Many of those, however, were for food and those requests usually involve small amounts of money and are processed quickly.
The problems were primarily in the way the city dealt with applications from persons who were facing eviction, foreclosure or cutoff of utilities.
In some instances, according to the suit, city workers would not give applications to residents who asked for them, the city denied many aid requests arbitrarily and residents could not get a prompt hearing if they appealed denials.
Many times an applicant was evicted or the utilities turned off long before the city decided on the request for aid, according to the suit.
Under the consent judgment, the city must:
*Provide application forms and accept applications from every person who goes into a Department of Human Services center and asks to apply for emergency aid.
*Hold an appeal hearing when one is requested after a denial of aid, and reach a decision on the appeal within 30 days of the original denial. If the applicant faces an "imminent emergency," the city must take steps to reach a final decision in time to "forestall the emergency."
*Provide applicants with a clear, concise, written notice about his rights and, if aid is denied, state the reason in writing.
In addition, the city must file monthly logs listing each person who applied for aid, information on how quickly the application was processed, the amount approved or the reason the aid was denied.
Neighborhood Legal Services, which obtained a similar consent judgment regulating the administration of the District's AFDC program, also receives logs from the city that it uses to monitor compliance with that order.