LSA successfully resolves Food Stamp case for vulnerable Alabamians

Legal Services Alabama is excited to announce that they have reached a successful resolution to a lawsuit filed by LSA against the Department of Human Resources last November in Alabama federal court. This case involved LSA’s contention that the Department violated the due process rights of Alabama citizens when it failed to provide notices which gave sufficient notice of the basis for termination and exemptions to recipients and terminated citizens inappropriately.

The case involved the 2016-2017 implementation of the portion of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act related to Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents or “ABAWDs.” The Act limits certain “able-bodied” adults who are not working or attending work training at least 20 hours a week, to receiving only 3 months of SNAP (or “food stamps”) in a 36 month period regardless of whether or not jobs or work programs were available. Consequently, tens of thousands of Alabama citizens were terminated from the program in 2016 and 2017 after receiving assistance for years.

LSA filed suit on behalf of five individuals affected by the change in the law. Although all of LSA’s clients were provided with appropriate benefits upon the filing of the suit, concerns remained about what would happen if the clients needed to apply in the future. While the suit was pending, the Department took several very meaningful steps to resolving clients' concerns, including individually screening every applicant across the state to confirm whether or not they qualify for exemption from the program.

Under the final settlement resolving the case, the Department agreed to provide sufficient notice to people being threatened with termination to understand what is happening, to move toward the use of a single form regarding SNAP terminations, to train staff statewide on identifying people exempt from the policy, and to make improvements to current training material.

Larry Gardella, lead counsel for LSA in the case, stated, “The Department of Human Resources has made great strides in making sure people who deserve to get food stamps are able to get them. LSA and DHR have had a very good relationship for years now and I believe that was very helpful in reaching this outcome. Although there is still a good amount of work to do on this issue in Alabama, I am confident that with the resolution of this lawsuit we will be able to achieve a very good result for some of Alabama’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Other LSA attorneys working on the case included: Mary Jane Oakley (Empowerment Lead Attorney), Felecia Pettway (Selma Managing Attorney) and Michael Forton (Director of Advocacy). Forton said, “This was a great outcome and a great team effort. I’m very proud of LSA’s work on this case.”

This case was made possible by a generous grant provide by the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation. Established in 2009, the Foundation aims to improve the economic well-being and social conditions of disadvantaged persons and groups throughout the United States. The Foundation grants funds to tax-exempt organizations that promote the Foundation’s mission through litigation designed to have systemic impact in the areas of civil rights, low income housing, political asylum, domestic violence, immigration, children’s rights, and voting rights among others.

Jaffe Pickett, LSA Deputy Director, stated, “LSA is grateful to the Barbara McDowell and Gerald Hartman Foundation for funding to support our advocacy,” Pickett said. “The Foundation’s award will enhance our advocacy efforts to help poor and vulnerable clients with public benefits.”

  • LSC

    LSA is a grantee of the Legal Services Corporation.