State Cuts Squeeze Local Welfare Budgets

Christine D. Lavallee

The New Hampshire legislature made a substantial change in the eligibility requirements for APTD (Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled) cash benefits, the state disability assistance program, that may result in an influx of applicants for local welfare assistance over the next several months. Under RSA 167:27, no person who is receiving APTD cash assistance from the state is eligible to receive local assistance except medical and surgical assistance. (Receipt of APTD medical assistance only does not disqualify a person from local assistance. See Smith v. Franklin, 159 N.H. 585 (2010).) Included in HB 2, the "trailer bill" to the state's budget bill that passed at the end of June, was language as follows:

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, eligibility for cash assistance and medical assistance shall be conditioned upon the recipient filing an application or applications for any federal cash assistance benefits for which the individual may be entitled and pursuing any appeals available for those federal benefits. Cash assistance shall terminate upon a finding of clinical ineligibility for such federal benefits, except that any individual receiving cash assistance on June 30, 2011 shall only be ineligible for cash assistance upon a second finding of clinical ineligibility.

Essentially, this means that in order to qualify for cash assistance from the state disability benefits program, a person must also be found eligible for federal disability benefits. Once found eligible for federal disability benefits, and depending on the level of those benefits, a recipient will continue to receive a cash state supplemental benefit of approximately $15.00 a month. However, if a person has been approved for APTD (state disability) cash assistance but is subsequently denied federal disability benefits at any stage (either at initial application or at an administrative appeal hearing), then that person's state disability cash assistance is automatically terminated upon denial at the federal level. This change only applies to APTD cash benefits and will not affect a recipient's medical (Medicaid) assistance because they are still considered to be disabled by the state. The termination of APTD cash benefits makes the recipient potentially eligible for local assistance.

In the first week of July 2011, approximately 1,340 letters were sent out to recipients of APTD cash assistance who are not receiving any federal disability benefits to notify them of the change in state law and how it will affect their APTD cash benefits. The week of July 11, another 700 letters were sent out to recipients of APTD cash assistance whose applications for federal disability benefits are in appeal status to inform them of the change to state law and how it may affect their continued receipt of APTD cash benefits. This second category of recipients will have to supply specific verification to the state about the status of their appeal in order to continue to receive state cash assistance until a final decision is made about their federal disability claim.

Recipients of state cash disability benefits are being terminated with so little notice that even people who are living in subsidized housing in which their portion of the rent will adjust accordingly in response to the reduction in their income will most likely not see this reduction in their rent portion quickly enough to keep pace with the termination of their cash benefits. This change in state law will abruptly terminate the only means of income for many disabled residents in the state who, in turn, will likely have no alternative but to seek interim emergency financial assistance at the local level to pay for rent and other basic necessities.

Local officials new to welfare administration are encouraged to review the LGC publication The Art of Welfare Administration and to contact their regular municipal attorney or the LGC Legal Services Attorneys with questions.

Christine Lavallee is a Staff Attorney with the New Hampshire Local Government Center's Legal Services and Government Affairs Department. Local officials in NHMA-member municipalities may contact LGC's Legal Services Attorneys for more information on this and other topics of interest Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by calling 800.852.3358, ext. 384.