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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 7, 2008

CONTACTS

Kathie Osterman, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-9313 or kathie.osterman@dhhs.ne.gov
Jeanne Atkinson, Communicaitons and Legislative Services (402) 471-8287 or jeanne.atkinson@dhhs.ne.gov

 

DHHS Files Motion to Dismiss Welfare Lawsuit

Note: Sound bites on this topic are available at: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/audio.aspx

 

Lincoln – The Department of Health and Human Services filed a motion today asking the Lancaster County District Court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Nebraska Appleseed on behalf of Jennifer Davio, a public assistance recipient.

"We believe this is a frivolous lawsuit and will vigorously fight it," said Todd Landry, director of the Division of Children and Family Services in the Department. "Ms. Davio was clearly aware of the requirements to receive public assistance. This is not a case where someone receiving public assistance was unfairly sanctioned for a one-time mistake or for a situation beyond her control."

Last August, the Department suspended Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) cash assistance and Medicaid coverage for Davio after she repeatedly failed to participate in Employment First work requirements. Her two children continued to receive Medicaid benefits. Appleseed sued, saying Davio's Medicaid should not have ended.

According to reports by her attorney, Davio's Medicaid has since been restored after she became pregnant with her third child, and therefore meets a different eligibility category.

In filing the motion to dismiss, DHHS cited a section of the Nebraska Welfare Reform Act that passed in 1995 that directed DHHS to make sanctions more stringent to emphasize participant obligations. According to DHHS, the regulations at issue are based on that Legislative mandate (State Statute 68-1713), not the section of law cited by Appleseed (State Statute 68-1723).

"If the Legislature had meant for the Welfare Reform Act to sanction only cash assistance benefits, it would not have adopted 68-1713 requiring DHHS to impose stricter sanctions regarding participant obligations," said Jodi Fenner, lead attorney for DHHS. "The Legislature would not direct DHHS to do something it had already directed us to do in a previous statute."

According to DHHS, Davio knew what was required of her self-sufficiency contract and she knew the risks of not complying because she had been sanctioned before.

Davio had received ADC and Medicaid benefits and signed a self-sufficiency contract. She was authorized for childcare services in order to attend her job search requirements. She knew she could reschedule appointments rather than miss them Instead, the Department said, Davio disregarded her self-sufficiency contract commitments and failed to comply with her Employment First obligations.

Employment First is a DHHS program that helps ADC clients get jobs through training, education and employment preparation, focusing whenever possible on client strengths.

For example, on May 29, eight students graduated from a welders' course in an innovative partnership bringing people together who need jobs, jobs that need people, and skills needed for both. Through this initiative, Southeast Community College, Oasis Staffing, and Arbor Education and Training worked with DHHS to address the needs of employers and Employment First participants.

"Nebraskans are generous and support programs to help people in need, but they expect welfare recipients to get their lives back on track," said Landry. "Welfare as a lifestyle went out of existence in the 1990s with welfare reform."

"The cost of Medicaid is born by taxpayers, and the Department has an obligation – actually, a mandate – to ensure services are going to those who continue to meet eligibility requirements," he said. "We should not reward individuals who fail to keep their commitments."

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