LEGAL SUPPORT CENTER FOR ADVOCATES: FAQ’S
Advocate’s Question: My client and I are having a hard time getting documents the Department of Social Services (DSS) is requesting. I’m afraid his case may be closed for failure to submit documents. What can we do? LSCA’s Answer: Community advocates who call the Legal Support Center are often caught up in the long and arduous process of documenting a public assistance application for a client. Applicants and recipients of public assistance are required to provide extensive paperwork to prove eligibility factors such as address or citizenship. But, each factor may be documented in a number of ways. DSS should provide the client with the DSS Documentation Requirement Guide, which lists alternate documents that are acceptable proof of each eligibility factor. The DSS worker must inform a client who is having trouble getting a particular document of alternate documents that can be used instead. It is important that an applicant tell the worker in writing that he or she is experiencing difficulty in getting a particular document and request suggestions for an alternate document that would be acceptable. Administrative Directive 93 ADM-20 provides legal authority explaining DSS’s obligations. The ADM informs the local DSS that they must use the mandated Documentation Requirement Guide for substitute documents where verification is difficult for the client. It also reminds workers that benefits may not be terminated nor a case denied for failure to provide a specific item of documentation (e.g. birth certificate) as long as the eligibility factor in question is established. For example, “an application may be denied if the applicant is unwilling to provide sufficient proof of identity, age, citizenship, etc., but not for failure to provide a birth certificate or other specific item of documentation” 93 ADM-20. Applicants can also request additional time to gather documents especially when they are experiencing delay or difficulties. 18 NYCRR 351.8b For an ongoing recipient of public assistance who is recertifying and having problems, the recipient may request an extension if he establishes good cause for the delay. 18 NYCRR351.26. It is strongly suggested that requests for extensions be made in writing and that you keep a copy for the client’s records. If an advocate or client has done their best to gather the documents, but is still having problems, they should request in writing that the DSS worker assist the client. The state regulation, 18 NYCRR Section 351.5, requires DSS to assist in this process when necessary (“collateral assistance”). This help can be in the form of payment for fees (e.g. bank statements), communicating with an uncooperative third party (landlord, relative, etc.), or contacting another agency on the applicant’s behalf to secure a document (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Social Security, Bureau of Vital Statistics). In summary, the worker should inform the individual of the substitute documents that would be acceptable or assist in obtaining the information if informed that it would be difficult or impossible for the applicant on his own to obtain the information in a timely manner. If a client has written proof that he asked for help in the documentation process and his application is denied for failure to verify or document, he is likely to have a strong case at a fair hearing. Documents can even be brought in as late as the fair hearing itself and must be accepted at that time, although it is obviously more advantageous to provide documents on a timely basis. The most important goal is to keep the application active. Avoid stopping and restarting the already complicated and protracted application process. Alert the worker to documentation difficulties and hopefully such assistance will help to move things along. If not, remember to request a fair hearing and call Nassau Suffolk Law Services for assistance! Please remember to call the Legal Support Center for Advocates for questions like this or any other of your legal questions at 631 232-2400 ext. 3309 or 3324. The Legal Support Center for Advocates is a service for Long Island’s “helping” community.