Right of Immigrants to Receive Public Benefits

M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 05 Civ. 10446 (JSR) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This action challenges practices by New York City and State welfare officials that systematically and erroneously deny applications for Food Stamps, Medicaid, and public assistance (“public benefits”) by eligible immigrants; deny requests by immigrants to be added to a public benefits case; and discontinue and/or reduce public benefits received by immigrants, because of a systemic misapplication of rules concerning immigrant eligibility for public benefits. Most affected immigrants are domestic violence survivors who have applied for public benefits based on a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petition, a pending I-130 petition, or a pending U visa application.

Background: On February 15, 2006, the court denied the defendants’ motions to disqualify plaintiffs’ counsel in the case based on the witness-advocate rule, and the City’s motion to prohibit a former attorney for some of the named plaintiffs from testifying as a witness at a hearing or trial in the matter. On February 16, 2006, the court granted plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction requiring certain immediate corrections to City and State computer systems and policy bulletins, and directing the City to establish an informal relief system for applications for public benefits by non-citizens.

On August 29, 2006, after a nine-day preliminary injunction hearing, the court issued a lengthy decision finding “a very high likelihood that the City will be found liable on all of plaintiffs’ claims.” M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 445 F. Supp. 2d 400, 435 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). The court held that various federal statutes confer rights that are enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that plaintiffs have implied rights of action under state law.

Current Status: In January 2007, the parties reached a comprehensive settlement. On June 6, 2007, the trial court found that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate to the class. On July 12, 2007, the court entered final judgment on all claims. The settlement includes:

  • General injunctive relief. The city must refrain from denying, discontinuing, or reducing public benefits based on immigration status to eligible class members, and from turning away, deterring, discouraging, or refusing to permit class members from applying for public benefits.
  • Training. The city is required to train 150 immigrant liaisons. They will be specially trained on immigration status issues, documents relevant to immigration status, eligibility of class members for public benefits, and Social Security Number requirements.
  • Class-wide retroactive relief. The proposed settlement provides for extensive class-wide retroactive relief. Many class members will receive “automatic” case reviews to determine their entitlement to retroactive benefits without having to request retroactive relief in response to a class-wide notice.
  • Quality assurance and monitoring. Every six months, the city defendant is required to review the case files of a systematic sample of 150 class members and to check whether the class members were eligible for cash public assistance, Food Stamps, and/or Medicaid, whether they were accepted or denied for those benefits, and whether their cases were handled correctly in other ways. If the same type of error based on immigration status occurred in three or more cases, then the city must conduct reinforcement training in the affected offices or must correct any policy or procedure responsible for the errors.
  • Informal relief system. The settlement makes permanent an informal relief system required as part of the February 16, 2006 preliminary injunction. Advocates in the community may refer requests for relief under the settlement to plaintiffs’ counsel.

HRA is in the process of making retroactive relief determinations for approximately 50,000 immigrants who received notices that they are potentially eligible for retroactive benefits. Over 3,000 determinations have been made to date.

No. Persons Affected: According to HRA statistics produced as part of M.K.B. monitoring, each year HRA receives applications from approximately 100 battered immigrants; 1,000 PRUCOL class members; and 7,000 green card holders. Our experience monitoring compliance with the decree indicates that the figures for battered and PRUCOL class members significantly understate the actual number of eligible immigrants who apply annually for public benefits.

Reported Decisions: M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 414 F. Supp. 2d 469 (S.D.N.Y. 2006); M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8385 (S.D.N.Y., Feb. 23, 2006); M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 445 F. Supp. 2d 400 (S.D.N.Y. 2006); M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81704 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2006).