Right to Receive Expedited Food Stamps and Emergency Cash Assistance

Reynolds v. Giuliani, 98 Civ. 8877 (WHP) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This class action challenges policies and practices enforced by the New York City Human Resources Administration at 13 “Job Centers” that discouraged, deterred, and/or prevented applicants for expedited and regular Food Stamps, pre-investigation cash grants, ongoing cash public assistance, and Medicaid from applying for assistance. The action sought to enjoin the conversion of additional Income Support Centers to “Job Centers” until the City implemented a plan of correction designed to correct these deficiencies.

Background: In 1999, the court issued a preliminary injunction directing the City (1) to allow applicants for food stamps, Medicaid, cash assistance, expedited food stamps, and temporary pre-investigation grants to apply for benefits on the first day they visit a Job Center; (2) to process all applications for expedited food stamps and temporary pre-investigation grants at Job Centers within the time frames required by law; (3) to make eligibility determinations regarding food stamps and Medicaid separate from eligibility determinations regarding cash public assistance; and (4) to send applicants for ongoing and emergency assistance written notice of determinations of their eligibility. The court has directed that an “informal intervention” process continue to be utilized to address individual cases of exigent need. Reynolds v. Giuliani, 35 F. Supp. 2d 331 (S.D.N.Y. 1999). In July 2000, the court denied the City's motion to vacate the preliminary injunction, denied state defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, and granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Reynolds v. Giuliani, 118 F. Supp. 2d 352 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

Current Status: On December 30, 2004, the district court issued a final injunction in favor of the plaintiffs. Among the court's more significant holdings are that the obligation to furnish Medicaid with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals, and to provide expedited food stamps within seven days, are enforceable in federal court. The court rejected the defendants’ argument that only substantial compliance with the law is required, holding that “state agencies [must] comply strictly with their obligations to provide food stamps and Medicaid benefits to eligible applicants.” On February 14, 2005, the court expanded its order to cover “immediate needs grants” and to require issuance of expedited food stamps in five days rather than seven (as required by state law). On December 14, 2005, the court entered a final judgment permanently enjoining HRA:

to provide expedited food stamps to class members eligible for them within five days, and immediate needs grants on the same day of application; to process food stamp and Medicaid applications separately from PA applications when an application for PA is denied or withdrawn; to provide adequate and timely notice of decisions on cash assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid; to audit a sample of 200 applications every six months to determine whether determinations regarding expedited food stamps and immediate needs grants were properly made; to review a sample of 50 withdrawn applications every six months and provide plaintiffs with copies of the complete case files.

In addition, the court permanently enjoined the State welfare agency, OTDA, to supervise the City's compliance with federal requirements in the judgment concerning food stamps and notice; and enjoined State DOH to supervise the City's compliance with federal requirements in the judgment concerning Medicaid and notice. Both agencies are enjoined to provide plaintiffs' counsel with quarterly reports that track their performance in meeting these supervisory obligations.

The State defendants appealed from the final judgment. On October 31, 2007, the Second Circuit held that the record does not support a finding of “deliberate indifference” by the State defendants to the rights of the plaintiff class, or warrant the issuance of a permanent injunction against the State defendants. Reynolds v. Giuliani, 506 F.3d 183 (2d Cir. 2007). Dissenting in part, Judge Straub would have remanded to the district court for further factual findings. He found that, “despite a long history and alarmingly high rate of HRA staff mishandling food stamp and Medicaid applications following the implementation of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (‘PRWORA’), Pub. L. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996), the State defendants continually failed to provide the training and supervision needed to remedy systemic problems.”

Monitoring reports prepared by the City consistently reveal unacceptably high levels of non-compliance with the judgment, especially in the areas of immediate needs grants and notice. Recent monitoring reports have shown that HRA failed to timely provide immediate needs grants to those eligible in roughly 90 percent of all cases, a non-compliance rate that has remained fairly consistent over time.

No. Persons Affected: Approximately 80,000 persons annually file applications for Family Assistance; another 108,000 applications are filed annually for Safety Net Assistance.

Reported Decisions: Reynolds v. Giuliani, 35 F. Supp. 2d 331 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 43 F. Supp. 2d 492 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 118 F. Supp. 2d 352 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26026 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 30, 2004); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2743 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 14, 2005); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32541 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 14, 2005) (final judgment); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 506 F.3d 183 (2d Cir. 2007).