Public Assistance and Work Requirements

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE WORK REQUIREMENTS

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Do I have to participate in public assistance work activities?

When you apply for or receive public assistance you must participate in work activities as assigned unless you are exempt under one of the specific exemptions listed below.

Who is exempt from participating in public assistance work activities?

Only the following people do not have to participate in work activities:

  • Under age 16
  • under age 19 and attending high school, vocational school or technical school full time.
  • 60 years of age or older
  • Ill or injured and unable to participate for up to 3 months, with medical proof
  • Determined to be disabled or incapacitated by DSS
  • Needed in the home to care for another family member with a physical or mental impairment, with medical proof, and no one else is available to care for that person
  • In the last 30 days of pregnancy, with medical proof of due date
  • Parent or caretaker relative of a child under 3 months old who is actually caring for the child.  This exemption can be extended by DSS up to 12 months, but there is a 12 month lifetime maximum.

What should I do if I think I’m exempt?
You should tell DSS.  They will require you to provide proof of the reason for the exemption within 10 days.  DSS should give you a notice in writing about whether your claim of exemption is approved.

What if I think I’m exempt for medical reasons?

If you believe you have a mental or physical condition which limits your ability to work, tell DSS.  They will ask you to provide medical proof of your condition within 10 days.  They also may send you for an examination by their doctor.  DSS cannot assign you to work activities while they are deciding your claim of disability.

What does DSS have to do if I claim a medical exemption?

DSS must tell you its decision on your claim for a medical exemption.  They can decide:

  • You are disabled and exempt from work activities for a specified time
  • You not exempt but are work-limited, that is you are able to participate in work activities with certain limitations for a specified time
  • You are not exempt or work-limited so you are able to participate in work activities with no limitations.  

DSS will review your medical condition at each recertification or sooner if they expect your condition to change.  If you have HIV and are in a special needs plan for your health care services, you should be found to be exempt or work-limited.  If you are found to be exempt, DSS may require you to apply for Social Security Disability benefits or SSI.  However you will not be found to be exempt just because you are applying for Social Security disability benefits.

What should I do if DSS decides I’m not exempt and I disagree?

You can request a Fair Hearing if you disagree with DSS’s decision on your claim that you are exempt.  If they have denied your claim of a medical exemption, you only have 10 days to request a Fair Hearing.  If you request a Fair Hearing within 10 days, you are excused from participating in work activities until there is a decision in your Fair Hearing.   See the article on Fair Hearings. If more than 10 days have passed, and you have more medical evidence, you can request an exemption again at any time.  

Can DSS require me to get treatment for my condition?

If you are exempt from work requirements for a medical reason and DSS believes that your condition could improve, they can assign you to treatment or a vocational rehabilitation or training program that they believe will improve your ability to work.  If you do not participate in the program, DSS can close your case until you participate.

What types of activities can DSS make me do if I am not exempt?

DSS can assign you to up to 40 hours per week of one or more of the following activities:

  • orientation and assessment
  • job readiness and job search activities.  You must accept any offer of lawful employment in which you are able to engage
  • community service programs
  • work experience programs:  the number of hours you must participate is figured by dividing the total of your public assistance and food stamp grants by the minimum wage
  • if you agree, providing child care to a public assistance recipient who is doing community service
  • on-the-job training
  • subsidized private or public employment
  • unsubsidized employment
  • certain educational activities (see next section)

Can DSS make me go to school?
If you are under 20 years old and have not obtained a high school diploma or GED, DSS must assign you to educational activities unless they decide that educational activities are not appropriate for you.  

DSS may assign you to basic or remedial education, English proficiency classes, high school equivalency classes, vocational training, or a two year college degree program.  

What if I want to go to school?

DSS must first approve the schooling as part of your assigned work activities.  Post-secondary education (for example, college, business school, trade school) can only be approved if it is no more than a two-year program and if it is found to be necessary to obtain useful employment in a recognized occupation.  If DSS approves schooling, it must not assign you to other work activities that would interfere with your classes.  If you are an undergraduate college student doing work-study, DSS may approve the work-study as your work activity assignment.  

How does DSS decide what work activities I must do?

DSS will do an assessment and develop an employment plan for you.  However they may assign you to work activities before they do an assessment.  If you receive Family Assistance, DSS should consider your preferences in developing the employment plan.  If they cannot accommodate your preferences, they must tell you why.  

What if I do not agree with my work assignment?

If you do not agree with your work assignment you can file a grievance with DSS.  DSS must meet with you within 30 days of the date you file a grievance.  While you are waiting for a decision on the grievance, you do not have to comply with the work activity you are disputing.  DSS must give you a written notice of its decision on your grievance.  If it is not resolved to your satisfaction, you can request a Fair Hearing.  You must comply with the disputed work activity while you are waiting to have a Fair Hearing and get a decision.

What if I need child care so I can do work activities?

DSS must pay for child care for your children up to age 13 if you need it to do your assigned work activities.  If you cannot find child care, DSS must give you the names of child care providers.  If adequate child care within a reasonable distance from your home is not available, you may be excused from doing work activities.  

What if I need transportation so I can do work activities?

DSS must assist you if you need help with transportation to a work activity.  Some ways DSS can do this are by giving you a bus pass, providing the transportation themselves, or reimbursing you if you use your own vehicle.  They can also help you pay for car repairs or car insurance if you use your own vehicle to get to work activities.  

What if I do not comply with work activities?

A. Conciliation  If you do not comply with work activities, DSS will send you a conciliation notice that gives you the opportunity to explain why you did not comply.  If you are an applicant for or recipient of Family Assistance, you have 10 days to request conciliation.  If you are an applicant for or recipient of Safety Net Assistance you have 7 days to request conciliation.  If you do not respond to the conciliation notice they will send you a sanction notice.  

DSS will consider your explanation and any evidence you provide to explain why you did not comply.  If they decide that your failure to comply was not willful and without good cause, they will excuse the non-compliance.  If they decide that your failure to comply was willful and without good cause they will send you a sanction notice.  

B.  Sanctions   DSS must send you a notice that they are going to sanction you. The notice should explain what it was that you failed to do.  If you are an applicant for assistance, DSS will send you a notice that they are denying your application.  If you are a recipient of assistance, DSS will send you a 10 day notice of the sanction.   The length of the sanction for recipients depends on the type of assistance you receive and how many previous sanctions you’ve had.

Family Assistance Safety Net Assistance

First sanction until compliance 90 days

Second sanction 3 months 150 days

Third or more sanction 6 months 180 days

If there are other people in your public assistance household, your pro-rata share of the grant will be taken out until the sanction is over and you comply.  If there are no other people in your public assistance household, your assistance will be stopped until the sanction is over.  You will have to reapply and comply with employment requirements to get assistance. Because there is a 45 day waiting period for Safety Net Assistance, you should reapply for assistance 45 days before the end of your sanction.  


What if I quit a job?

If you quit a job, provoke your termination from employment, or reduce your hours,   DSS assumes that you have done so for the purpose of qualifying for public assistance or more public assistance.  DSS must give you a chance to prove that you had another good reason for quitting your job or reducing your hours.  If they decide that you quit or reduced your hours to get public assistance or more public assistance than you were getting, you will be sanctioned.  If you are an applicant for public assistance the sanction lasts for 90 days from the date that you quit your job.  If you are a recipient of public assistance, the sanctions are the same as those for not complying with work assignments.

Does a sanction apply to my food stamps?

Yes, probably.  The work requirements for food stamps are similar to those for public assistance.  If you do not comply with public assistance work requirements, you may lose your food stamps as well as your public assistance.  The length of food stamp sanctions is not the same as public assistance sanctions. They last for:

First sanction:  2 months
Second sanction:  4 months
Third and additional sanctions:  6 months

If you are applying for food stamps and you have quit a job or reduced your hours without good cause in the 60 days before you apply, you can be denied food stamps for the above periods.  The sanction starts on the date you quit.  If you are receiving food stamps the sanction for a job quit starts on the effective date of the notice.  

Does a sanction affect my Medicaid?

No.  There are no work requirements to receive Medicaid, so you cannot be denied or lose your Medicaid if you are sanctioned for not complying with public assistance or food stamp work rules or quitting a job.  

What should I do if I do not agree with a sanction?

You have the right to have a Fair Hearing about the sanction.  You must request the Fair Hearing within 60 days of the date of the notice.  If you are a recipient of assistance and you request a Fair Hearing before the effective date of the sanction, your benefits should continue while you are waiting for the fair hearing.  If you are an applicant for assistance and your application is denied, it’s usually a good idea to reapply even though you have also requested a Fair Hearing.  See the article on Fair Hearings.

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(c) Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. ®

This article provides general information about this subject. Laws affecting this subject may have changed since this article was written. For specific legal advice about a problem you are having, get the advice of a lawyer.  Receiving this information does not make you a client of our office.

April 2012

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