How would I go about filing a complaint against the food stamp program for screwing up my case?
March 2, 2010 3:37 PM   Subscribe

The food stamp program screwed me out of c. $100 in benefits. Can anyone recommend an agency or pro bono clinic in NYC that could help me if I decide to file a complaint?

Long story short: I needed to file for food stamp benefits for the months of January and February. For some reason or another, they didn't factor in the cost of my housing into their calculations, so what should have been about $60 a month in benefits was reduced to $16 a month. A caseworker told me to fax in a document proving my housing expenses, which I did. I called to confirm receipt and haven't heard back from her. Nor has the money been added to my account. I visited a branch with weekend hours in Manhattan and they told me they couldn't help me there, that I needed to go to the branch in Queens where I had originally filed. I intend to visit that Queens office on Thursday night with a copy of my lease extension, which should prove my housing costs. I am hoping that presenting this document will solve my problem and get me my benefits. But if I continue to be stymied by this bureaucratic douchiness and incompetence, I'd like to file a complaint.

If any of you are familiar with agencies or pro bono legal clinics in the NYC area that might be able to help me with such a complaint, I would love to hear about them. Any pointers on the food stamp program's complaint procedures would be welcome as well.

As always, many thanks in advance.

P.S. The other reason I'm visiting Thursday night is to present a change of income form connected to a new job, which I started last month. Would presenting this form close my case entirely and prevent me from getting any past benefits to which I am entitled?
posted by jason's_planet to Law & Government (6 answers total)
Best answer: Try these guys.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:05 PM on March 2, 2010

Best answer: Obscure Reference: Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, Legal Aid is currently turning away 7 out of 8 people that seek help these days.
posted by dcjd at 4:51 PM on March 2, 2010

Best answer: There should be a way to file a complaint through the department itself, or an advocacy office within the state agency. We have a Governor's Advocacy Office in my state, for instance. But really, I always recommend starting at the lowest level possible. Worker didn't return your call?call a supervisor. Be polite and firm. Don't yell, swear, etc. Go from there. Food stamp workers have big federal incentives to be accurate and the folks in those offices tend to take mistakes seriously. YMMV.
posted by purenitrous at 8:41 PM on March 2, 2010

I didn't know that about Legal Aid (haven't used them in decades.)

What purenitous says above makes sense from my (decades old) experience. Indeed, even semi-illiterate letters written to the mayor initiated a formal response procedure.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:26 AM on March 3, 2010

Best answer: Go to to find legal services places to call. Put in your zip code, click on public benefits, click on food stamps, and call every place that comes up. I think it's extremely unlikely any of them will be able to do more than give you advice. They all have to turn away most of the people who call, and you're going to be fairly low priority. Lawhelp also has a "Know Your Rights" tab for every topic. Click on it for fact sheets and FAQ's about food stamps.

If your worker can't solve your problem, you can try to speak to her supervisor. If you aren't able to solve the problem through advocacy at the center, you should request a fair hearing. Fair hearings are the pretty much the complaint procedure for public benefits programs. You could try going to an elected official, or continue up the chain of command at the center, but you'll probably end up a fair hearing eventually if the worker and her supervisor can't or won't fix the problem.

There is information on fair hearings on Lawhelp. Click public benefits, click fair hearings, and click on the "Know your Rights" tab. The Legal Aid guide available there is straightforward and useful. If you want to pursue this, I would be shocked if you could find an attorney to represent you, due to funding and the triage that free legal services places have to do. Probably 98% of people represent themselves in fair hearings.

IAAL, but I have never personally handled a food stamps case (see above re funding and triage), but if food stamps are like other public benefits programs, the fact that you will soon be ineligible should not negate your Jan and Feb eligibility. I say this in response to your last question to let you know that it's probably worth pursuing, but it's not legal advice (see above re my professed ignorance about food stamps). Although, what is legal and what your worker may do are two different things and that is why there are fair hearings.
posted by Mavri at 8:43 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, guys! I've got a lot to work with here.

I'll let you all know how it goes.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:02 PM on March 3, 2010

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