Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration are embroiled in yet another controversy, which will impose additional hardships on the already beleaguered residents of the state who find themselves in financial hardship. At issue is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, which are intended to provide temporary food assistance for eligible low-income families and individuals.
But the SNAP program has gone woefully wrong under the Snyder administration, which has attempted to ban people from receiving benefits who have fled prosecution for a felony.
Michigan’s Fugitive Felon Law, which was employed to cut some 20,000 people off public assistance, is now under scrutiny by the Sixth Court of Appeals after a Detroit resident, Walter Barry, a 46-year-old mentally disabled man who lives with his mother, wrongfully lost his public assistance when his name turned up in a fugitive database.
Barry and others are victims of government bureaucracy and a dysfunctional automated program implemented by the State of Michigan in 2013 to which compares the list of public-assistance recipients with a list of outstanding felony warrants maintained by the law enforcement information network. The system however has been plagued with issues of erroneously disqualifying eligible recipients by wrongfully identifying some as felons.
In 2015, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy struck down the state’s database, concluding it wrongfully denied plaintiffs of their right to food aid because they were neither actively fleeing or avoiding prosecution for a felony.
“His story … illustrates the difficulties that the bare-bones Michigan system can produce,” the Sixth Circuit wrote in its 12-page opinion, which upheld a lower court ruling that declared the policy unconstitutional.
Barry, the lead plaintiff in the current was awarded $186 per month in food assistance, but later that year he learned that his benefits would be cut because of a “criminal justice disqualification.” His mother requested a hearing with state authorities and took Barry to the Detroit Police Department, where his fingerprints were taken. Police found he had no criminal history. An administrative law judge quickly reinstated Barry’s benefits. Five months later, the same problem occurred. Barry received notice that his benefits would be terminated because of a criminal issue.
In May 2013, a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employee said she had “personally verified” through a LEIN check that Walter had an outstanding felony arrest warrant dating to 1989 by the Detroit police. But the 25-year-old outstanding warrant was actually for Barry’s brother, who had stolen Barry’s name and used it an alias when he was arrested about 25 years earlier.
Detroit police provided four statements that Barry had no criminal history. But his name continued to show up in the flawed database as a fugitive who was not entitled to food benefits.
The Sixth Circuit is expected to make a decision in the case soon.