The Montana Department of Health seeks to eliminate the board of directors that listens to pleas for public assistance

Montana health officials are asking lawmakers to abolish a board that hears pleas from people they believe have been wrongly denied public assistance benefits.

Since 2016, General Assistance Council Fewer than 20 cases are heard annually, and very few have not been canceled, but preparing for those appeals and board meetings takes time from staff and attorneys for the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, according to the Suggestion section.

Getting rid of the Appeals Board will also help denied public assistance applicants appeal their cases directly to district court, Health Department Director Charlie Brereton. recently for legislators. Currently, rejected applicants can only take their cases to court after the board hears their appeals, although very few do, according to a board member.

“I want to be very clear, with this proposal, that we are not seeking to eliminate the appeal pathway; instead, we are streamlining the process and eliminating what we see as an unnecessary and underutilized step,” Brereton said.

The Public Assistance Board disposal plan is one of 14 bills the state Department of Public Health and Human Services has asked lawmakers to draft for The session begins in January. The proposal comes from a review of state agencies under Republican Governor Greg Gianforte Red Ribbon Relief Task Forcewhich seeks to improve efficiency and eliminate outdated or unnecessary regulations.

The three-person Public Assistance Board chairs rejection appeals filed by the Department of Health’s Office of Administrative Hearings in nine programs: Temporary Assistance to Families in Need, which provides money to low-income families with children; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps; Medicaid, the federal state program that pays for low-income health care; developmental disabilities services; Low Income Energy Assistance Program; weather assistance program; refugee assistance mental health services; and Healthy Montana Kids, the state’s children’s health insurance program.

The proposal to abolish the board of directors came as a surprise to at least one of its members, who learned about it from KHN. “I haven’t heard anything from the department,” said Sharon Bonojowski-Parker, a Billings resident appointed by Gianforte in March 2021.

Bonojowski-Parker said the board meets every two months. She recalled a “really good case” during her tenure in which the board returned benefits to a disabled veteran who had lost them due to forged documents by someone else.

But Bonogofsky-Parker estimated that the board supports department decisions about 90% of the time because most cases involve applicants who did not understand or follow the rules of the programs, whose income level has changed, or who have another obvious exclusion factor.

She said the council is providing a service by hearing appeals that would block the court system. “Overall, these issues are very trivial,” said Bonojowski-Parker. “The board is helpful in keeping a lot of these cases out of court.”

The view contrasts with that of Brierten, who described applicants’ ability to bring their grievances to court expeditiously as a benefit of the proposed change.

County courts charge a fee of $120 to start a proceeding of this type, according to the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse Clerk’s Office. This creates a potential obstacle for people trying to prove their eligibility for public assistance. By contrast, Public Assistance Board appeals are free of charge.

A spokesperson for the state health department, John Ebelt, said low-income people You can fill out a form To request a waiver of court fees. “This issue was considered during the conceptual stages of the bill,” he said.

Bonogofsky-Parker said she does not plan to oppose the department’s proposal, despite her view that the council serves as a bulwark against frivolous court cases. The other two board members, appointed Daniel Shine Gianforte and Caroline Pez Lopez, two former governors of Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, did not respond to phone messages or emails.

The Interim Committee on Children, Families, and Health and Human Services will draft the bill for consideration by the full legislature at the 2023 session.

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org Courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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