The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) cut off food assistance to Walter Barry, a low-income, developmentally disabled adult, because Mr. Barry’s identity had been used by someone else who committed a crime. Under a DHHS policy that automatically denies food assistance to anyone with an outstanding felony warrant, Mr. Barry’s benefits were terminated, even after he proved at an administrative hearing that the warrant was based on a crime that was committed by someone else.

Under federal food assistance law, states cannot terminate assistance based on outstanding warrants unless the state first determines that the person receiving benefits is in fact fleeing from justice. In 2013 the Center for Civil Justice and the ACLU of Michigan filed a class action lawsuit seeking to ensure that individuals like Mr. Barry do not go hungry due to the state’s unlawful policy. In 2015 Judge Judith Levy issued a decision ruling that DHHS could not deny benefits to people like Mr. Barry and certifying a class of approximately 20,000 people who are eligible for retroactive or future assistance as a result of the case.

The state appealed, and in 2016 the Sixth Circuit affirmed Judge Levy’s decision, clearing the way to restore an estimated $60 million in retroactive food assistance benefits owed to low-income households. In 2017 and 2018 we negotiated with the state to ensure that the retroactive benefits were properly paid. In 2019 and 2020 we have continued to negotiate with DHHS to ensure that the new policies they are developing comply with federal law and due process.

(Barry v. Lyon; ACLU Attorneys Miriam Aukerman and Sofia Nelson; Jacqueline Doig, Katie Linehan, Elan Nichols, Mario Azzi and Linda Jordan of the Center for Civil Justice.)