Suit claims state falling behind on benefits
Pregnant woman, advocacy groups seek class action
A pregnant Owings Mills mother of two and advocacy groups for the poor have sued the Maryland Department of Human Resources over the agency's failure to provide her food stamps and Medicaid.
"I think this is the best way I could have gone, because nothing was happening," said the woman, Miracyle Thompson. "Every day I was checking the mail. Some days I was checking it twice."
Thompson said she and her husband, Jason, go without meals for the sake of the children, ages 1 and 2, both of whom suffer from sickle cell anemia.
"The kids' medicine, those bills add up. A lot of times they have to go without because we do not have the money to get all the medicine they need," said Miracyle Thompson, 20. "I know if we struggle, there are thousands of other people going through the same thing."
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, asks Baltimore City Circuit Court to declare the delay a violation of state and federal laws and to force the department to follow mandated time frames in issuing benefits.
It asks to be certified as a class action suit, potentially affecting thousands of low-income Maryland residents.
Many people are in the same situation as the Thompsons, said Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore.
"There are a lot of people who are struggling to get by, and they need the food stamps and the health care. These are basic life essentials that families need," Johnson said. "There really is not that much factually different between her and thousands and thousands of families who apply for these benefits every month."
Elyn Jones, a DHR spokeswoman, said the department was still looking at all the issues in the lawsuit.
In the meantime, the Thompson family received food stamps and Medicaid benefits Thursday morning, said Debra Gardner, legal director of the Public Justice Center.
The Thompsons live with his mother in Owings Mills. Miracyle Thompson is eight months pregnant and unemployed.
Jason Thompson works at an AT&T store and earns about $800 to $900 a month, according to the lawsuit. He does not have health insurance.
Miracyle Thompson said she took her boys for medical treatment in November to University of Maryland Hospital. There, she applied for medical assistance, but three months later she hadn't heard anything.
On March 3, she visited the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, where she applied again for food stamps and Medicaid. She received Medicaid only for herself shortly afterward.
Then, on April 5, according to the lawsuit, she received a letter that her family's applications had been held up because of an "agency delay beyond our control."
Federal law says food stamps should be provided to eligible families within 30 days of application and Medicaid within 45 days. State law says food stamps should be provided within seven days and Medicaid within 30 days.
Miracyle Thompson saw a brochure at the Women, Infants and Children Office, which got her in contact with the Public Justice Center and the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore.
"She wanted to get help immediately, but she also wanted to try to do something to help the other folks who are in her position. That's the point of the class action," Gardner said.
Also assisting Miracyle Thompson is the National Center for Law and Economic Justice of New York.
Laura Redman, staff attorney with the center, said states have a long history of delaying benefits, and the economy is only making it worse.
"The national need is increasing for food stamps and Medicaid, and states are having difficulty with keeping up with that need," Redman said.