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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Some unaware of felony warrants lose food, child benefits; court says that's wrong

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People whose food, cash, and child-care benefits were cut off  by the Michigan Department of Human Services because of an outstanding felony warrant may be able to get their benefits back. 

The Michigan Department of Health  and Human Services  (MDHHS) sent out notices this week explaining how to get the benefits reinstated after a federal district court found that the MDHHS denials violated federal law and the constitution.

The court ruled that MDHHS cannot deny or cut off these benefits just because a person has an outstanding felony warrant. It must also determine that the person is intentionally fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody, and that law enforcement is actively seeking the person. 

"In a very large majority of these cases, individuals simply don't know they have a warrant," said Miriam Aukerman, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which challenged the MDHHS policy in court.

"Vulnerable families were not only cut off from desperately needed assistance but they were left in the dark about why they were disqualified," she said. 

Aukerman said the cutoff notices did not include any specific information about the outstanding felony warrant, so people were unable to take the necessary steps to regain assistance. 

About 15,000 people were sent illegal cutoff notices by MDHHS, according to Aukerman.

MDHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton said the department has appealed the lower court's decision.