Disability Rights Groups Say Alameda County Fails To Identify Welfare Recipients With Mental Disabilities
Disability rights advocates on Wednesday filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco federal court alleging that Alameda County and its Social Services Agency violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and wrongfully deny general assistance payments and food stamps to county residents with mental disabilities by not properly identifying such residents or making it too difficult for them to identify themselves, the Contra Costa Times reports. The county requires most welfare applicants with mental disabilities to identify their conditions, but some applicants are unaware of their disabilities, do not understand how their disabilities can affect their benefits or want to avoid a perceived stigma in reporting disabilities, the Times reports (Ashley, Contra Costa Times, 7/8).
The suit, which also names the county Board of Supervisors and SSA Director Chet Hewitt as defendants, claims that about one-third of county welfare recipients have mental disabilities, but SSA says that only 2% of recipients are receiving benefits and aid for mental disabilities. The suit claims two of the "most-frequently cited reasons for denying benefits" are unfair to recipients with disabilities: a monthly eligibility report and a requirement that they work at least 80 hours per month, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Recipients with mental disabilities must provide medical proof to be exempt from work rules (Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/8).
Kevin Knestrick, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, one of the public-interest law firms representing the plaintiffs, said that as many as half of the 4,000 county welfare recipients who lost benefits last year for failing to meet these requirements had mental disabilities (Contra Costa Times, 6/8). "The county's really failed to make accommodations for implementing policies or procedures that help screen individuals for disabilities, especially mental disabilities," Knestrick said, adding, "They get terminated from benefits and have nowhere else to go" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/8). SSA spokesperson Sylvia Myles said the county largely must rely on self-reporting because recipients have said other methods can be invasive. "There's an issue of how far do you go with a person who wants to keep this information to themselves, who doesn't want to self-identify," Myles said (Contra Costa Times, 6/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.