In recognition of the difficulties that recipients of essential safety net benefits might have in challenging a denial or termination of those benefits, the Council has extended the statutory deadline for challenging such agency actions. This provision adds to the benefits protections that the Council has already authorized the District government to enact, and which the District of Columbia Departments of Human Services and Health Care Finance enacted by suspending the termination of benefits and reporting requirements during the pandemic.
The District of Columbia Public Assistance Act gives people receiving or applying for SNAP (Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid and the D.C. Health Care Alliance 90 days to challenge denials, terminations or reductions in these benefits. Normally, these challenges can be filed by mail, fax, email, online, telephone or in person. At this time, though, the Office of Administrative Hearings (the agency that considers such hearing requests) is operating remotely. This means that, in addition to facing daunting barriers in their daily lives, District residents have fewer options for submitting these challenges. Accordingly, the Council has “tolled” the deadline for submitting these challenges, which means that days during the COVID-19 emergency period (starting March 18 until the declared end of the emergency) do not count towards the 90 days that people have to submit a challenge.
Given that our clients are under such enormous stress from the impact of this pandemic, we applaud the Council for taking this simple action that will make it easier for clients to challenge incorrect or unlawful agency actions that deny or limit their access to vital public benefits.