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Indiana Supreme Court ruling provides for neediest Hoosiers

When Sheila Perdue received a missive from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) telling her she had to be certified by telephone to receive the benefits she'd gotten for several years, she phoned the agency as requested. But because of her severe disabilities, including nerve damage to both of her ears, she was unable to hear or respond to much of what the interviewer said.

During the call, Perdue informed the interviewer that she couldn't hear properly over the phone. She asked to be seen in-person but was denied. By the end of the call, she had heard enough to realize that she had to provide documentation to the FSSA to demonstrate her eligibility for benefits, so she gathered every document she could think of and traveled to the FSSA's local Help Center in Anderson, Indiana. Once there, she asked for help to make sure she had given the office what they needed, but again was denied. She left thinking she had done her best to provide all the documents the agency had requested.

Nevertheless, months later Perdue received a notice from FSSA informing her she would be terminated from the benefit programs because of a "failure to cooperate" in establishing her eligibility. Tens of thousands of Hoosiers with severe disabilities heard the same line and experienced the same frustrating denial of benefits. Whether deaf, blind or suffering severe mental or intellectual disabilities, the procedural safeguards needed to enable them to comply with the plethora of FSSA's bureaucratic requirements did not exist.

The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit in 2008 on Perdue's behalf, and the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling in 2012 resulted in changes to FSSA's intake process for applicants and recipients of Medicaid, Food Stamp, TANF and Hoosier Healthwise benefits. The Court ruled that FSSA's failure to specify which documents it believed were not received violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it affirmed the State's obligation to inform benefit applicants of the specific reasons for denying claims.

Download a copy of the decision