Articles Posted in Public Benefits

by
Petitioner Kelly Hagenbuch challenged the termination of her food stamp benefits by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (department). The department terminated the benefits because it found that her income exceeded the maximum amount permitted by the program. In calculating petitioner’s income, the department included distributions from an irrevocable trust, of which petitioner was the sole beneficiary, that had been made by the trustee to third parties. These distributions included payments for trust expenses and for legal fees that the petitioner had incurred to obtain public benefits. This case presented an issue of first impression in New Hampshire: whether a distribution made by the trustee of an irrevocable trust to third parties counted as income to the trust beneficiary for the purpose of determining food stamp benefits. The narrow question before the New Hampshire Supreme Court was whether the trust distributions were “owed” to the petitioner. The Court did not decide the validity of the premise underlying the department’s argument—that because the money used to establish the Trust was derived from the settlement of the petitioner’s personal injury lawsuit, the Trust was established with the petitioner’s “own funds.” Even assuming that the premise was correct, the Court concluded that the vendor payment exclusion applied to the trust distributions because the regulations do not recognize the distinction that the department attempts to draw regarding trusts originally funded by the household. In this case, given that the distributions made by the trustee to third parties were not owed to the petitioner—and therefore, were excluded vendor payments—the department should have excluded the trust distributions from the petitioner’s income. Accordingly, the Court reversed the presiding officer’s decision that the department properly counted the trust distributions as income. View "Petition of Kelly Hagenbuch" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's review called for the Court to determine the constitutionality of New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-W 654.04(c). The rule required DHHS to include a child’s federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in the calculation of a family’s eligibility for benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), as administered by the State’s Financial Assistance to Needy Families program (FANF). Plaintiffs Carrie Hendrick and Jamie Birmingham were mothers whose children received SSI and FANF benefits, and whose benefits were ultimately cut by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their children, seeking a declaratory judgment that DHHS’s “inclusion of children’s SSI in FANF assistance group income is unlawful and void” pursuant to applicable federal law. In addition, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that Rule He-W 654.04 “is invalid because it impairs [their] legal rights.” Plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction enjoining DHHS from including children’s SSI in FANF assistance group income and an award of attorney’s fees “because this litigation will result in a substantial benefit to the public.” After requesting that the Solicitor General of the United States file an amicus brief in this matter, and after reviewing that brief, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Solicitor General that the Supremacy Clause did not permit the State to redirect federal benefits as required by Rule He-W 654.04(c). The rule, by counting a disabled child’s SSI benefits as income available to the child’s “assistance group,” treated the child’s benefits as a source of income for the entire household. The rule, thereby, reduced a household’s TANF benefit by one dollar for every dollar in SSI that was received by a disabled child in the household. Because the rule “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress,” the New Hampshire Court held that Rule He-W 654.04(c) was preempted by federal law and, thus, invalid to the extent that it required inclusion of children’s SSI as income to the TANF assistance group for the purpose of determining eligibility for TANF benefits. View "Hendrick v. New Hampshire Dept. of Health & Human Svcs." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Estate of Thea Braiterman filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging a final decision of the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), that upheld the determination that applicant Thea Braiterman was ineligible for Medicaid-Old Age Assistance (Medicaid-OAA) benefits because her assets exceeded the eligibility threshold. On appeal, petitioner argued that the AAU erroneously found that the Thea G. Braiterman Irrevocable Trust (the Trust) was includable as an asset for the purpose of determining applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid-OAA benefits. Petitioner argued, and DHHS did not dispute, that petitioner’s challenge was not moot even though applicant had died prior to the conclusion of this matter. Given the facts of this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court could not say that there were no circumstances under which payments from the Trust could be made “for the benefit” of the applicant. “Finally, we take this opportunity to stress that we have no doubt that self-settled, irrevocable trusts may, if so structured, so insulate trust assets that those assets will be deemed unavailable to the settlor.” The Trust in this case was not such a vehicle. In the Supreme Court's view, the Trust, as structured, allowed applicant “a degree of discretionary authority that would . . . permit [her] to enjoy her assets, preserve those assets for her heirs, and receive public assistance, to, in effect, have her cake and eat it too." As such, the Court denied certiorari. View "Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Christopher Boisvert appealed his conviction for welfare fraud. Defendant was the father of Carrie Gray's two children. He and Gray moved into a Bristol apartment in 2009 or 2010. Defendant's name was removed from the lease at some point prior to late 2010. On December 31, 2010, defendant filed an application for public assistance. On January 14, 2011, he met with a department of health and human services representative and stated that he was homeless and had no resources; he was certified to receive benefits. Defendant was recertified for benefits at six-month intervals, and again reported in June 2011 and December 2011 that he was homeless. Between December 2010 and March 2012, Gray received medical, food stamp, and cash public assistance. The total amount of assistance that she received was calculated based upon a household consisting only of Gray and her children. She would not have been eligible for the same level of benefits if defendant had disclosed that he was living in the apartment. At some point, the special investigations unit of the department of health and human services received an allegation of welfare fraud concerning Gray. After interviewing witnesses and reviewing records provided by Gray and defendant, the investigator concluded that the case should be referred to the county attorney's office. Defendant was subsequently indicted on one count of welfare fraud. Because it was alleged that the value of the fraudulently obtained payments exceeded $1,000, the offense was classified as a class A felony. The case went to trial, and at the close of the State's case, defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the State had failed to present sufficient evidence that he was living with Gray during the relevant time period. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury found defendant guilty. This appeal followed. He argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that the Superior Court erred by denying: (1) defendant's motion to dismiss that challenged the sufficiency of the evidence; and (2) his request to give an accomplice liability jury instruction. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Boisvert" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Scott Anderson appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to respondents, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS) and the State, and denying summary judgment to Anderson and three other petitioners. Anderson was a retired Plaistow police officer who was a member of the NHRS, and the only petitioner who appealed. After retiring, he worked part-time as a police officer in Plaistow, Atkinson, and Hampstead. When he retired, RSA 100-A:1, XXXIV provided that "[p]art-time," for the purposes of employing a NHRS retiree meant, "employment by an [NHRS] employer" of no more than "32 hours in a normal calendar week," or if the work hours in some weeks exceeded thirty-two hours, then no more than "1,300 hours in a calendar year." Anderson understood that provision "to mean [he] could work potentially up to 32 hours per week for Plaistow, up to 32 hours per week for Atkinson, and up to 32 hours per week for Hampstead." In 2012, the legislature amended RSA 100-A:1, XXXIV to provide that "[p]art-time," for the purposes of employing a NHRS retiree, "means employment during a calendar year by one or more employers of the retired member which shall not exceed 32 hours in each normal calendar week," or if the work hours in some weeks exceed thirty-two hours, then no more than 1,300 hours in a calendar year. In August 2012, Anderson and three other NHRS retirees petitioned for declaratory and injunctive relief. Anderson contended that to apply the 2012 amendment to him violated Part I, Article 23 of the New Hampshire Constitution. Specifically, he asserted that, as a result of the 2012 amendment, he would be "restored to service" under RSA 100-A:7 (2013) and, thus, lose his retirement benefits if he worked more than "[p]art-time" as defined in RSA 100-A:1, XXXIV. Under RSA 100-A:7, when a retiree is "restored to service," his "retirement allowance shall cease," and he "shall again become a member of the [NHRS] and . . . shall contribute" to that system. Anderson contended that the 2012 amendment substantially impaired his vested right because its effect is to restore him to service if he works more than thirty-two hours per week or 1,300 hours per year for any combination of NHRS employers, even if he did not work full-time hours for any single NHRS employer. Thereafter, the petitioners moved for summary judgment, and the State cross-moved for summary judgment. The trial court ruled in the State's favor, and Anderson's appeal followed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Anderson v. Executive Director, New Hampshire Retirement System" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner David Eskeland began work at the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game in 1990 and, accordingly, became a mandatory member of the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS). On October 1, 2010, he retired from the Department of Fish and Game with twenty years and three months of creditable service, at which point he began receiving his service retirement pension. After he retired, a friend told the petitioner that he should have retired on a disability retirement allowance rather than on a service retirement allowance. As a result of this conversation, and three months after he retired, petitioner filed an application for accidental disability retirement based upon work-related injuries he sustained in 2002 and 2004. In December, 2011, the board accepted the hearings examiner's recommendation to deny the petitioner's application for accidental disability retirement. The recommendation was based upon a medical certification that the petitioner was not permanently incapacitated by a work-related injury because he had worked full-time, without accommodation, for six years following his most recently accepted workers' compensation injury. Petitioner moved for reconsideration, and the board referred the request to the hearings examiner. In reviewing the request for reconsideration, the hearings examiner became aware of a potential jurisdictional issue and notified petitioner that, because he "was a beneficiary when he applied for disability retirement, his membership appears to have terminated and the Board of Trustees appears to lack jurisdiction to award him a disability retirement." After a three-day hearing, the hearings examiner recommended that the board find that it did not have jurisdiction to grant accidental disability retirement benefits. The board accepted the recommendation. Finding no reversible error with the Board's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Petition of David Eskeland" on Justia Law

by
This case involved a petition for injunctive and declaratory relief brought by plaintiffs Harbor Homes, Inc. and Gary Dube, Thomas Taylor, Cynthia Washington, and Arthur Furber against defendants the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Commissioner of DHHS, the Associate Commissioner of DHHS, and the Administrator of the Bureau of Behavioral Health seeking, in part, to enjoin DHHS from denying the individual plaintiffs the right to obtain Medicaid-funded services from their chosen provider, Harbor Homes. The individual plaintiffs received Medicaid-funded rehabilitative services from Harbor Homes. Since 1991, Harbor Homes participated in New Hampshire's Medicaid program pursuant to a Medicaid Provider Enrollment Agreement. On June 23, 2008, Harbor Homes entered into an interagency agreement (IAA) with a community mental health program, Community Council of Nashua, NH, now known as Greater Nashua Mental Health Center (GNMHC), which authorized Harbor Homes to provide certain Medicaid-funded rehabilitative services to GNMHC patients. In February 2011, Harbor Homes learned that GNMHC did not intend to renew its IAA and that the Medicaid reimbursable services provided by Harbor Homes would be transitioned to GNMHC. This was done pursuant to Administrative Rule He-M 426.04(a)(2), which meant that Harbor Homes would no longer have an IAA with a community mental health provider, and it would no longer be permitted to provide Medicaid funded mental health services to approximately one hundred and forty of its clients, including the individual plaintiffs in this case. Plaintiffs filed a petition for injunctive and declaratory relief, seeking a court order enjoining DHHS from "terminating or limiting Harbor Homes' status as a qualified Medicaid provider" and to direct the State to allow the individual plaintiffs to obtain community mental health services from Harbor Homes, the provider of their choice. Following two hearings, the court denied the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. Thereafter, all parties moved for partial summary judgment on the plaintiffs' claim that DHHS's reliance upon the IAA requirement as a reason to terminate Harbor Homes' status as a qualified Medicaid provider was improper because the requirement was invalid both on its face and as applied in this case. Plaintiffs appealed rulings of the Superior Court that denied their summary judgment motions and granting the defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment on two counts in the plaintiffs' petition. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court's ruling that New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-M 426.04(a)(2) did not violate the federal Medicaid Act. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Dube v. New Hampshire Dept. of Health & Human Svcs." on Justia Law

by
The New Hampshire Department of Employment Security (DES) Appellate Board (board) appealed a decision that respondent Norman Coulombe was an employee of petitioner, Niadni, Inc. (d/b/a Indian Head Resort Motel) who was entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. Coulombe appeared as a musical entertainer at the resort in both solo and group performances beginning in approximately 1980. He also performed at other venues but testified that he performed at the resort nearly three hundred times in the last two years that he worked there. The resort and Coulombe negotiated a pay rate for Coulombe’s services, and he was paid weekly for his performances. He provided his own instruments and selected the songs he would play in his performances, though the resort asked him to perform new material prior to the end of his relationship with the resort. He reported that his last booking with the resort was in the summer of 2012, after which the relationship terminated. He subsequently filed for unemployment benefits with DES. Finding none of the Resort's arguments persuasive to reverse the Appellate Board's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Niadni, Inc. d/b/a Indian Head Resort Motel" on Justia Law

by
Claimant William Stewart appealed a decision of the appeal tribunal, as affirmed by the appellate board of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security (DES) that denied his application for unemployment benefits. Stewart worked as the code enforcement director for the City of Laconia from March 14 to June 29, 2011. Following his termination, Stewart applied for unemployment benefits. A DES certifying officer denied the application. The officer determined that Stewart did not have annual earnings of at least $1,400 in two of four quarters of his alternate base period. Stewart appealed the decision to the tribunal. He argued that he had earnings of at least $1,400 in both the third and fourth quarters of his alternate base period. Following a hearing, the tribunal affirmed the decision denying Stewart’s claim. Stewart argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that the tribunal erred in concluding that he had insufficient quarterly earnings under RSA 282-A:25 to establish a claim for benefits. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that DES’s reliance on its decision in "Appeal of Tennis" was misplaced. View "Appeal of William Stewart" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Kenneth Bond and Deborah Thibault, on behalf of themselves and a class of others similarly situated, appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to the defendants, the City of Manchester and Paul Martineau in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Manchester Welfare Department (collectively, the City). In January 2010, the plaintiffs applied for general assistance from the City pursuant to RSA chapter 165. See RSA 165:1, I (2002). On February 24, 2010, the City approved $140.00 per week in rental assistance. On March 18, 2010, the City suspended this assistance for seven days because of the plaintiffs' failure to provide certain documentation, including that which related to $30 the plaintiffs used to buy gas for a vehicle. The City lifted this suspension on March 25, 2010, noting that the plaintiffs were "unable to show compliance with the $30 purchase of vehicle gas that [they] stated [they] had previously purchased through an alternate financial resource." On April 9, 2010, the City revoked an April 8 voucher and denied the plaintiffs all assistance for six months because they had misrepresented information related to their vehicle. The plaintiffs petitioned the superior court to enjoin the City from suspending their assistance. Because the Supreme Court held that RSA 165:1-b and the Guidelines pertaining to rental assistance actually conflict, the Court reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Bond v. Martineau" on Justia Law