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Judge Rules in Welfare Denials Case

December 31, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ A judge blocked welfare cuts for up to 6,000 families headed by someone with a disability, saying a confusing form letter illegally denied them the chance to get exemptions from the cutoff.

Superior Court Judge John C. Cratsley said Wednesday it was unreasonable for the state to reject parents’ claims they were too disabled to work simply because they did not comply with the instructions in the form letter.

Families headed by disabled adults are exempted from 1995 changes in the ``Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children″ program. The changes limit cash aid to two years, and require recipients to work 20 hours a week or be dropped from welfare rolls.

``This is a tremendous victory,″ James Breslauer, who represented welfare recipients in the case, said after Cratsley’s ruling.

He said the state rejected 10,000 disability claims between 1995 and last July 1, and that as many as 60 percent of the rejections were for not following instructions in a form letter. That could mean that as many as 6,000 families were affected.

The letter was sent by Healthpro, a private company hired to collect medical information and review disability claims. The company lost the state contract in July.

The letter told recipients seeking disability exemptions they must make an appointment with their doctor, notify Healthpro of the date of the appointment within 10 days in writing or to call if the appointment was within 10 days, fill out a medical release form and bring the form to the doctor.

Cratsley called the letter ``confusing; difficult to understand, complete and return; and technical in nature.″

Dick Powers, a spokesman for the state Department of Transitional Assistance, which administers the program, said it wasn’t clear if anybody who left the rolls was forced into hardship. They may have left for a variety of reasons, including getting a job, receiving child support they were due, moving to another state, or being accepted into the federal Supplemental Security Income program, which also assists the disabled.

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