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Baker Administration suspends DTA's error-riddled automated wage matches, but more work to be done!

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) directed the DTA to SUSPEND the automated DOR wage matches based on the extent of errors and confusion in this error filled match. The auto wage match notices and auto case closings were suspended on March 21st and will stay suspended until at least June 1st, or longer. 
EOHHS Secretary Sudders contacted MLRI on Monday afternoon to share this decision, said DTA was working on fixes and welcomed MLRI's recommendations for fixes. She also noted the volume of letters and calls the Governor and EOHHS had received from organizations and clients throughout the state. And I know for a fact that EOHHS and the Governor's Office have also heard from members of the State Legislature, the Congressional Delegation as well as USDA. I thanked Secretary Sudders profusely on behalf of MLRI and the SNAP Coalition members! This is GOOD NEWS! 
THANK YOU ALL for making noise on this terrible automated match, the many problems with DTA's modernization and for sending your letters to the Baker Administration and USDA. 
However, our work is NOT over: The Massachusetts SNAP caseload continues to decline at an alarming pace. DTA reported at yesterday's SNAP Coalition meeting another 5,000 to 6,000 SNAP closings in January, bringing the SNAP participation to a 10% decline from the Jan 2014 SNAP caseload !  The new Baker Administration inherited a train wreck on the backs of poor people. There is no other word for this: this is shameful!
Next steps for DTA?
DTA Acting Commissioner Massimo and other DTA Central Office staff attended yesterday's SNAP Coalition meeting. DTA Central confirmed the EOHHS directive. 
DTA workers will manually review the DOR matches with the information in the SNAP case record BEFORE sending any requests to clients for more employment information. DTA staff must review the wage match to see if they already have the earnings information in the record, and to see if the match is relevant or accurate  (One might ask why they have not done this all along?). DTA Central noted that SNAP workers will likely ask clients about DOR match wage information when they work on a case at SNAP application, recertification or during other "case maintenance" activities. 
It is still not clear exactly what information or verifications DTA workers will be seeking if there is a match. Nor is it clear if they will be directed to provide worker assistance to clients (such as DTA contacting the employer directly) or accept a client's sworn statements that the income is from a one-time or terminated source. Our hope is that DTA workers will recognize some of the obvious information that should get "dispositioned" (fixed) without any additional verification, such as the earnings of a child, college work study, income that terminated before the application or certification period, one-time earnings (such as the poll workers). We do not know yet these important details and will share more information as we receive it. 

Understanding the faulty "DOR Employment Verification" notice:
It is not clear if DTA will continue to use the same DOR wage match (Employment Verification) notice that has caused so much widespread confusion. At yesterday's Coalition meeting, MLRI distributed the attached memo to highlight the many problems with the very threatening, error-riddled DOR match notices themselves. These DOR verification notices have sent clients and organizations on a wild goose chase to get paperwork disproving erroneous match information. Many clients simply give up because they are scared, do not understand the notice, cannot get through the DTA Assistance Line and/or were not offered help. 
DTA also confirmed at the Coalition meeting that a bulk of the wage matches notices do not contain an accurate "start date" because DTA does not get that information from DOR or the employer. Hence, the BEACON system simply pulls a random date onto the notice, such as the date the client first applied for SNAP or was last certified! Seriously. And, as you can see from the attached samples, the notice may contain zero earnings, may contain a former employer name the client may not recognize (but has the same FEIN) or other crazy information. We also know of many SNAP clients where DTA has earnings on record and they get a match for the same earnings - suggesting they have done something wrong. The attachments may help you understand just how bad these DTA notices are. 
Next steps for you?
Please continue to track these erroneous cases.
  • Reach out to clients who lost SNAP or were denied and help them get back on.
  • Ask your local food pantries if they have clients who lost benefits.
  • Push back on DTA requests for outdated or irrelevant information.
  • Have the client sign a statement that authorizes DTA to contact an old employer if the client cannot readily get a document or the income is from a terminated source.
  • Continue to send letters to the Governor and EOHHS and USDA asking them to direct DTA to fix this mess.
  • KEEP UP THE NOISE! We need to reverse engines and bring low income households back on benefits.
Upcoming training:  MLRI and the Greater Boston Food Bank will be co-hosting a training end of April on how to understand and fix your client's SNAP cases and get them back the benefits they are due.  Stay tuned!
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