fare them well

tracking what’s changing for welfare, women and children

UPDATE: Lawyer says welfare letters demanding money illegal

Two weeks ago, a New Hampshire newspaper rippled the welfare waters by writing a stinging editorial that chided a government official whose office sent letters telling welfare recipients to pay back funds — plus six percent interest.

Welfare officials in the town of Epsom violated state law when they sent the letters, according to Bob Brazil in a recent story by the Concord Monitor.

Brazil is a lawyer with New Hampshire Legal Assistance. The article says Brazil is considering challenging the town and is looking for anyone who received the letter.

I smell a class action…

By law, only property owners – not renters – can be charged interest on past due welfare assistance. In addition, the town must wait a full year after it places a lien on a person’s property before it begins assessing interest. And there is a six-year limit on what towns can collect from welfare recipients who do not own property.

Brazil believes the town violated those rules by sending the letter to all welfare recipients, not just the ones with property, and by assessing interest earlier than allowed.

Epsom’s welfare administrator, Lisa Cote, confirmed last week that she sent a “blanket letter” to all welfare recipients and did not differentiate between property owners and renters. She said she may have erred in not telling all welfare recipients they were being charged interest on all debts.

Thing is, the law concerning welfare is not clear cut. Brazil said there is no limit to how far back a town can reach if it places a lien on someone’s property. The problem came when, at a town meeting in Sept., Cote claimed the letters would set a 6-year statute on collections. But when they letters were mailed in Oct., there was no mention of the 6-year limit.

Besides that confusion comes another conclusion: it seems there won’t be a limit on collections such as this anytime soon. Epsom is part of a trend when it comes to collecting fund from low-income families in New Hampshire. The paper says several towns – Pembroke, Northwood, Warner, Webster, Concord, Loudon, Canterbury, Boscawen and Pittsfield – also collect funds in similar fashion.

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November 10, 2007 - Posted by | Legally Speaking | , , ,

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