Applying for Public Benefits
Legal Disclaimer: The following is basic legal information, provided as a public service by Wyoming’s lawyers. The information provided is not a substitute for speaking to an attorney. Only an attorney can give you legal advice regarding your specific situation. Click here for help finding a lawyer.
- Am I eligible for public benefits?
- What rights do I have regarding public benefits?
- I think I was discriminated against. What are my rights regarding fair treatment and equal access to services?
- How do I file a discrimination complaint against a public benefits agency?
- What if I was denied benefits, or the agency wants to stop or change my benefits?
- I received a notice about overpayment. What does that mean?
- Can I appeal the overpayment?
- How do agencies collect on overpayments?
- What if the agency is accusing me of fraud?
- The benefits agency needs my birth (or a death) certificate. How do I get a copy?
Most benefits programs are limited to a specific group of persons by qualifications like where you live, age, disability, dependent children, and often by income. You should read the program descriptions carefully for more information.
Some lawyers specialize in claims for disability, veteran’s benefits, worker’s compensation, or education-related benefits, and they may be able to help you prepare your application. Click here for help finding a lawyer.
When you apply:
- You must be truthful about your qualifications. If you lie about your qualifications, the agency may accuse you of fraud. A charge of fraud will lead to a loss of benefits and possibly criminal charges.
- Provide all of the information requested. Read the application carefully. Answer all of the questions that are asked. Make sure you provide all of the documents requested. The agency needs this information to prove that you qualify for the benefit. If you do not give the agency enough information, your benefits may be denied or delayed.
Once you are receiving benefits, you should make sure you follow the program guidelines carefully. Usually, you must notify the program if your qualifications change. If you do not notify the program of a change in your qualifications, you may be liable for fraud.
You have a right to be treated fairly. Even though public benefit programs are limited to specific groups of persons, all agencies that provide public benefits must treat you fairly, which means they cannot unfairly discriminate against you.
You have a right to appeal if benefits are denied or changed. If you are denied benefits, or your benefits were reduced or stopped, you usually have a right to appeal. This means that you have a right to argue why you should get or keep your benefits. However, you must follow the appeal instructions carefully, or you may lose your right. See more below.
I think I was discriminated against. What are my rights regarding fair treatment and equal access to services?
All agencies that run health care, social services and economic assistance programs must treat you fairly. Some examples of unfair treatment or discrimination are:
- If you are denied Food Support because of your age;
- If you are a deaf applicant and an agency does not provide you with a free qualified sign language interpreter;
- If you have a physical disability and cannot access the floor where the program offices are located;
- If you do not speak English well and an agency does not offer and provide you with a language interpreter.
In Wyoming, you are protected from discrimination in human service programs based on:
- national origin
- sexual orientation
- disability, or
- status with regard to public assistance.
This means you are protected from unfair treatment that would come from being a member of these groups or classes of people.
Most public benefits programs have a civil rights contact person who makes sure that applicants and clients have fair and equal access to programs and services. This person is responsible for:
- Handling discrimination complaints;
- Keeping civil right records and files;
- Giving out information about civil rights laws to program workers, county and community agencies, applicants, clients and members of the public.
If you believe that someone working for a state, county, or other human services agency treated you unfairly because of your race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, creed, religion, political beliefs, disability or status with regard to public assistance, you may file a complaint with the program, usually with the civil rights contact person.
You may also contact the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, (202) 514-4609 (TTY: (202) 514-0716)
Sometimes there is a time limit to file the complaint, so you should file as soon as possible after the discrimination occurred.
Improtant! If you file a complaint against a human services agency, agency workers cannot punish you in any way for filing the complaint. This protection applies also to anyone who gives information about the complaint. If agency staff punish you or make things hard for you because you filed a complaint, this may be retaliation. If this happens to you, you should report the behavior to the agency’s civil rights office.
If you need help to fill out the complaint, you may ask the agency. Most agencies will provide help to fill-out the complaint form. Help may include:
- Reasonable accommodation for a disability, such as a sign language interpreter or large print materials.
- Free interpreters for limited English speakers or those who do not speak English at all.
If you disagree with an agency decision to deny, reduce or stop your benefits, you usually have a right to appeal. Keep in mind that different agencies have different processes, or steps, to file an appeal. Often the appeal will involve a hearing in front of a judge. But there is usually paperwork that needs to be filed first.
To get started:
- First, take action right away. You should have received a letter or some other form of notice regarding the denial or change in benefits. Read this letter carefully. Usually, you have a strict time limit to file your appeal. This means that if you do not file your appeal on time, you may lose your right to do anything else.
- You should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Some lawyers specialize in appeals for disability, veteran’s benefits, worker’s compensation, or education. Your local legal aid office may also be able to help. Click here for help finding a lawyer.
- If you cannot find a lawyer, or choose to do the appeal yourself, you must follow the instructions carefully. Your letter may have some instructions. You should start by following the instructions on your letter or calling the agency for more information.
An overpayment happens when you receive benefits you are not eligible for or you recive more benefits that you should have according to the benefit agency rules. These rules should be available to you at the agency office. The benefit agency gets the money back by charging you with an overpayment. There are three situations where you might be charged with an overpayment:
- Intentional overpayment: the overpayment is intentional if you did not give the agency information that you knew you should have, or that you knew was wrong (you lied). If the agency thinks your overpayment was intentional, your case may be referred to the county prosecuting attorney for welfare fraud. See the fraud question below.
- Unintentional overpayment: the overpayment is unintentional if it happened because of an honest mistake. However, even if you made an unintentional mistake, you may have to pay back the money
- Administrative error: Sometimes the overpayment happens because the agency made a mistake. Even if the agency was the one who made the mistake, you may still have to pay back the money.
If you have received a notice about overpayment, you should take action immediately. Call or stop by your agency office as soon as possible if your rights are not clear from your notice. You can also click here for help finding a lawyer.You have the right to fight the overpayment by asking for a fair hearing. You may want to argue any or all of the following:
- Whether there was an overpayment at all;
- The amount of the overpayment;
- Whether you should have to pay back an unintentional overpayment or an administrative error;
- Whether the overpayment was intentional; or
- Sometimes, whether the agency acted timely in finding or notifying you about the overpayment (there are time limits that may apply).
Usually, you have a strict time limit to ask for the appeal.
Important! For some benefits, you have to ask for a hearing within 10 days of the notice to continue your benefits. However, If you appeal an overpayment or denial of benefits and request to continue to receive benefits during the appeal, it may increase the amount you have to pay back if it is determined that you continued to receive benefits during the appeal that you were not eligible for. You may want to discuss your options with a lawyer. Click here for help finding a lawyer.
To collect on overpayments, the agency can reduce the amount of your grant. If you are no longer receiving benefits, the agency can refer your case for federal collections. Federal collection allows for garnishment of your federal tax refund or social security benefits (in some cases) in addition to normal collection procedures like garnishment of your wages and bank accounts, and/or filing of liens against your property. You may avoid potential garnishment by negotiating a repayment agreement with the agency based on what you can afford.
If the agency decides that you committed fraud, you will likely be denied benefits, may lose eligibility for future benefits, may have to repay benefits you already received, and even be prosecuted with criminal charges.
You should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Click here for help finding a lawyer. If you are charged with a crime, ask for a public defender and do not make any statements to the agency until you have talked with your defender. Click here to find your local public defenders office.
You should contact the Vital Records Office in the state where you were born (or where the person died).
In Wyoming, you may contact Vital Statistics Services at:
- Phone: (307) 777-7591
- In-Person: 2300 Capitol Avenue (Hathaway Building), Cheyenne, WY 82002.