OAKLAND (AP) — California will no longer allow counties to seek refunds from former welfare recipients who were minors when their caregivers were overpaid.
It's a partial win for advocates who had sued on behalf of the recipients.
It was welcome news for a 19-year-old Riverside County woman. She was being asked to repay $766 mistakenly given to her mother four years ago. But another family named in the lawsuit is still on the hook. Clarence Ayers of Fresno County receives $334 a month for his 14-year-old great-granddaughter.
Attorney Patti Prunhuber of the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, which filed the suit last November on behalf of the welfare recipients, said the state decided only to halt collections from former recipients. In cases where the recipient is a minor whose caregiver is still receiving welfare, county welfare agencies will be allowed to continue pursuing the debt.
In a letter to the state's 58 county welfare programs, the Department of Social Services wrote that they were able to make the decision to stop collecting debts from former or emancipated minors unilaterally, without a change in the law.
In the past, agency officials had argued they are legally bound to pursue current and former minors for overpayments.
Michael Weston, a spokesman for the department, declined to comment on why current minors whose caregivers are receiving welfare payments on their behalf are excluded from the new rules. He cited the ongoing litigation.
"This action was taken to allow these young adults to move forward toward their independence and provide an opportunity toward self-sufficiency," Weston said. "The other population is still part of litigation, so I can't go too deep into it."
In the Ayers case, the state mistakenly paid the mother of Ayers' great- granddaughter nearly $3,000 over a decade ago, some of it before the child was born. Now, even though Ayers is her caregiver, officials are threatening to cut her monthly stipend.
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, praised the state's decision, and said state law should be altered so current minors may avoid past debts as well.