What Are Your Rights If A Health Problem Makes It Hard for You To Participate in ASPIRE Or PaS?

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In general, most people in ASPIRE must participate 30 hours per week and most people in Parents as Scholars (PaS) are expected to be in school full time. But if you or a family member has a physical or mental health problem that makes it hard for you to do this, DHHS must take that into consideration. 

Maine law requires DHHS to grant you "good cause."

Things you could ask of DHHS in order to accommodate the health problem in your family:

  • Reduce the number of hours that you must participate.

  • Change what you have to do.

  • Provide a service that makes it possible for you to participate.

  • Set up a meeting at your home or other location.

  • Not require you to participate. 

  • Do any other thing that accommodates your disability.

The rule says:

"Good cause for failure to comply with TANF-ASPIRE rules [includes] illness or incapacitation of the participant or her dependent children." 

[There are many other good cause reasons for not following ASPIRE rules as well - including domestic violence, lack of child care, lack of transportation, severe weather or other common sense reasons].

This means that when you set up your "family contract" with your ASPIRE caseworker, it should reflect what you are actually able to do given the health problem in your family. 

You also cannot be "sanctioned" (have your TANF and food stamps reduced) by DHHS if you violate an ASPIRE rule, cannot participate full-time, or somehow violate your family contract because of a health problem. 

For example, ASPIRE participation should not interfere with obtaining therapy for a child with special needs. 

Similarly, you should not be sanctioned for missing an ASPIRE appointment if your health problem caused you to miss it. 

Finally, if you want to participate in ASPIRE or PaS, but, because of a disability, need a particular service or reduced hours in order to successfully participate, DHHS ordinarily should accommodate that in your family contract as well.

When you set up your family contract:

Make sure that you explain your disability or your family member's special health care needs to your ASPIRE caseworker. 

You should also bring a note from your doctor or your family member's doctor saying what the disability is and how it affects your ability to participate in ASPIRE or work thirty hours a week.

If you disagree with your family contract:

  • Your caseworker is supposed to make "every effort" to come to an agreement with you about what your family contract says.

  • If your caseworker asks you to sign a family contract that you do not agree with, you should still sign it to avoid being sanctioned.
    BUT you should tell your worker that you disagree with the contract and check the box on the contract saying that you disagree with it. Then you will be given the opportunity for a conciliation meeting or a fair hearing to explain your situation.

  • If you have signed a contract but decide later that you disagree with it or that you simply cannot do all that it asks, you can ask for an amendment to make changes to your family contract, at any time.

  • If your request is denied, DHHS must put its reasoning in writing for you. You can then request a conciliation hearing and/or Fair Hearing if you still disagree.

What to do if you are sanctioned:

More information on sanctions

You cannot be sanctioned without a written notice in  advance. If you are sanctioned, remember that DHHS can only cut you out of the grant. They have to continue to give a smaller grant to your children. A sanction should never result in you getting no TANF check at all. 

You should call your caseworker and ask for a fair hearing as soon as you get the notice saying that you are going to be sanctioned. 

  • If you ask for a hearing within ten days of that notice, then your benefits will not be reduced while you are waiting for a fair hearing. 

  • If you appeal between ten and thirty days after the notice, your benefits will be cut while you are waiting for the appeal but you will get them back if you win. 

  • You cannot appeal more than thirty days after the notice of sanction.

March 2009