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NACC Joins Amicus Brief Opposing Agency Practice of Claiming Children’s Social Security Benefits

Tuesday September 13, 2022

State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services, et al. vs. Z.C., through his next friend, Lorenz Kaufman

The plaintiffs, a certified class of foster children in the custody of Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services (OCS), received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Old Age, Survivor, and Disability Income (OASDI) Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) appointed OCS as the plaintiffs’ representative payee, which allowed OCS to apply these benefits to reimburse itself for the costs of the plaintiffs’ foster care. Consequently, the plaintiffs did not receive the public benefits to which they were entitled.

The plaintiffs filed suit against OCS, arguing that OCS’ failure to provide notice of this policy violated due process and equal protection mandates. The Superior Court granted the plaintiffs’ summary judgment on the due process claim; however, it denied their request for the imposition of a constructive trust and disgorgement to remedy the violation. The Superior Court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim. The plaintiffs filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court.

NACC joined several partner organizations in amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs’ cross-appeal from the Superior Court decision granting partial summary judgment in favor of OCS. Amici subsequently filed a brief seeking affirmance of the Superior Court order granting summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ due process claim under the Alaska Constitution. Amici first argue that OCS, not the SSA, is responsible for providing foster youth with notice of the award of benefits, OCS’ appointment as representative payee, and OCS’ policy of using these benefits to cover foster care costs. Next, they argue that OCS’ failure to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard “violate[d] due process because it deprive[d] the Foster Children of any opportunity to participate in the [representative payee] selection process.” Lastly, amici argue that the Social Security Act “has no provisions, express or implied, reflecting legislative intent to preempt state constitutional law requiring notice by state agencies.” Amici contend that the Superior Court judgment ordering OCS to provide notice to foster children who receive federal benefits should be affirmed. A decision is still pending before the Alaska Supreme Court.

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