UPDATE: Illinois Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Protecting SNAP Recipient & Places the Burden of Proof on IDHS

January 20, 2023

UPDATE: The Illinois Supreme Court has decided today in favor of the Appellee, in CHAUDHARY v. DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES. Within this opinion, the Court ruled that the Department of Human Services has the burden of proof when initiating taking away SNAP benefits a person already receives. Consequently, when the Department seeks to terminate, reduce, and/or issue overpayment recoupments for SNAP beneficiaries, they must bear the burden of proof to support their action.

Additionally, the amicus brief filed by Legal Council for Health Justice in coalition with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Equip For Equality, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, and Legal Aid Chicago, was favorably cited by the Court in its decision. The Court noted that, as cited in the amicus brief, many people who file a SNAP appeal are unrepresented at the hearing against knowledgeable Department staff, and the resulting “imbalance in representation and advantage,” also supports placing the burden of proof with the Department.

Statement: Advocates Urge Illinois Supreme Court to Protect SNAP Recipient

Last month, a coalition of organizations submitted an amicus brief urging the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold an appellate court decision that places the burden of proof on the state when it claims that a SNAP recipient has been overpaid benefits.

Our brief explained what’s at stake for people in these overpayment proceedings. SNAP is the nation’s largest and most important anti-hunger program. SNAP has been proven to reduce poverty, alleviate hunger, and promote positive health outcomes in all age groups. Recipients of SNAP benefits, including families with children, older adults and people with disabilities, face life-impacting consequences if erroneously deprived of SNAP benefits. Overpayment recoupments can strip very low income people of future wages, tax refunds, or Social Security benefits even years later.

Fairness demands assigning the state the burden of proof. SNAP recipients are often unrepresented by counsel when defending against overpayment allegations, and must advocate for themselves in a hearing. In those hearings, they face state staff that have familiarity with hearing practice, fluency with the complex rules of the program, and other tools that provide meaningful advantages in their advocacy–even when the recipient has a strong case.

In addition, SNAP recipients who are Black, non-English speaking, or are from religious or ethnic backgrounds that are different from the state staff or Administrative Law Judge also face implicit racism and cultural bias, particularly in cases where family relationships, cultural norms, and expected behaviors influence decisions about credibility and evidence.

Legal Council for Health Justice joined Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Equip for Equality, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, and Legal Aid Chicago in advocating for the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s decision, and require that the state prove the accuracy of its allegations from the moment it first raises them in a notice through every stage of appeal. Any other approach to this burden jeopardizes the health, wellness, and economic stability of low-income Illinoisans and harms us all.

The appellate court decision is Chaudhary v. Department of Human Services, 2021 IL App (2d) 200364.