By Dustin Bennett, Albany Government Law Review
Statutes are created to set the law on a given topic that the government wishes to control, and are created for individuals as well as for governmental agencies to follow. In pursuit of enforcing these statutes, different agencies within the Executive Branch set regulations creating guidelines for the proposed class or classes to follow. State agencies and departments fall into one of the classes that may be required to follow these promulgated regulations.
The Federal Food Stamp program, which is an important part of federal benefits law, is one of these statutes. The department that deals with this law the most is the Department of Social Services (DSS), known under different titles depending on the state and administered at the county (or other jurisdictional) level. Regulations that departments such as DSS regularly face, to comply with these laws, are regulations regarding timeliness of benefits and hearing appeals. The departments deal with so many individual cases that some cases inevitably fall through the cracks. However, according to the regulation, all cases must be dealt with within a specified period of time. This has caused a dilemma for state departments. In determining the level to which an agency must comply with the regulation, case law has been created causing a circuit split on which level is sufficient. Most courts that have ruled on this issue have held that the departments must “strictly comply” with the federal regulation, meaning every case has to be dealt with within that regulation-created period of time. One circuit has ruled in favor of only requiring “substantial compliance,” but this compliance level has yet to be completely defined and implemented.
This article will give a brief overview of the case law regarding which level of compliance is currently required within the circuits, and why there may be such a back-and-forth concerning which level is the correct level. In conclusion, this article will explain why substantial compliance should be the preferred compliance level.