7 CFR 246.9 - Fair hearing procedures for participants.
(a) Availability of hearings. The State agency shall provide a hearing procedure through which any individual may appeal a State or local agency action which results in a claim against the individual for repayment of the cash value of improperly issued benefits or results in the individual's denial of participation or disqualification from the Program.
(b) Hearing system. The State agency shall provide for either a hearing at the State level or a hearing at the local level which permits the individual to appeal a local agency decision to the State agency. The State agency may adopt local level hearings in some areas, such as those with large caseloads, and maintain only State level hearings in other areas.
(c) Notification of appeal rights. At the time of a claim against an individual for improperly issued benefits or at the time of participation denial or of disqualification from the Program, the State or local agency shall inform each individual in writing of the right to a fair hearing, of the method by which a hearing may be requested, and that any positions or arguments on behalf of the individual may be presented personally or by a representative such as a relative, friend, legal counsel or other spokesperson. Such notification is not required at the expiration of a certification period.
(d) Request for hearing. A request for a hearing is defined as any clear expression by the individual, the individual's parent, caretaker, or other representative, that he or she desires an opportunity to present his or her case to a higher authority. The State or local agency shall not limit or interfere with the individual's freedom to request a hearing.
(e) Time limit for request. The State or local agency shall provide individuals a reasonable period of time to request fair hearings; provided that, such time limit is not less than 60 days from the date the agency mails or gives the applicant or participant the notice of adverse action.
(f) Denial or dismissal of request. The State and local agencies shall not deny or dismiss a request for a hearing unless -
(1) The request is not received within the time limit set by the State agency in accordance with paragraph (e) of this section;
(2) The request is withdrawn in writing by the appellant or a representative of the appellant;
(3) The appellant or representative fails, without good cause, to appear at the scheduled hearing; or
(4) The appellant has been denied participation by a previous hearing and cannot provide evidence that circumstances relevant to Program eligibility have changed in such a way as to justify a hearing.
(g) Continuation of benefits. Participants who appeal the termination of benefits within the 15 days advance adverse action notice period provided by § 246.7(j)(6) must continue to receive Program benefits until the hearing official reaches a decision or the certification period expires, whichever occurs first. This does not apply to applicants denied benefits at initial certification, participants whose certification periods have expired, or participants who become categorically ineligible for benefits. Applicants who are denied benefits at initial certification, participants whose certification periods have expired, or participants who become categorically ineligible during a certification period may appeal the denial or termination within the timeframes set by the State agency in accordance with paragraph (e) of this section, but must not receive benefits while awaiting the hearing or its results.
(h) Rules of procedure. State and local agencies shall process each request for a hearing under uniform rules of procedure and shall makes these rules of procedure available for public inspection and copying. At a minimum, such rules shall include: The time limits for requesting and conducting a hearing; all advance notice requirements; the rules of conduct at the hearing; and the rights and responsibilities of the appellant. The procedures shall not be unduly complex or legalistic.
(i) Hearing official. Hearings shall be conducted by an impartial official who does not have any personal stake or involvement in the decision and who was not directly involved in the initial determination of the action being contested. The hearing official shall -
(1) Administer oaths or affirmations if required by the State;
(2) Ensure that all relevant issues are considered;
(3) Request, receive and make part of the hearing record all evidence determined necessary to decide the issues being raised;
(4) Regulate the conduct and course of the hearing consistent with due process to ensure an orderly hearing;
(5) Order, where relevant and necessary, an independent medical assessment or professional evaluation from a source mutually satisfactory to the appellant and the State agency; and
(6) Render a hearing decision which will resolve the dispute.
(j) Conduct of the hearing. The State or lcoal agency shall ensure that the hearing is accessible to the appellant and is held within three weeks from the date the State or local agency received the request for a hearing. The State or local agency shall provide the appellant with a minimum of 10 days advance written notice of the time and place of the hearing and shall enclose an explanation of the hearing procedure with the notice. The State or local agency shall also provide the appellant or representative an opportunity to -
(1) Examine, prior to and during the hearing, the documents and records presented to support the decision under appeal;
(2) Be assisted or represented by an attorney or other persons;
(3) Bring witnesses;
(4) Advance arguments without undue interference;
(5) Question or refute any testimony or evidence, including an opportunity to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses; and
(6) Submit evidence to establish all pertinent facts and circumstances in the case.
(k) Fair hearing decisions.
(1) Decisions of the hearing official shall be based upon the application of appropriate Federal law, regulations and policy as related to the facts of the case as established in the hearing record. The verbatim transcript or recording of testimony and exhibits, or an official report containing the substance of what transpired at the hearing, together with all papers and requests filed in the proceeding, constitute the exclusive record for a final decision by hearing official. The State or local agency shall retain the hearing record in accordance with § 246.25 and make these records available, for copying and inspection, to the appellant or representative at any reasonable time.
(2) The decision by the hearing official shall summarize the facts of the case, specify the reasons for the decision, and identify the supporting evidence and the pertinent regulations or policy. The decision shall become a part of the record.
(3) Within 45 days of the receipt of the request for the hearing, the State or local agency shall notify the appellant or representative in writing of the decision and the reasons for the decision in accordance with paragraph (k)(2) of this section. If the decision is in favor of the appellant and benefits were denied or discontinued, benefits shall begin immediately. If the decision concerns disqualification and is in favor of the agency, as soon as administratively feasible, the local agency shall terminate any continued benefits, as decided by the hearing official. If the decision regarding repayment of benefits by the appellant is in favor of the agency, the State or local agency shall resume its efforts to collect the claim, even during pendency of an appeal of a local-level fair hearing decision to the State agency. The appellant may appeal a local hearing decision to the State agency, provided that the request for appeal is made within 15 days of the mailing date of the hearing decision notice. If the decision being appealed concerns disqualification from the Program, the appellant shall not continue to receive benefits while an appeal to the State agency of a decision rendered on appeal at the local level is pending. The decision of a hearing official at the local level is binding on the local agency and the State agency unless it is appealed to the State level and overturned by the State hearing official.
(4) The State and local agency shall make all hearing records and decisions available for public inspection and copying; however, the names and addresses of participants and other members of the public shall be kept confidential.
(l) Judicial review. If a State level decision upholds the agency action and the appellant expresses an interest in pursuing a higher review of the decision, the State agency shall explain any further State level review of the decision and any State level rehearing process. If these are either unavailable or have been exhausted, the State agency shall explain the right to pursue judicial review of the decision.