Error causes extra payments to disability program

SEATTLE — The state Department of Social and Health Services is sending supplemental cash to 34,000 recipients of a disability program after a filing error, officials said late Tuesday.

In a letter sent to state leaders and legislators, the department said it failed to file the paperwork to make a budget cut permanent and under law it now has to revert to amounts paid before Olympia slashed the program’s cash.

“This is a serious oversight, particularly during these extraordinarily tight financial times,” said David Stillman, the department’s Economic Services Administration assistant secretary, in a statement. “We will take appropriate disciplinary action after we investigate the actions of those responsible for failing to file the permanent rule.”

The department said it postponed filing the paperwork to make the cuts permanent because of potential additional reductions from Olympia. But the final paperwork was never filed.

The extra payments range from $27 to $69 will be sent to the 34,000 recipients of the Disability Lifeline program to cover a portion of July and all of August and September.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, the Senate Republican’s lead budget negotiator, said the total impact may be as much as $5 million. The Ridgefield lawmaker said legislators were “wishy washy” about Disability Lifeline’s budget cuts during the session and understands the mishap.

But he said the department will have to absorb the extra cost.

Democrat lawmakers were not immediately available for comment.

The department said in the letter its analyzing caseloads and fiscal data to determine the impact of the error and potential budget shortfall.

Disability Lifeline serves disabled adults. The program as it exists now will be phased out Oct. 31 as part of the massive budget cuts agreed upon by lawmakers during the last legislative session. Ending the cash grants will save the state about $100 million in the next two-year budget. Another $80 million of savings comes from reduced workloads.

Lawmakers also tinkered with the department’s housing vouchers and created an assistance program for pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly are being created.

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