Homeless people have traditionally been underrepresented among the pool of welfare recipients despite their unquestioned financial eligibility, (228) and are particularly vulnerable to bureaucratic disentitlement and "churning," the practice of rapid administrative closure of welfare cases for reasons such as the recipient's failure to comply with a request for verification of eligibility or to make a scheduled appointment with her caseworker.
Blasi, Litigation Strategies for Addressing Bureaucratic Disentitlement, 16 N.Y.U.
(222.) See Blasi, supra note 217, at 594-95 (describing the devastating impact of bureaucratic disentitlement on homeless applicants in Los Angeles County); see also Reynolds v.
Welfare workers interpret articulated pressures from above - for example, to increase efficiency and reduce error rates - through their own conflicts about the poor and through the unarticulated messages they receive from the bureaucratic culture of disentitlement. Informal discouragement practices, implemented before formal eligibility criteria take precedence, strongly reflect workers' personal conceptions of the causes of poverty and its proper cures.
The whole point of bureaucratic disentitlement is to keep the key event of filing an application, with all the administrative and legal scrutiny it can precipitate, from happening.
"Verification extremism" lay at the heart of every injury done to the homeless families at OESSS; it is the main cause of preapplication disentitlement in benefits systems everywhere.(16) Fixations on the form of proof of eligibility - on a particular type of document, or on a particular form of certification of a document - can be impassable logistical obstacles that bear little relationship to ensuring the integrity of the program.
On paper, the public benefits system guarantees applicants access to information about process - needed to make critical economic and personal decisions; information about what proof of eligibility they legitimately may be called upon to provide;(67) information about the true availability of benefits;(68) prompt, written determinations of eligibility;(69) and information about the particulars of participation in administrative hearings.(70) In theory, if applicants were aware of these protections, disentitlement would be impossible.
But at a more concrete level, verification extremism and other features of disentitlement make poor people's incomes insecure.
The concrete harm of disentitlement can be measured in benefits lost.
But as some commentators have noted, disadvantaged people are all too well accustomed to enduring bureaucratic injustices as the cost of survival, and may be unable or unwilling to perceive them as actionable injury.(103) Thanks to the informal workings of disentitlement, the Wendys and the Shaunas may never enjoy the transformative exercise of translating their experiences into claims.
Bureaucratic disentitlement is a clandestine method of cutting back on benefits, which, by the informal reduction of services, saves money and avoids the strain and uncertain outcome of open political debate over welfare spending and policy.(104) Lipsky emphasizes that the use of the extralegal practices reflects the community's inability to reach consensus about the goals of social welfare policy.(105) This Part examines the circularity of bureaucratic disentitlement and the way in which it works simultaneously and synergistically at the level of the individual worker-to-client relationship, in the creation of office policy, and within the framework of the federal regulatory scheme.