It’s “absurd” to make a person on welfare learn how to write resumés if the evidence shows that they are unable to work because of a disability.
That was the conclusion of the Nebraska Supreme Court in a ruling Friday that could impact other welfare recipients required to enroll in a job-training program despite their disability.
“It’s a very positive decision for those who apply for assistance and are disabled and unable to work,” said Scott Mertz, the staff attorney for Legal Aid of Nebraska who brought the case against the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which represented the state in the case, declined to comment Friday.
Kathie Osterman, a spokeswoman for DHHS, said it was too early to say whether the ruling would impact the agency’s policies: “We’re still reviewing it to determine any impact.”
The case revolved around Darline Liddell-Toney, a 36-year-old single woman from Omaha who receives assistance from the state.
The state requires people on welfare to attend a job-training program. However, Liddell-Toney asked for an exemption, arguing that she was unable to work because of a degenerative disk disease in her back.
At a hearing to consider the exemption, Liddell-Toney presented a report from her doctor that she could not walk without a cane and was limited in how much time she could stand and walk. The doctor also said she was unable to work because of her condition.
The doctor termed her prognosis “poor” and said Liddell-Toney would require more than six months of treatment before she could complete the job-training program.
In addition, a report from a radiology lab in Omaha confirmed that Liddell-Toney had degenerative disk disease, although handwritten notes on the radiology report labeled her condition as “mild.”
The state denied Liddell-Toney’s request for an exemption and she appealed.
In a 5-0 opinion, the State Supreme Court noted that there was no evidence presented by the state to contradict the opinion of Liddell-Toney’s doctors that she was disabled.
The court also ruled that it made no sense to require Liddell-Toney to complete a program when she would be unable to work for a “substantial period of time.”
“It would seem absurd to require an individual to participate in resumé writing and interview training activities if that individual is incapable of entering the workforce at the conclusion of the training sessions,” wrote Justice John Gerrard.
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