WV Water Settlement Payments and Public Benefits

Last Updated On: 9/21/2018 5:04:31 PM

What do I really need to know?

  • Thousands of people who filed claims will soon be receiving a payment from a court case because of the 2014 water crisis in the region around Charleston, WV.
  • The first wave of payments will be for “Simple Residential Claims.” These “Simple Residential Claims” pay a flat amount, based upon the number of people in the household at the time the water system was contaminated.
  • If you receive a Water Settlement Payment check, and you also receive benefits from DHHR or SSI (or both), you MUST report your Water Settlement Payment check to Social Security or DHHR (or both) within TEN DAYS of getting the Water Settlement check.
  • If you DO NOT report within TEN DAYS, bad things could happen in your benefits case. You might even have to pay ALL of your Water Settlement Payment over to the agency. You could end up owing the government a lot of money, and having your benefits reduced in the future.
  • If you DO report within TEN DAYS, the payment for “Simple Residential Claims” will NOT affect benefits in that month for most people.
  • Any Water Settlement money that you have in cash or in your bank account on the first day of the next calendar month will count against your Asset Limit for that month.

What are the “Water Settlement Payments?"

In January 2014, chemicals from a leaking storage tank ran into the Elk River near Charleston, WV. The Elk River carried the chemicals into the water system operated by West Virginia American Water Company. The chemicals then spread through the entire water system, into the homes and businesses of every customer on the water system.

For ten days in January 2014, the water system was not usable for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing dishes, doing laundry, and so on.

A lot of lawsuits were filed. Later, all the lawsuits were combined in the federal US District Court in Charleston. Eventually, a large negotiated settlement was approved by the Court. The settlement pays compensation to anyone who was a customer of the water company at the time of the crisis.

After the settlement was announced, there was a lot of publicity. People had to file a claim form to get a payment. The deadline for filing claims ended earlier in 2018. In early fall of 2018 the settlement administrator will begin mailing checks to pay claims. For more information go to the West Virginia Water Contamination Settlement website.

How can the Water Settlement Payments affect public benefits?

The “public benefits” we’re talking about all have an income limit for eligibility. The question is whether the Water Settlement Payments will be counted as income. If these payments are considered income, then the government agency that pays the benefit could reduce or cut off the public benefit.

There are several different public benefits we will talk about. They are paid by two different government agencies: WV DHHR and Social Security. The rules for each public benefit, and for each of the two agencies, are not necessarily the same. Each government agency will decide whether the Water Settlement Payments will affect your particular public benefit.

Will the money I get from the Water Settlement Payment reduce or cut off my public benefits?

In most cases, Legal Aid believes the Water Settlement Payment will not affect your benefits. But this depends on several factors:

  • Which type of public benefit you receive
  • The rules of the government agency that pays your public benefit
  • The type of Water Settlement claim you filed
  • Whether you report the money to the agency within the deadline

What “public benefits” are you talking about?

There are several different public benefit programs that could be affected by the Water Settlement checks:

  • SSI. Also called “Supplemental Security Income.” Comes through the Social Security Administration.
  • SNAP. Also called food stamps. Formal name is “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” Comes through WV DHHR.
  • Medicaid. Comes through WV DHHR.
  • CHIP. Also called “Children’s Health Insurance Program.” Comes through WV DHHR.
  • WV WORKS. Sometimes called “TANF.” Mostly, this is a monthly check payment. WV WORKS can also provide benefits like child care assistance or job training programs. WV WORKS comes through WV DHHR.

What about other monthly payment programs, like Social Security Disability or workers compensation?

Social Security Disability and Social Security Retirement payments will not be affected if you get a Water Settlement Payment. These payments do not depend on how much income you have.

Workers Compensation and Unemployment Compensation also will not be affected if you get a Water Settlement Payment. Workers comp does not depend on how much income you have.

What type of Water Settlement claims are being paid now?

The first wave of payments from the court case will be for “Simple Claims.” Over 90% of all claims filed for Water Settlement Payments are Simple Claims. There are two types of Simple Claim:

  • “Simple Residential Claims.” These are what most people submitted. These claims will pay a flat, pre-determined amount based on the number of people who were in the household during the water crisis in 2014. The first person will get about $550. Each additional person will receive about $180.
  • “Simple Business Claims.” These will also pay a flat, pre-determined amount, based on the size of the business.

What are the other types of Water Settlement claims?

There are several. Here are several examples:

  • A woman who was pregnant during the water crisis could file an additional claim because of the risks to the health and safety of herself and her unborn child.
  • People who actually had medical emergencies and high medical costs can request reimbursement of their medical costs.
  • People who lost wages because their employer had to shut down during the crisis can request compensation for their lost earnings.

In this article, Legal Aid will not go into detail about the other types of claims. They are not being paid out right now. We are focusing on what is happening now.

When the settlement administrator begins paying those other types of claims, Legal Aid will update this article.

I haven’t filed a claim yet. Is it too late?

Yes. There was a deadline in late Spring 2018 to file claims. If you did not file a claim by that deadline, you cannot file one now. For more information go to the West Virginia Water Contamination Settlement website.  

What is the time limit for reporting my payment to the agency paying my public benefit?

To be safe, you should report the payment within ten days after you receive the check.

If I receive public benefits from both WV DHRR and Social Security, do I have to report the payment to both agencies?

Yes. You must report that you received the Water Settlement Payment to both agencies if you receive benefits from both agencies.

For example, if you receive SSI (through Social Security) then you also receive Medicaid (through WV DHHR). You need to report to both agencies that you received your Water Settlement Payment.

What happens if I miss the reporting deadline?

DHHR and Social Security have emphasized that people need to report the payments. The deadline to report is no more than ten days after the day you receive the check.

The agencies have not told Legal Aid exactly what will happen to people who do not report on time. It is possible that the agency may penalize you for not reporting on time, even if the money otherwise would not have affected your benefits! Don’t take chances. Report it right away!

How do I report that I got the money?

Option 1: Go in person to the agency office. Take a copy of your check and any paperwork that comes with it. Meet with a caseworker. Have the caseworker give you something IN WRITING that shows you came to the office and reported your Water Settlement Payment. At the end of this article, we have a list of DHHR offices and Social Security offices and their contact information.

Option 2: Mail Copies to the Agency Office. You can mail a copy of your check (and all the paperwork with it) to the agency, if you are careful. 

  • DO NOT SEND YOUR ORIGINALS, ONLY A COPY!
  • Send the copy by “certified mail, return receipt requested.” (This will cost a couple of dollars at the Post Office.)
    • Suppose your paperwork gets lost in the mail, or the agency loses your paperwork after it arrives. You want to be able to prove that you reported accurately and on time.
    • Believe us when we say that “things get lost.” Legal Aid has seen this problem many times, so having proof you mailed your paperwork is important.
    • Hundreds of dollars for your household are on the line. If you want to use the mail instead of going to the office in person, then protect yourself. Go the Post Office and use “certified mail, return receipt requested.”
  • Include a note with your name and address, information about your benefits, and write that “I am reporting my water settlement payment.” Sign and date the note. This is a Water Settlement Payment Agency Reporting Form that Legal Aid created to help you do this.

What if I have a disability and I cannot go to the local office?

Call the agency within the ten-day deadline and explain the problem. Tell them you need a “reasonable accommodation” of your disability. Ask them what you should do if you cannot physically go to the local office to report that you got your Water Settlement Payment.

Again, one alternative would be to mail a copy of your check (and all the paperwork with it) to the agency. DO NOT SEND YOUR ORIGINAL, ONLY A COPY! Send the copies by “certified mail, return receipt requested.” (This will cost a couple of dollars at the Post Office.) Include a note on top with your name and address and write that “I am reporting my water settlement payment.” This is a Water Settlement Payment Agency Reporting Form that Legal Aid created to help you do this.  

Also, at the end of this article, we have a list of DHHR offices and Social Security offices and their contact information.

I get SNAP (Food Stamps). If I report on time, will the Water Settlement Payment affect my Food Stamps?

Legal Aid believes the law is clear that a one-time payment like this will NOT affect your SNAP amount for the month when you receive the money. But you need to report the receipt of the money, within ten days, to WV DHHR.

I get a monthly SSI check. If I report on time, will the Water Settlement Payment affect my SSI?

Legal Aid believes that money from the claims being paid now (mostly “Simple Residential Claims”) will not be counted as income. But you need to report the money to Social Security within ten days and follow whatever Social Security tells you.

I get Medicaid or CHIP Health Insurance Coverage. If I report on time, will the Water Settlement Payment affect my coverage?

Legal Aid believes that money from the claims being paid now (mostly “Simple Residential Claims”) will not be counted as income. But you need to report the money to WV DHHR within ten days and follow whatever DHHR tells you.

I get WV WORKS benefits. If I report on time, will the Water Settlement Payment affect my WV WORKS?

Legal Aid believes that money from the claims being paid now (mostly “Simple Residential Claims”) will not be counted as income. But you need to report the money to WV DHHR within ten days and follow whatever DHHR tells you.

Can I save the money to use in the future for an emergency?

Be VERY careful about this.

Each of the public benefit programs has an “Asset Limit.” This means you can lose your benefits if you have too much money in cash and bank accounts together. The various benefit programs do not all have the same dollar limit. If you want to hold money for the future, be sure you understand what the dollar limit is for each of your benefits.

One special exception is for a WV ABLE account, for West Virginians with a disability that existed before their 26th birthday. Read this article for more information about setting up WV ABLE accounts. You can start a WV ABLE Account with a Water Settlement Payment. You should create a WV ABLE Account on https://wvable.com.  Then sign your Water Settlement check and make it payable to WVABLE. Mail it to the address given on https://wvable.com

When does the asset limit apply each month?

On the “first day of each calendar month.”

WV DHHR and SSI each count both “cash plus bank accounts.” You are required to report to the agency if the amount of your cash plus bank accounts is higher than the limit on the first day of a month.

The rules we talked about above refer to “income” in the month you received the Water Settlement Payment. Now we are talking about money you have on hand in the month AFTER you receive the Water Settlement Payment.

For example, suppose you receive the Water Settlement Payment in September:

  • You need to be careful about how much money you have in cash plus bank accounts on October 1.
  • As long as your cash plus bank account amount is underneath your Asset Limit on October 1, you will be okay.

Are there rules about how I spend the money?

You can "spend" the money any way you want, as long as you get something of value back. Most people will not have a problem with this. 

  • Most of us have bills that need to be paid.
  • Or car repairs we’ve been putting off.
  • Or repairs to the house.
  • Our kids might need some new clothes.
  • We might need to replace the couch with a spring sticking through it, or the worn-out mattress on the bed.
  • We might need to buy a new winter coat to get ready for this winter.
  • We might want to buy some Christmas gifts for the kids (be sure to keep them hidden from the little ones)!

What if I donate some of my water settlement money to my church, or my child’s school, or give some to a relative? 

DON’T GIVE MONEY AWAY! We are very sorry to have to say this, but it’s true. Some of the benefit programs have very strict rules against “giving” money away. You could be disqualified for a period of time into the future, no matter how much you need the assistance. DHHR and Social Security call this a “Transfer of Assets” penalty. The rules are very weird about this. You can “spend it” any way you feel like. You can spend it in good ways, like paying debts, repairing the car, or buying furniture or clothes: Or you can spend it in bad ways, like buying lottery tickets, betting at the dog track, or taking a trip to Las Vegas for some sin and gambling. That’s all allowed, with no penalty. But no “giving money away.”

  • Giving money to your granddaughter who needs a little financial help at college? No, that’s not permitted. (Although you could buy the books she needs for her.)
  • Sending some money to your cousin who lost his job and can’t pay his bills? No, that’s not permitted. (Although you could buy him some food or clothes or gas.)
  • Giving to your church or the Union Mission of the local food bank? No, there’s a penalty for that. (Although you could buy something the church or the group could use, and give them that.)  

Where can I find contact information for my local DHHR?

In the nine affected counties, each county's local DHHR office is:

  • Boone: 6 Resource Lane, Foster, WV 25081---304-369-7802
  • Cabell:2699 Park Avenue, Suite 100, Huntington, WV 25704---304-528-5800
  • Clay: 94 Main Street, Clay, WV 25043---304-587-4268
  • Jackson: 4285 Cedar Lakes Road, Ripley, WV 25271---304-373-2560
  • Kanawha: 4190 Washington Street, Charleston, WV 25313---304-746-2360
  • Lincoln:  8209 Court Avenue, Hamlin, WV 25523---304-824-5811
  • Logan:  130 Stratton Street, Logan, WV 25601---304-792-7095
  • Putnam:  12531 Winfield Road, Winfield, WV 25213---304-586-1520
  • Roane:  677 Ripley Road, Suite 3, Spencer, WV 25276---304-927-0956

Where can I find contact information for Social Security Offices?

Depending on where you live, you may find one of these Social Security offices most convenient for you:

  • Beckley/Mount Hope: 5475 Robert C. Byrd Dr, Suite A-8 Mount Hope, WV 25801---1-866-964-2042
  • Charleston: 500 Quarrier Street, Suite 300 Charleston WV 25301--- 1-888-527-9305
  • Huntington: 301 9th Street, 3rd Floor Huntington, WV 25701---1-866-931-7078
  • Logan: 1103 George Kostas Dr. Logan, WV 25601---1-877-405-4537 
  • Parkersburg: 425 Juliana Street Parkersburg, WV 26101---1-800-772-1213  
  • St Albans: 49 Olde Main Plaza St Albans, WV 25177---1-866-316-8153
  • Welch: 50 McDowell Street Welch, WV 24801---1-800-772-1213
  • Williamson: 146 East First Ave Williamson, WV 25661---1-800-772-1213

What if I have more questions or need help?

If you have questions or are having problems with your benefits because of the Water Settlement Payment, you can contact Legal Aid’s Water Settlement Payment- Government Benefits Hotline at 877-331-4259 to see if we can help. 

If you have general questions about your Water Settlement Payment, you should call 1-855-829-8121 or 304-345-1151 or go to the West Virginia Water Contamination Settlement website. 

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.