A federal district court rules that a local housing authority properly counted payments from a special needs trust as income when it determined that a Section 8 beneficiary was no longer eligible for a housing voucher. DeCambre v. Brookline Housing Authority (D.Mass., No. 14-13425-WGY, March 25, 2015).
Kimberly DeCambre is the beneficiary of a court-established first-party special needs trust that was funded with the proceeds from a $330,000 personal injury settlement. Ms. DeCambre receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid due to a variety of serious medical conditions, and she also received a Section 8 housing voucher. In fall 2013, the Brookline Housing Authority (BHA), the local agency that administers Ms. DeCambre’s housing voucher, informed Ms. DeCambre that she was no longer eligible for Section 8 because the trust had disbursed more than $60,000 during the year for her car, phone, Internet, veterinary care for her pets and travel expenses. A hearing officer upheld the BHA’s decision.
Ms. DeCambre filed suit against the BHA in state court and her claims were removed to federal court. Ms. DeCambre claimed that the BHA violated her civil rights by counting the payments from the trust as income and by discriminating against her due to her disability. She also raised several due process claims. Instead of hearing arguments on Ms. DeCambre’s request for a preliminary injunction, the parties agreed to a case stated hearing to resolve Ms. DeCambre’s underlying claims. At this hearing, Ms. DeCambre posited that it was improper to treat the distributions from the trust as income when, according to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules, the same payments would not be considered income had she simply taken the settlement as a lump sum outside of a trust.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts rules that the BHA properly terminated Ms. DeCambre’s Section 8 benefits. Although sympathizing with trust beneficiaries who have difficulty retaining Section 8 benefits, the court determines that it is “unable to find any regulatory support for DeCambre’s argument that her Trust expenditures must be excluded from annual income and that her Trust corpus remained a lump-sum settlement. To the extent BHA treated DeCambre’s expenditures as spending from an irrevocable trust, rather than from a personal settlement fund, the Court holds that their determination was a reasonable one.” The court also rules that Ms. DeCambre’s due process claims fail because she does not have a property interest in Section 8 benefits and was afforded ample hearings. It goes on to conclude that Ms. DeCambre was not discriminated against due to her disability because HUD treats special needs trust and non-special needs trust beneficiaries equally when it comes to income attribution.
If you or a loved one utilize a special needs trust and want to be sure that tax laws and assets are being allocated correctly please call our office to set up a working consultation meeting with Linda Strohschein. Protect what matters and avoid eligibility status issues with proper planning.