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Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen2:08 pmMar 2, 20230

Benefits theft victim gets final payment – plus lunch with Maryland’s new Human Services secretary

Damon Minor got special attention following media coverage. State officials say help is on the way for others who had SNAP and other benefits stolen

Above: Damon Minor outside his apartment in East Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Damon Minor, the disabled former ironworker we wrote about who lost some of his food and disability benefits to hackers, has received the last missing slug of funds from the State of Maryland.

After efforts by social worker Lauren Siegel, multiple stories by The Brew and an appeal filed with the Maryland Department of Human Services, some (but not all) payments had been restored.

Recently, the East Baltimore resident discovered that his Electronic Benefits Transfer card showed he had the $374 he was owed for state disability benefits for December.

“I said, ‘Wow, it’s finally here!’” Damon recalled, explaining that he immediately went up to the Department of Social Services office on North Avenue to verify it was true.

“I didn’t want to spend it, if it somehow wasn’t mine,” he explained.

But the funds on his Maryland Independence Card were correct, and Minor felt it was safe to drop his administrative appeal.

“Some lady there humbly apologized to me for the mistake”  – Damon Minor.

He was told the disability benefits were missing due to a clerical error, not theft.

“Some lady there humbly apologized to me for the mistake,” Minor said.

Now he’s looking forward to continuing to heal with physical therapy after knee surgery (“They have to drain the fluid build-up in my good leg”), eating healthier food and finding a safer, better apartment.

“Damon Minor is not done yet. If new barriers come up, I’m just going to knock them down,” he said. “I’m ready for my second act.”

Lunch with López

One reason he’s hopeful about his future is that the publicity drew some high-level attention to his plight.

State caseworkers have repeatedly told him “you’re famous” and “everybody knows you from that article.”

That apparently includes Maryland’s new DHS chief, Rafael J. López, who reached out to Minor and took him to lunch.

“Mr. López said poor people shouldn’t have such a hard time getting the help they need,” the 52-year-old recalled.

The new secretary is also trying to get him a job as a child support benefits specialist at an area Social Services office.

“He checks on me and asks if I need anything,” Minor says, adding that he worries that other victims who didn’t get media coverage might not receive proper treatment.

“That’s the real question to me,” he stressed.

3,800 Victims

State officials say some of that help – to the thousands of known benefits fraud victims in Maryland – is on the way.

DHS recently announced that the federal government has approved Maryland’s plan to reimburse over $2.5 million in benefits stolen by electronic benefits transfer card skimming.

As in other states across the country, hackers have struck hard at Maryland recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that allow participants to purchase food.

“Maryland was the first state in the nation to submit and be approved for a reimbursement plan, which will help more than 3,800 known victims of fraud recoup” stolen benefits, the release said.

DHS promises that fraud victims will be able to file a reimbursement claim starting in mid-March.

The SNAP benefits are “critical for some of Maryland’s most vulnerable residents,” Gov. Wes Moore said in a statement, adding, “It’s imperative that we move immediately to help restore faith in their services and help make them whole.”

The release said states were unable to use federal funds to reimburse victims of EBT card skimming until Congress passed last year’s omnibus spending bill, which included provisions to allow them to replace the money.

With the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December, the state is now permitted to use federal funds to replace Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits stolen by EBT card skimming between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2024.

The plan also outlines security measures the state will implement on EBT cards.

Maryland plans to develop a feature that would allow SNAP participants to lock an EBT card when it is not being used, and automatically text and email cardholders every time their card is used.

The agency further promises that fraud victims will be able to file a reimbursement claim starting in mid-March through its online portal.

Those who believe they are the victims of benefits theft are advised to contact their local DSS office.

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