By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
After recently notifying the state Department of Economic Security that her mother-in-law had died and would no longer be needing food stamps, Melissa Winston correctly assumed she'd heard the last from the agency.
Her departed mother-in-law, however, would not be so lucky.
Less than a week after the Chandler woman's death late last month, "Mom" received a follow-up letter from DES, tersely explaining that since she was deceased, the agency was terminating her benefits.
The macabre missive ended on a truly baffling note: "You may reapply at any time," the letter concluded. "Fair hearing rights are explained on the back of this notice."
Winston reports her family was "floored" by the contents of the ghoulish communique. "They're writing to tell a dead person that she's deceased--and that she can reapply for food stamps?!" Winston asks in disbelief. "Does the DES think my mother-in-law is going to be reincarnated or resurrected?"
Out of respect for her mother-in-law, Winston requests that her late relative's name not be used.
"She deserves better than this," says Winston, an Apache Junction taxicab dispatcher. "Mom and I were very close. Between her death and all the activities involved with arranging a funeral, emotionally, I was gone. Then to have to deal with something as stupid as this letter--well, I am not a happy camper. I think this is an extremely insensitive way to deal with something like this."
If it's any consolation, Winston won't get any argument from DES.
According to agency spokesman Fernando Vendor, the "unfortunate" incident apparently occurred when an employee handling the case mistook "Mom" for the still-living head of a household in which another food-stamp recipient had died. DES has subsequently sent the dead woman's family a letter of apology.
"It's worker error," explains Vendor. "We have people with a red face down here.