Section 16. There shall be within the office of the deputy commissioner a division of hearings for the purpose of holding the hearings referred to herein and rendering decisions. Said division shall be under the supervision of a director appointed by the commissioner and shall be independent of all other divisions and personnel of the department.
Any person aggrieved by the failure of the department to render adequate aid or assistance under any program of aid or assistance administered by the department or to approve or reject an application for aid or assistance thereunder within forty-five days after receiving such application, or aggrieved by the withdrawal of such aid or assistance, or by coercive or otherwise improper conduct on the part of his social worker, shall have a right to a hearing, after due notice, upon appeal to the commissioner.
A person whose benefits have been expunged under clause (m) or (n) of section 2 shall, upon request of the person, be afforded a full and fair hearing to determine whether there exists a legitimate reason for the person to maintain a balance in excess of $2,500 or for not accessing the person's benefits for more than 270 days. Upon a finding by the commissioner that a legitimate reason exists, the commissioner shall reinstate the expunged benefits.
A hearing held pursuant to this section shall be conducted by a referee designated by the director at a location convenient to the person appealing and shall be conducted as an adjudicatory proceeding under chapter thirty A. The director of the division of hearings shall be responsible for the fair and efficient operation of the division in conformity with state and federal laws and regulations and for the training of referees, scheduling of hearings and the compilation of decisions. Neither he nor any other employee of the department shall review, interfere with, change or attempt to influence any hearing decision by a referee. A referee may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and secure the production of such books, papers, records and documents as may be relevant to such hearing. The person appealing shall have the opportunity to confront and cross-examine all adverse witnesses and to question or refute any testimony, evidence, materials, or legal arguments. The referee shall base his decision solely on the testimony, evidence, materials and legal rules adduced at the hearing. The referee may reopen a hearing for the purpose of considering further testimony, evidence, materials or legal rules before rendering his decision and shall, if he reopens the hearing, send seven days' written notice to all parties of the reopening and his reasons therefor, including the date, time and place of the resumed hearing, which shall be held at a location convenient to the person appealing. The decision of the referee shall be the decision of the department.
A referee shall render and issue his decision within ninety days after the date of the filing of the aggrieved person's appeal, except that when an aggrieved person appeals the rejection of his application for aid or assistance, or the failure to act on said application, or the failure of the department to render assistance to meet an emergency or hardship situation, the referee shall render and issue his decision within forty-five days after the date of filing of said appeal. The decision of the department shall be subject to review in accordance with the provisions of chapter thirty A.
When a timely request for a hearing is made because of a termination or reduction of assistance, involving an issue of fact, or of judgment relating to an individual case, between the agency and the appellant, assistance shall be continued during the period of the appeal. If the decision is adverse to the appellant, assistance shall be terminated immediately. If assistance has been terminated prior to a timely request for a hearing, assistance shall be reinstated.