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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 26, 2002

A victory is scored for Hawai'i's little guy

Every now and then, a feisty underdog inflamed by a perceived miscarriage of justice will take on the powers that be and win. That'd be Carl Foytik, who successfully sued the state for cutting welfare benefits in the late 1990s, and then inspired other welfare recipients to do the same.

As a result of a class-action lawsuit, the state has tentatively agreed to pay $1.5 million in back welfare benefits, and owes up to $180,000 for the plaintiffs' legal fees.

In the broader scheme of things, however, the state's settlement is a deal compared to the millions of dollars it saved by cutting general assistance payments.

In 1997, the state Department of Human Services cut its general assistance payments to single adults with disabilities from $418 to $268. To those struggling, that's a big drop in the quality of life.

The DHS defended the cuts as a means to stretch its budget and ensure the general assistance pool wouldn't dry up.

But Foytik, then a disabled Hilo student living on food stamps, welfare and loans, wasn't buying it.

With no formal legal training, he argued the case up to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, and the high court agreed with him. Then, when the state dragged its feet on paying Foytik's modest $1,987 settlement, he urged other lawyers to file a class action based on the outcome of his case.

It was a slam dunk. Still the state chose to fight the class action for four years, and lost.

Foytik certainly didn't get rich from the case, but he did become a success story. He's off welfare and about to graduate from the University of Hawai'i law school. We hope he continues to fight the good fight, in and out of court.