Woods was declared ineligible for public assistance and was terminated. This reduced the assistance payments to Mary Woods and Patricia Jones to $136 per month, which is the one-person grant to Patricia.
At the outset, it should be noted that this case does not involve a single individual living alone and receiving welfare assistance other than AFDC aid. A crucial element of this case is that the plaintiffs are receiving assistance as a family unit under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
Plaintiffs allege that the regulations in question are invalid in that they (1) are in conflict with the Social Security Act of 1935 ("Act"), (2) are violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (3) are violative of the penumbral constitutional rights of privacy and preservation of family integrity. Since it will be unnecessary to reach the constitutional issues presented by the case if the challenged regulations are in conflict with the Act, we will first consider the statutory issue.
Plaintiffs argue that these regulations contravene the Social Security Act by purporting to establish a condition of eligibility for full, continued assistance which is unrelated to the determination of "need" and "dependence." They contend that since "need" and "dependence" are the only two conditions of eligibility for AFDC aid, the imposition of additional eligibility requirements by a state is a violation of the Act's requirement that aid shall be promptly furnished to all eligible individuals. 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(10). Defendants respond that their regulations do not purport to create an eligibility requirement other than "need" or "dependence." They argue that the regulations only go to a determination of the existence of need, which is purely a state function under the Act. See King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 318, 88 S. Ct. 2128, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1118 (1968). Since a state has the prerogative to determine need, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania reasons that it may consider those resources which it deems to be relevant as determinants of need, including the existence of an obligation of a financially able relative to support an applicant for assistance. Thus, having determined that a relative exists who is legally obligated and financially able to contribute support to a recipient of AFDC assistance, the theoretical amount
of that contribution is treated as income available to the recipient for purposes of determining the "need" of the recipient.
We think that the defendants' argument is not to the point at issue. Their regulations provide that court action is an eligibility requirement for assistance, PA Manual 3237.15, and that if the person refuses to take court action, assistance is discontinued for those members of the assistance unit for whom the relative is legally responsible, PA Manual 3237.14. It is this assistance unit, however, that is the essential element of the AFDC program, 42 U.S.C. § 601. These regulations affect the entire family unit, including the children in the household, and penalize the whole unit by reducing assistance to that unit. As a result, individuals in the unit who are needy and dependent and thus otherwise eligible for assistance are denied it by the imposition of an additional requirement for eligibility. The primary obligation of the AFDC program is to provide assistance to the family unit to encourage the care of dependent children in their own homes or in the homes of relatives.
This obligation is not met if an otherwise eligible child is deprived of AFDC funds because of parental misconduct. In Cooper v. Laupheimer, 316 F. Supp. 264 (E.D. Pa., Apr. 16, 1970), a three-judge court struck down a Pennsylvania regulation that provided for suspension of AFDC assistance or a reduction of the amount of assistance to families that had received duplicate or extra payments either by virtue of fraud or mistake. The court recognized the state's right to recover funds which the mother had no right to receive but held that it could not do so by reducing current assistance to the otherwise eligible child.
In Doe v. Shapiro, 302 F. Supp. 761 (D. Conn., 1969), appeal dismissed 396 U.S. 488, 90 S. Ct. 641, 24 L. Ed. 2d 677 (1970), a three-judge court held invalid a Connecticut regulation which provided for termination of AFDC welfare payments to illegitimate children whose mothers refused to disclose the identity of the father. The court held that the state's regulation imposed an additional condition of eligibility not required by the Act. In a sequel to Shapiro, the same court, in Doe v. Harder, 310 F. Supp. 302 (D. Conn., 1970), held that the state's attempt to amend the regulation at issue in Shapiro by providing for termination of payments to the mother rather than the child was likewise invalid. "This regulation, while in form directed at the mother rather than the child, has the same vice as the original. It reduces the assistance to the family by creating an additional eligibility requirement identical to that held invalid and not authorized by the federal statute." 310 F. Supp. at 303.
We hold that the instant regulations have that same vice. Assistance is reduced to the unit by imposing the requirement of initiating court action when the Commonwealth deems it necessary. This is described by the regulations as a requirement of eligibility for assistance. Such a requirement contravenes the Social Security Act requirement that aid be furnished promptly to all eligible individuals and is therefore invalid.
Accordingly, it is ordered that defendants be enjoined from denying or discontinuing AFDC assistance to plaintiffs on the ground that they are barred from receiving such assistance under 3237.14 or 3237.15 of the regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. The parties will submit a proposed order in accordance with the terms of this opinion.