The opinion of the court was delivered by: STALEY
This is a class action attacking the validity of two regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. These regulations provide for termination of welfare payments to recipients who refuse to initiate court action against the relatives obligated to support them under the Pennsylvania Support Law, 62 Purdon's Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1973.
The action was brought by Mary Woods individually and as next friend of her niece, Patricia Jones, as representatives of that class of persons who are "needy" and "dependent" within the meaning of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") sections of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 601-610, but who are ineligible for AFDC assistance under the challenged regulations. Plaintiffs sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs also sought, and were granted, a temporary restraining order to restrain enforcement of the regulations against Mary Woods until an adjudication was rendered in these proceedings. Because the constitutional questions presented were not insubstantial, a three-judge statutory court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284, jurisdiction being based on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4).
Under the Federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., the states administer a jointly financed system of assistance to eligible family units. The Federal Government furnishes 50% to 85% of the monies used for these programs. Pennsylvania, like every other state in the union, participates in the program by complying with the Act's condition that funds be administered under a "state plan" which meets Federal requirements. 42 U.S.C. § 602. The "state plan" consists of all relevant state laws, regulations and rules that formulate Pennsylvania welfare policy and includes the regulations at issue in the instant case. These regulations are set forth in 3237.14 and 3237.15 of the Public Assistance Manual ("PA Manual") of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
They require that an indigent person file suit against any relative who is legally required to provide support to the indigent under the Pennsylvania Support Law, 62 Purdon's Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1973, in order to receive AFDC assistance. Those relatives include the parents, spouse, or children of the indigent.
Procedurally, if the Department of Public Welfare determines that one of these relatives is financially able to contribute support to the indigent, the amount of that contribution becomes income available to the indigent.
If this income is not volunteered by the relative, the indigent recipient of AFDC assistance is required to sue that legally responsible relative. If the recipient refuses to sue, assistance is discontinued for that recipient.
In the instant case, Mary Woods and her niece, 15-year-old Patricia Jones, were receiving a monthly assistance payment of $202. In February 1970, Mary Woods was informed that she would have to sue her 24-year-old daughter, Ruth Woods, in order to continue to be eligible for public assistance. Ruth Woods resides in Washington, D.C., and is employed there as a secretary with the U.S.I.A. at a salary of approximately $510 per month, or approximately $344.00 after deductions. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, after requesting and receiving information on the financial resources and whereabouts of Ruth Woods, determined that she could contribute to the support of Mary Woods, her mother. Ruth Woods told the Department that she could not afford to do so. The Department then asked Mary Woods to sue her daughter. Mary refused and asked for an administrative hearing, which was held on May 22, 1970. No reductions or waivers were allowed by the Department and because of her refusal to sue her daughter, Mary 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 ...