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IRENE FRITSCH v. HELENE WOHLGEMUTH (05/15/75)

decided: May 15, 1975.

IRENE FRITSCH, APPELLANT,
v.
HELENE WOHLGEMUTH, SECRETARY OF PUBLIC WELFARE, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare In Re: Appeal of Irene M. Fritsch, No. 33913C.

COUNSEL

Eugene F. Zenobi, with him Alan Linder, for appellant.

Darius G. C. Moss, Assistant Attorney General, with him Barry A. Roth, Assistant Attorney General, and Marx S. Leopold, General Counsel, for appellee.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Bowman.

Author: Bowman

[ 19 Pa. Commw. Page 85]

Eschewing a number of available practical and legal remedies to alleviate appellant's plight, Central Pennsylvania Legal Services (CPLS) has, instead, launched a constitutional attack on Department of Public Welfare (DPW) Regulation No. 3182. Pursuant to this regulation, appellant's public assistance benefits were terminated due to her spouse's refusal to accept employment. Hence this appeal.

The Fritsch family had been receiving benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. In order to be eligible for or retain eligibility for these benefits, an applicant must comply with DPW regulations regarding employment, DPW Regulations No. 3180 et seq.

Regulation No. 3182 provides in relevant part that "[e]very employable person is required, as a condition of eligibility for assistance, to seek, accept and retain employment within the level of his capacity." Appellant's husband has, despite appellant's efforts to the contrary, refused to seek and accept possible employment. In such cases, the regulations further provide that "[a]n employable person who fails to meet these requirements is ineligible for assistance, as is his spouse and minor . . . children living with him." Accordingly, the public assistance benefits in question were terminated.

Upon receipt of the termination notice, appellant secured the assistance of CPLS and thereafter, CPLS requested a departmental hearing in order to challenge the Department's proposed termination of benefits as violative of the Social Security Act and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The hearing officer, on May 10, 1974, issued an adjudication affirming the termination of benefits solely on the basis that appellant's husband refused to seek and hold employment thus rendering appellant and her children ineligible for assistance. This appeal followed and we affirm.

[ 19 Pa. Commw. Page 86]

Prior to proceeding to a discussion of the merits of appellant's constitutional attack, we deem it appropriate to point out that the seemingly harsh impact on appellant and her children of this decision is considerably ameliorated when one considers the other possible remedies available to appellant's counsel short of this constitutional attack. During the pendency of this appeal, appellant's benefits are being continued, and as appellant's counsel admitted at oral argument, other avenues are available to appellant to insure that she and her children continue to receive public assistance benefits.*fn1

Appellant's constitutional attack is based upon an alleged violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the United States Constitution. The initial inquiry when analyzing an equal protection argument is to determine which of two possible standards of review is applicable. Either the classification in question must bear some rational relationship to a legitimate state interest, or, if fundamental rights are involved, the classification must withstand the stricter scrutiny of promoting a compelling state interest. Stottlemyer v. Stottlemyer, Pa. , , 329 A.2d 892, 894 (1974).

The Supreme Court of the United States in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485 (1970), resolved the issue of which standard to apply in social welfare cases. In declaring constitutional a state imposed maximum assistance benefit ...


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