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THOMPSON v. BEAL

May 3, 1977

ETTIE BUFFINGTON, ALICE THOMPSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
FRANK S. BEAL, Individually and in his own capacity as the Secretary of Public Welfare for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and JAMES DORSEY, Individually and in his capacity as the Executive Director of the Allegheny County Board of Assistance, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TEITELBAUM

 This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) (§ 1983's jurisdictional counterpart) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 for injunctive and declaratory relief from Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare policies which operate to deny otherwise eligible individuals public assistance in the form of state General Assistance benefits solely because such individuals have been found to be eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) by the Social Security Administration, pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq.

 Plaintiffs Ettie Buffington and Alice Thompson have been found to be disabled within the meaning of Title XVI. However, because they are recently separated from their respective husbands, plaintiffs must suffer a six-month waiting period before they will be entitled to full SSI benefits. In the interim, they are receiving SSI in an amount substantially less than that provided by way of General Assistance to other persons with their incomes. It is plaintiffs' contention that the Department of Public Welfare policies which deny them General Assistance violate their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection of the law and are not rationally related to the purpose of the state's Public Welfare Code, 62 P.S. § 401 et seq., which is to provide necessary assistance to all of Pennsylvania's needy citizens.

 On April 29, 1977, this Court denied plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order, but scheduled a hearing on the request for preliminary injunctive relief for the morning of May 2, 1977. At the commencement of that proceeding, now completed, trial of the instant action on the merits was advanced and consolidated with the hearing on the application for a preliminary injunction, pursuant to Rule 65(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 For reasons stated below, the declaratory and permanent injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs in this case will be granted.

 I

 Plaintiffs Buffington and Thompson are adult individuals presently residing within the Western District of Pennsylvania. Both are disabled. Plaintiff Buffington's sole source of income is $114.00 in monthly SSI benefits. Her husband, also a disabled individual, currently receives a monthly grant of $187.00 in veteran's benefits and, it appears, an additional $114.00 monthly from SSI.

 In January, 1977, Mr. Buffington left plaintiff; since that time, he has not resided in the household and Mrs. Buffington has received no financial support from him. Shortly after her husband's departure, Mrs. Buffington contacted the Social Security Administration in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania to request that her SSI benefits be increased to the level to which an eligible individual is entitled -- $200.20 monthly. She was thereupon informed that she would not be eligible for such an increase in SSI payments until she had been separated from her husband for a period of six months.

 In March, 1977, Mrs. Buffington applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) for cash assistance under the General Assistance (GA) program, which, if granted, would have provided her with the additional amount of $44.00 per month. DPW subsequently denied benefits, citing Public Assistance Manual § 3131, which states that an applicant receiving SSI payments is not eligible for any General Assistance.

 Plaintiff Thompson's sole source of income is $60.40 in monthly SSI benefits. She has been receiving benefits under the federal program since June, 1975. Prior to that time, Mrs. Thompson received General Assistance from DPW.

 Mrs. Thompson's husband, also disabled, currently receives a monthly grant of $199.70 under Title II of the Social Security Act, and an additional $60.40 monthly from SSI. Since March 1, 1977, Mrs. Thompson has not resided in the same household with her husband and has received no financial support or contribution of any kind from him. On or about March 3, 1977, plaintiff Thompson contacted the Social Security Administration in Pittsburgh to request that her SSI benefits be increased to the $200.20 monthly level to which an eligible individual is entitled. She also was informed that she would not be eligible for such an increase in federal payments (SSI) until she had been separated from Mr. Thompson for a period of six months.

 In March, 1977, Mrs. Thompson twice applied to DPW for cash assistance under the Commonwealth's GA program, which, if granted, would have provided her the amount of $101.60 per month. On both occasions, DPW denied such benefits, citing Public Assistance Manual § 5514, which implements the DPW policy of denying cash assistance to individuals who have been classified aged, blind or disabled, and thus eligible for SSI. This state policy denies GA benefits to such persons regardless of their need.

 II

 It was the intention of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in passing the ...


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