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EMELO BELMONTE v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/20/79)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: December 20, 1979.

EMELO BELMONTE, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in case of Appeal of Emelo Belmonte, No. 45346.

COUNSEL

Diane Upson, for petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

Judges Crumlish, Jr., DiSalle and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish, Jr.

[ 48 Pa. Commw. Page 150]

The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) affirmed the decision of the Chester County Board of Assistance (CCBA) which found the Belmonte family ineligible for medical assistance benefits.*fn1

[ 48 Pa. Commw. Page 151]

Belmonte, his wife, and four children receive a monthly income of $634.60 from Social Security disability benefits (SSA).*fn2 On September 15, 1977, they were notified that MA benefits would be discontinued because their monthly SSA family income exceeded public assistance eligibility standards. Discontinuing benefits pursuant to DPW regulation 177.83(b),*fn3 the CCBA made the following calculations:

$338.10Mr. Belmonte's monthly SSA benefits

59.30Mrs. Belmonte's monthly SSA benefits

�.20Four children's monthly SSA benefits

$634.60Total monthly gross income

.20Mr. Belmonte's medicare

$642.80

-20.00TJ category disregard

$622.80Total net monthly gross income

X6 months

$3,736.80Income for six months

-2,875.00Maintenance for six persons

$861.80

-420.00Medical expenses allowed for six months

($70 per month)

$441.80Income available for MA purposes

They are considered to have $441.80 available for medical purposes, and are ineligible for MA benefits in the "medically needy" category. Being DPW's final administrative action, it is ripe for our determination.

[ 48 Pa. Commw. Page 152]

This case strikingly resembles the legal and factual incidents in Carr v. Department of Public Welfare, 41 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 254, 398 A.2d 1088 (1979). In Carr, an AFDC*fn4 grant was discontinued because the family's OASDI benefits exceeded eligibility standards for public assistance. In affirming the DPW determination, we encountered analogous arguments. As here, petitioner asserts that the PAEM policy dealing with eligibility is inconsistent with the Social Security Act, applicable regulations, and the equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Pennsylvania. We disagree.

MA is a federally-mandated welfare program administered by DPW to provide assistance to persons "whose income and resources are insufficient to meet the costs of necessary medical services." 42 U.S.C. § 1396. Federal eligibility regulations specifically provide that "all income must be included such as social security or other benefits, earnings, contributions from relatives, or other income the individual may have." 45 C.F.R. § 233.20(a)(4) (1978). MA eligibility in Pennsylvania is similarly determined by total resources to the family unit. 55 Pa. Code § 177.81.

Belmonte maintains that his income cannot be considered available to meet the needs of his family until a factual determination of his own monetary needs are made. He supports this proposition with Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) regulations which govern the expenditure of social security benefits certified to a representative payee on behalf of incompetent beneficiaries. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1601 et seq. (1979). Essentially, these regulations allow the representative payee to apply certified payments for

[ 48 Pa. Commw. Page 153]

    support of the beneficiary's family only after the beneficiary's current maintenance needs are met. Belmonte seeks to superimpose the representative payee standard on a beneficiary receiving benefits in his own name. In accordance with Carr, supra, at 257, 398 A.2d at 1090, we disagree. Aside from the fact that no representative payee exists here, these regulations were specially designed to protect beneficiaries whose benefits are paid to and expended by third parties. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1601 (1979). Petitioner clearly maintains control over the family's SSA benefits.

Belmonte next argues that DPW's state plan violates HEW regulations*fn5 by failing to provide a "minimum level of living" which takes into account personal needs and obligations when relatives are required to provide support to public assistance applicants. However, he ignores that section of the regulation which makes the spouse or parents' income available to the family group with which one lives, and removed the income of spouses and parents from the income scale requirement. Assuming a minimum income scale were applicable, the income level in Pennsylvania for a family of six is approximately $479.00 per month. 55 Pa. Code § 177.83(b). There is nothing in either the record or arguments which convince us that this standard is below the minimum level of living. Compare Carr, supra, at 259, 398 A.2d at 1090. Petitioner also urges inadequacy on the grounds that Supplemental Security Income*fn6 (SSI) regulations provide greater benefits. We remain unconvinced that the SSI minimum income scale establishes either a universal

[ 48 Pa. Commw. Page 154]

    standard or a minimum level of living for the needs of disabled persons living in family units. See Carr, supra, id.

Belmonte's final argument is that PAEM policy denying MA benefits violates his constitutional right to equal protection of the laws in that lower benefits result to SSA than SSI beneficiaries and their families.*fn7 The test for deciding the equal protection constitutionality of social welfare programs is set out in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485 (1970), where it was held that "a State does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect. If the classification has some ' reasonable basis ', it does not offend the Constitution simply because . . . in practice it results in some inequality." (Emphasis added.)

We need not resort to a pedantic recitation of supporting statistics. It is simply our opinion that a reasonable basis exists for treating benefits differently in the calculation of family income. This issue was raised and decided adversely in Carr. There, we held that the application of OASDI and not SSI benefits against an AFDC grant to determine eligibility did not violate equal protection principles. Carr, supra, at 260, 398 A.2d at 1091. We find nothing to induce us to distinguish or overrule the well-articulated opinion of Judge Rogers in Carr merely because AFDC rather than MA benefits were denied.

Accordingly, we

Order

And Now, this 20th day of December, 1979, the decision of the Department of Public Welfare is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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