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BULA E. SHOENFELT v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (03/05/80)

decided: March 5, 1980.

BULA E. SHOENFELT, 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 Bula E. Shoenfelt, dated July 31, 1978.

COUNSEL

Kandace F. Foust, for petitioner.

Edward P. Carey, Assistant Attorney General, with him, Linda M. Gunn, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.

Judges Crumlish, Jr., Mencer and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr. This decision was reached prior to the death of President Judge Bowman. Judge DiSalle did not participate in the decision in this case. Dissenting Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Crumlish

[ 49 Pa. Commw. Page 597]

The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) hearing officer affirmed a decision of the Blair County Board of Assistance (CBA) which denied benefits of $250.00 to Bula E. Shoenfelt under Pennsylvania's Emergency Energy Assistance Program. We reverse.

Shoenfelt is a 79-year old woman whose sole monthly income consists of a $228.40 Social Security check supplemented by food stamps. Acting upon a notice from DPW stating she may be eligible for funds to assist in the payment of energy-related expenses, Shoenfelt borrowed $300.00 from her niece to utilize as partial payment for repairs to her badly leaking roof.

The issue before us concerns DPW's interpretation of its regulations published in 8 Pa. B. 1110, 1111, 1469-70 (1978). These regulations provide grants of assistance for energy-related expenses due to cold weather, including "emergency house repairs" up to a maximum of $250.00. In cases where a service supplier is involved, the applicant must furnish documentary evidence that these bills have not been paid. The department is then authorized to directly reimburse the utility, fuel or service supplier. It is conceded by the department that Shoenfelt is in all ways eligible for assistance except that she has no outstanding energy-related bills since the roofer, her supplier, has been paid. Reimbursements, however, may be made directly to a lending institution which supplied funds

[ 49 Pa. Commw. Page 598]

    to an applicant.*fn1 DPW, in strictly interpreting this regulation, has ruled Shoenfelt ineligible for the grant because she borrowed the money from a relative.

Was this decision an abuse of discretion for DPW to so narrowly interpret its regulations?

What was the intent of the department regulations? We look for guidance to the enabling federal legislation which funds the state energy assistance program. The federal program, known as "Emergency Energy Conservation Services" was implemented in order to "enable low income individuals and families, including the elderly and the near poor, to participate in energy conservation programs designed to lessen the impact of the high cost of energy on such individuals and families and to reduce individual and family energy consumption."*fn2 Funds made available to states are to be used only to respond to the needs of eligible households which arise out of the existence of an energy-related emergency.

In our judgment, Shoenfelt fits precisely the type of individual intended to be benefited by the underlying legislation. To exclude reimbursement of the energy-related loan merely because a private lender is involved is an unreasonable construction which leads to an unjust result. In so holding, we are guided by the presumption that the legislature does not intend an unreasonable result. Baronett v. Tucker, 26 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 559, 365 A.2d 179 (1976). Penalizing Shoenfelt for bargaining to obtain a ...


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