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WALKER v. O'BANNON

April 3, 1980

GERALDINE WALKER, LINDA NEFF, RONALD MOCULSKI and TODD CLARK, individually and on behalf of All others similarly situated, Plaintiffs
v.
HELEN O'BANNON, individually and in her capacity as Secretary of Public Welfare for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SNYDER

This Court has before it the equal protection challenge by recipients of assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to the Pennsylvania Legislature's elimination of certain individuals from such assistance by Act No. 1979-102, passed December 7, 1979 and effective 60 days thereafter, which provides:

"No general assistance shall be paid to any full-time student at a college or university who has not participated in a federally subsidized program for dependent children within the previous five years." (Amending 62 P.S. § 403)

 The debate leading up to the passage of this statute charged that able bodied (capable of working) young people were "emancipating" *fn1" themselves from parents financially able to support them by going to college, and thus becoming eligible for assistance payments. *fn2" The Legislature chose to use a yardstick of a previous need in the family as evidenced by participation in a federally funded program for needy dependent children within the past five years. *fn3"

 All of the named Plaintiffs, as well as others who testified were given written notice of termination of their benefits effective March 27, 1980, or shortly thereafter. *fn4" All of the witnesses would otherwise have qualified for assistance at the time of their termination notice. Action was promptly filed, individually and on behalf of a class, *fn5" and on March 20, 1980, after notice and hearing, an injunction was issued. A second hearing was held on March 28, 1980, at which both parties were given ample opportunity to develop the record; the injunction was to continue until final adjudication on the merits. *fn6"

  I.

 As previously analyzed by our Court of Appeals in Medora v. Colautti, 602 F.2d 1149 (3rd Cir. 1979), *fn7" Pennsylvania provides general assistance welfare benefits to all of its needy and distressed citizens, administered by the DPW.

 Thus, in Pa.Stat.Ann., Title 62, Section 401 et seq. (Purdon 1968), the purpose of Public Welfare is given:

 
"To promote the welfare and happiness of all the people of the Commonwealth, by providing public assistance to all of its needy and distressed; that assistance shall be administered promptly and humanely with due regard for the preservation of family life, and without discrimination on account of race, religion or political affiliation; and that assistance shall be administered in such a way and manner as to encourage self-respect, self-dependency, and a desire to be a good citizen and useful to society."

 And, in 62 P.S. § 408, the DPW is given:

 
"(T)he duty to take measures not inconsistent with the purposes of this article (Public Assistance); and when other funds or facilities for such purposes are inadequate or unavailable to provide for special needs of individuals eligible for assistance; to relieve suffering and distress arising from handicaps and infirmities; to promote their rehabilitation; to help them if possible to become self-dependent; and, to cooperate to the fullest extent with other public agencies empowered by law to provide vocational training, rehabilitative or similar services."

 On March 8, 1980, in order to implement the statutory change, DPW published modifications to its regulations pertaining to general assistance eligibility, to deny general assistance benefits to any full-time college student who has not "participated in a federally subsidized program for dependent children" in the past five years. *fn8" 55 Pa.Code § 141.61.

 The testimony of the named Plaintiffs and several nonnamed members of the class was that they could not continue their college education if general assistance benefits were terminated. (See Addendum to this Opinion as to each witness.) Several were handicapped and attending college under the guidance of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, and were presently unable to be employed. Most were 21 years of age or older, the age beyond which parents are no longer required to support them.

 II. Standard of Review

 There is no constitutional right to receive public welfare, Smith v. Reynolds, 277 F. Supp. 65 (E.D.Pa.1967), aff'd 394 U.S. 618, 89 S. Ct. 1322, 22 L. Ed. 2d 600 (1969), nor is there a constitutional right to an education. Guadalupe Organization, Inc. v. Tempe Elementary School District, 587 F.2d 1022 (9th Cir. 1978), citing San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 93 S. Ct. 1278, 36 L. Ed. 2d 16 (1973).

 Where the challenge is to state regulation in the social and economic field (because the result is disparity in grants of welfare payments), not affecting freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights:

 
"(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 is does not offend the Constitution simply because the classification "is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.' "The problems of government are practical ones and may justify, if they do not require, rough accommodations illogical, it may be, and unscientific.' "A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it.' "

 Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485, 90 S. Ct. 1153, 1161, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491, 501-02 (1970) (citations omitted).

 As previously noted, the Third Circuit precisely defined in Medora v. Colautti, 602 F.2d 1149 (3rd Cir. 1979), traditional equal protection analysis where the regulation purposefully created discrepant treatment involving denial of all benefits of a certain welfare program. Then, the courts are to "more closely examine the rationality of the underlying classification," and determine whether the classification advances some state interest.

 We do not believe this case is controlled by the heightened scrutiny standard of Medora. Significantly, if a full-time student were to drop to part-time status or cease college studies, general assistance benefits resume. The legislation is not so much a denial of all benefits to a class of individuals, as it is a denial of a college education financed, in part, through general assistance without a previous history of family need. There are, as noted, other forms of state and federal assistance available only to college students. The Commonwealth has not denied all benefits, and this distinction becomes important as noted by the Third Circuit in Medora :

 
"The reasoning of (the Supreme Court cases dealing with non-suspect but sensitive classifications is) that no group should be singled out and burdened because of a characteristic over which they have no control . . . ."

 602 F.2d at 1155 n. 12. See also Rasmussen v. Toia, 420 F. Supp. 757 (S.D.N.Y.1976).

 Thus, we proceed to determine if there is a reasonable basis to justify the classification established by the Pennsylvania Legislature. *fn10"

 The legislative intent in passing the Pennsylvania Public Welfare Code is ...


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