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RAYMOND A. MILLER AND PATRICIA M. MILLER v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (08/28/80)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: August 28, 1980.

RAYMOND A. MILLER AND PATRICIA M. MILLER, HIS WIFE, PETITIONERS
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in case of Appeal of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond A. Miller, Case No. 45895-C.

COUNSEL

John A. Kopay, with him Cynthia A. Sheehan, for petitioners.

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

Judges Rogers, Blatt and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 53 Pa. Commw. Page 576]

Raymond Miller (petitioner) contests a Department of Public Welfare (DPW) decision to discontinue assistance benefits to him and his family because of his failure to reimburse DPW for monies received while he awaited delayed payments of Federal Civil Service Disability Retirement benefits.

[ 53 Pa. Commw. Page 577]

The petitioner, a former Postal Service employee, his wife and their six (6) minor children have received $541 per month in Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) assistance since February of 1978. In July of that year the petitioner applied for U.S. Civil Service Disability Retirement benefits, and in August he signed an Agreement and Authorization to Pay Claim (form PA 176-K) which constituted an acknowledgment of his obligation to reimburse the Commonwealth for AFDC funds so received. In December of 1978 he received a $2154 check in accumulated Civil Service disability aid and these funds were placed in a savings and loan account in the name of his attorney in trust for the petitioner. Subsequently, the County Assistance Office (CAO) demanded reimbursement from these benefits for the state assistance extended while the petitioner awaited his Civil Service payment. When he refused to make such reimbursement, the CAO notified him of the termination of his AFDC benefits on the grounds that the $2154 was available for the needs of his family and that such amount exceeded his monthly allowance. After a hearing, the hearing examiner upheld the CAO action and his decision was sustained by the DPW.

Our scope of review of a DPW adjudication is restricted to a determination as to whether or not the decision violated the petitioner's constitutional rights, was in accordance with the law and was supported by substantial evidence. Administrative Law and Procedure, 2 Pa. C.S. ยง 704.

The hearing examiner addressed two issues: 1) whether or not delayed Civil Service Disability Retirement Benefits in the control of a recipient of AFDC assistance are subject to reimbursement by the DPW and 2) whether or not the accumulated benefits are

[ 53 Pa. Commw. Page 578]

    available to meet the needs of the petitioner's family and render him ineligible for assistance. The examiner held that the CAO correctly requested reimbursement out of the Civil Service benefits and further found that petitioner had such control of the trust fund as to make the money available to meet the needs of his family.

The petitioner contends that delayed Civil Service benefits are not reimbursable by the Commonwealth because federal law exempts these payments from attachment and other legal process.*fn1 He argues that Civil Service disability payments should be subject to the broad exemptions given to Social Security benefits*fn2 and Veterans' assistance*fn3 on the grounds that the similarity of the language of the three statutes concerned evidences an identical Congressional intent.*fn4

[ 53 Pa. Commw. Page 579]

We cannot agree that federal law exempts delayed Civil Service disability benefits from claims for reimbursement by the Commonwealth. Our Supreme Court, in McGreevy Estate, 445 Pa. 318, 286 A.2d 355 (1971), held that monthly Civil Service retirement benefits paid to an incompetent's guardian lost their exempt status once they reached the hands of the guardian and the Commonwealth could seek reimbursement from the estate of the deceased incompetent. We must therefore hold that the exemption of the petitioner's Civil Service disability benefits ended upon his receipt of the $2154 check.*fn5

Moreover, we find no error in the hearing examiner's determination that the retirement disability funds were within the petitioner's control and available to meet the needs of his family. The record reveals no evidence that petitioner could not direct his attorney to deplete the trust account at any time, and inasmuch as $2154 exceeds this petitioner's monthly AFDC allowance, the CAO properly discontinued assistance when it learned that this money was available for his use.

[ 53 Pa. Commw. Page 580]

Order

And Now, this 28th day of August, 1980, the order of the Department of Public Welfare in the above-captioned case is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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