Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in case of Appeal of Esther Trant, dated July 3, 1980.
Ky Van Nguyen, for petitioner.
Jason W. Manne, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.
Judges Rogers, Craig and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Doyle.
This is an appeal by petitioner Esther Trant from an order of the Department of Public Welfare dismissing her appeal from the department's action reducing her grant under the department's Energy Assistance Program (EAP) by an amount equal to a federal grant she had received. We vacate and remand.
On December 31, 1979, the petitioner applied to the Allegheny County Board of Assistance for an energy assistance grant under the EAP. An official notice, dated January 7, 1980, informed the petitioner that her application was approved, but it included the qualifying statement "[t]he $157.00 you recently received will be deducted from your total payment." Petitioner, a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient, had received that $157.00 pursuant to a one-time energy assistance grant made directly by the federal government to all SSI recipients in January of 1980. Questioning the propriety of the deduction, the petitioner contacted her caseworker at the county board, who informed her that the deduction was being unconditionally applied to all SSI recipients also receiving grants from the EAP. Later, the petitioner discovered that not all SSI recipients were having the special grant deducted from their EAP grants, depending on the date when they were determined to be eligible for EAP benefits. On April 24, 1980, approximately three and one-half months after the January notice, the petitioner filed her appeal with the department challenging the deduction of the special SSI grant from her EAP grant. The department dismissed the appeal as being untimely filed pursuant to Section 275.3(b)(1) of the Public Assistance Eligibility Manual (PAEM), 55 Pa. Code § 275.3(b)(1), which requires appeals to be filed within thirty days of the receipt of notice from the administering agency of the action taken.*fn1
On appeal to this court, the petitioner contends that the department erred as a matter of law in applying the thirty-day appeal requirement of Section
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.3(b)(1) to the petitioner's appeal, instead of the six-month appeal limit of Section 275.3(b)(3) of the PAEM, 55 Pa. Code § 275.3(b)(3) which reads, in pertinent part:
When the County Office, administering agency, or service provider fails to send written notice which was required of the action and of the right of appeal or because of administrative error, ongoing delay, or failure to take corrective action that should have been taken, the time limit in paragraphs (2) or (4) of this subsection will not apply. For a period of six months from the date of the action or failure to act, the client shall have the right of appeal and shall exercise that right in writing.*fn2
The petitioner submits that she did not appeal the deduction from her EAP grant only because of the information she received from her caseworker -- information which allegedly was incorrect. The petitioner asserts that this "misinformation" derived from confusion in the department as to how to treat the special SSI grant relative to the EAP grants, as evidenced by a series of conflicting memoranda to caseworkers on the ...