The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINER
Before this court is the question of whether the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is constitutionally permitted to deny welfare benefits for nine months of the year to those residents who would otherwise be entitled to such benefits for the entire twelve months but for the fact that they are between the ages of 18 and 45 and fail to meet specific categories established by the legislation at issue. After reviewing the stipulated facts and the legislation involved and applying the legal standard of review required in this case, the court determines that the statute is unconstitutional in that it violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.
The challenged statute was enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in April 1983, Act 1982-75, 1982 Pa.Laws 231, amending the Act of June 13, 1967, P.L. 31, No. 21, known as the Public Welfare Code, 62 P.S. § 101 et seq. ("Act 75"). Section 10 of Act 75, amending 62 P.S. § 432, divides General Assistance ("GA") recipients into two categories: the "chronically needy," (Act 75 § 10(3)(i)) and the "transitionally needy" (Act 75 § 10(3)(iii)). Chronically needy are those individuals under the age of eighteen (§ 10(3)(i)(A)) or over forty-five years of age (§ 10(3)(i)(B)). Persons between the ages of 18 and 45 are chronically needy only if they: have a "serious physical or mental handicap" (§ 10(3)(i)(C)); are "caretakers" whose presence in the home is required to care for another person (§ 10(3)(i)(D)); suffer from "drug or alcohol abuse" and are "undergoing active treatment" (§ 10(3)(i)(E)); are "employed full-time" and have earnings not in excess of the current grant levels (§ 10(3)(i)(F)); have had their income fall below the "assistance allowance level" due to a "natural disaster" and are "ineligible for unemployment compensation" (§ 10(3)(i)(G)); and were previously employed full time for at least forty-eight months out of the previous eight years and have exhausted unemployment compensation benefits (§ 10(3)(i)(H)). Those persons categorized as "chronically needy" are authorized to receive assistance benefits for the full calendar year (§ 10(3)(ii)). The "transitionally needy," those who do not qualify as "chronically needy," are authorized to receive benefits "only once in any twelve-month period in an amount not to exceed the amount of ninety days' assistance" (§ 10(3)(iii)). These are individuals "who are otherwise eligible for general assistance" (§ 10(3)(iii)).
The legislation includes a five percent increase in the level of grants for general assistance and aid to families with dependent children, effective July 1, 1982, unless the Commonwealth is enjoined from implementing section 10 of Act 75 (Act 75 § 20(a), (b)). The grant increase is required to be suspended if such a court order is issued. Act 75 also contemplates the establishment by the Commonwealth of Community Work Programs to provide jobs and training for general assistance recipients (Act 75 § 5).
The complaint was brought by the named plaintiffs individually
and on behalf of all similarly situated persons. They are all between the ages of 18 and 45 and fail to come within the exceptions to the transitionally needy category. They would be recipients of general assistance benefits but for the fact that they are categorized as transitionally needy due to their age. Their entitlement requires them to register with the Department of Public Welfare for employment and training and they may not refuse a bona fide offer of employment. 62 P.S. § 405.1.
Defendant Walter Cohen and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ("DPW") deny that the legislation is irrational. It is their contention that the age classification bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest and that the state, in allocating limited funds, makes funds available to the most needy Pennsylvania residents and limits general assistance benefits in the case of persons able to seek and obtain employment.
The parties have stipulated to certain facts in plaintiffs' exhibit 1. They have also stipulated to the accuracy and admissibility of the March 1980 Characteristics of General Assistance Families. As of that date, the age of 48.5% of the "payees" was between 21 and 34 years of age, the highest grade or level of school completed by 72.3% of the "payees" was "some high school, did not graduate" and "high school" with 14.9% being "8th grade or less," the occupation of 24.4% of the "payees" was "blue collar/laborers except farmers" with the next highest percent of 18.4% being "service workers/service workers except private household," followed by 11.1% "never employed." A fourth category, called "Duration of Assistance Since Most Recent Opening," breaks down by six-month and year categories the percent of general assistance recipients on general assistance funds for certain lengths of time since the last time their case was opened. 66.8% were on general assistance for less than three years.
The plaintiffs have presented the deposition of Don J. Stowall who is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia County Assistance Office. He is responsible for administering the income maintenance programs in the County of Philadelphia, including the General Assistance Program. He testified that the welfare grant for a single person is $172 a month. This payment level depends upon the person's income and resources and does not vary according to age. The state does not take into account "potentially-available income," meaning income from parents or kin or a job that may begin in a few months. The state does not require a person to ask his or her relatives for financial support before determining the recipient's level of need if the person is over 21 years of age.
The court also heard testimony from Janice Madden who has a Ph.D. in Economics with a field of expertise in labor economics. She testified to her familiarity with the statistics on the characteristics of the class of persons who qualify for general assistance under the Pennsylvania Welfare Code as either "chronically" or "transitionally" needy persons. She also testified to her familiarity with the relationship between these various characteristics and the potential employability of such persons in the labor market. It was her expert testimony that persons who qualify for general assistance under either category of need tend to be the least employable of the unemployed residents of Pennsylvania.
It was Dr. Madden's expert opinion that, based on her familiarity with the classifications set out in the statute and the characteristics relating to employability there is absolutely no difference, in terms of ability to obtain employment, between a person under 45 years of age and a person over 45. Dr. Madden testified that the two factors that correlate to the length of time it takes to find a job are skills and education. Age is not a factor in assessing the employability
of those persons eligible for general assistance. While this court has agreed to take judicial notice of the fact that age discrimination in the employment area is a concern expressed by Congress through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), Pub.L. 90-202, 81 Stat. 602 (1967), as amended, Pub.L. 95-256, 92 Stat. 189 (1978), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (1982), Dr. Madden testified that ADEA cases essentially remedies age discrimination faced by persons in supervisory and middle level management positions. Such persons, according to Dr. Madden, are skilled, well-educated workers. Statistically, persons on general assistance tend to be unskilled and less educated. This testimony is borne out by the stipulated facts. She further testified that age discrimination does not exist with regard to the kinds of jobs generally filled by persons bearing the characteristics of the general assistance population.
When asked about her knowledge of the legislated job training programs that were authorized to be established by Act 75, Dr. Madden testified that, to her knowledge, no such program had been started in ...