Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in case of Rafael Rodriguez, No. 17217-D.
John E. Feather, Jr., with him Vilma Suarez, for petitioner.
Jean E. Graybill, with him Mary Frances Grabowski, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.
Judges Blatt, Williams, Jr. and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr.
This is an appeal from an adjudication by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) that petitioner, Rafael Rodriguez, is not a "separate assistance unit" within the meaning of 55 Pa. Code § 171.22.*fn1
The petitioner applied for general assistance benefits on January 8, 1981. At the time of his application, he was sharing a dwelling with Carmen Torres and her three children. Ms. Torres and her children received public assistance under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC). The petitioner was not related to Ms. Torres; however, both their names appeared on the lease for the dwelling.
Based on the information contained in the application, the Lebanon County Assistance Office (CAO), on January 9, 1981, determined the petitioner eligible for benefits in the amount of $57.00 per month. Since the petitioner was sharing a common dwelling with AFDC recipients, the CAO determined pursuant to 55 Pa. Code § 171.22 that the petitioner was part of the same assistance unit as Ms. Torres and her children, and that he was entitled to only the difference between a five-person allowance of $438.00 and a four-person allowance of $381.00. Had the petitioner been deemed a "roomer, or roomer and boarder" as defined in 55 Pa. Code § 171.22(a)(1), he would have been treated as a separate assistance unit and been entitled to $172.00 per month in benefits.
The petitioner filed a timely appeal from the CAO's determination. A hearing was held on March 6, 1981. The petitioner was not represented by counsel, and, due to his difficulty with the English language, he was assisted by his welfare caseworker, who acted as interpreter. The hearing consisted of a brief explanation of the CAO's basis for its determination, followed by some questioning of the petitioner concerning his financial arrangements with Ms. Torres. In response to questioning by the hearing officer, the caseworker testified that the CAO made a determination that the petitioner and Ms. Torres were sharing expenses "because they are both on the lease." In contrast, the petitioner testified that Ms. Torres paid the rent and the bills, and that she charged him $20.00 per week. The hearing officer affirmed the determination on the ground that the petitioner did not qualify as a separate assistance unit as defined by 55 Pa. Code § 171.22(a). Both the director of the Office of Hearings and Appeals and the Secretary of DPW affirmed the hearing examiner's decision. This appeal followed.
The question presented by this appeal is whether DPW appropriately determined that the petitioner does not qualify as a separate assistance unit. Our difficulty in reviewing DPW's adjudication arises from the appearance that the decision is based on an assumption that there is no issue of fact. Indeed, the adjudication states: "[t]he facts of the case are not in dispute between the parties." However, it is clear from the record that there is a factual issue as to whether the petitioner shared in the household expenses, or whether he paid "a fixed fee" to Ms. Torres as a "provider of service for room or board or both." We are not convinced that DPW made a determination of ...