decided: July 3, 1984.
LARRY A. GILLIARD, PETITIONER
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT
Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in case of Larry A. Gilliard, No. 930-035-D.
Larry A. Gilliard, petitioner, for himself.
Jean E. Graybill, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.
Judges Rogers, MacPhail and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 83 Pa. Commw. Page 473]
Larry A. Gilliard (Petitioner) appeals here from a final order of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) which affirmed the discontinuance of Petitioner's public assistance benefits because of his failure to verify to the County Assistance Office (CAO) the renewal of his registration with the Office of Employment Security (OES).
Petitioner was an active general assistance recipient and was not exempt from registering with the OES every six months.*fn1 The DPW hearing examiner found*fn2 that Petitioner, at a redetermination interview at the CAO on February 12, 1982, was instructed that he would be required to re-register with OES on March 26, 1982, and to return to the CAO on March 29, 1982, to verify the update. When the Petitioner failed to report as requested, the CAO notified Petitioner on April 12, 1982 that his assistance would be terminated for his failure to present verification of re-registration with OES. Petitioner timely filed a request for a fair hearing.
At the hearing, the examiner framed the issue in terms of the propriety of the CAO's action in terminating Petitioner's public assistance for failure to verify his re-registration with OES. The Petitioner, appearing at the hearing (and in this Court), pro se,
[ 83 Pa. Commw. Page 474]
testified that he had re-registered at OES on March 26 and stated to the examiner:
I have given you proof, here is the card, I showed you the card . . ., the fact remains the fact [sic] that I have been registered and always have been registered. . . .
The Petitioner also admitted, however, that he did not present his work card showing the re-registration to the CAO for verification on March 29 because he could see no purpose in doing so.
The hearing examiner, accordingly, found that Petitioner had last registered with OES on September 26, 1981.
There is no question that DPW regulations required a non-exempt recipient to re-register with OES every 6 months as a condition of eligibility. 55 Pa. Code § 165.23. DPW regulations regarding verification, on the other hand, simply stated that: "[t]he person verifies the registration renewal by presenting the [employment registration] card to the CAO," 55 Pa. Code § 165.24(a)(3). It appears, therefore, that it was the failure to renew registration, not the failure to verify the renewal, which would result in ineligibility for public assistance benefits.*fn3
We hold that DPW erred as a matter of law in finding that the mere failure to verify the renewed registration was grounds for termination of Petitioner's
[ 83 Pa. Commw. Page 475]
benefits. In Juras v. Department of Public Welfare, 73 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 169, 457 A.2d 1020 (1983), we held in a somewhat analogous case that failure to appear for a redetermination interview does not in and of itself warrant termination of public assistance benefits. Here, Petitioner had the burden of demonstrating his continued eligibility to receive public assistance benefits. Juras. His timely appeal from the CAO's notice of termination entitled him to a fair hearing at which he could attempt to meet that burden. Id. DPW argues that Petitioner did not carry that burden because he failed to introduce his updated registration card into evidence. As we have noted, Petitioner appeared before the examiner pro se and his testimony indicated that he did indeed have the updated card with him at the hearing.*fn4 The hearing examiner failed to question Petitioner directly about the card when Petitioner stated that he had it with him. DPW argues to us that Petitioner's failure to offer the card into evidence precludes him from doing so now, but we believe due process and fairness to the uncounseled Petitioner required the examiner to more fully develop this line of inquiry which was clearly central to the issue of Petitioner's continued eligibility for public assistance benefits.*fn5
Petitioner must be allowed an opportunity to fully present his case regarding his continued eligibility
[ 83 Pa. Commw. Page 476]
for public assistance benefits at the time of his appeal of the action of the CAO. We will reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with the foregoing opinion.
The order of the Department of Public Welfare dated June 10, 1982, Case No. 930-035-D is hereby reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the foregoing opinion.
Reversed and remanded.