Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare, in case of Appeal of: Linda M. Mooney, Case No. 430042045.
David J. Graban, with him, Karen Lazorishak, Fruit, Dill, Goodwin & Scholl, for petitioner.
Jeffrey P. Schmoyer, Assistant Counsel, with him, John Kane, General Counsel, for respondent.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Barry and Rogers, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barry.
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On December 12, 1983, this court decided the case of Van Dusen v. Department of Public Welfare (Mooney I), 79 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 60, 468 A.2d 540 (1983)*fn1 in favor of the petitioner, Linda Mooney. Ms. Mooney, diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded, had been denied food stamp benefits because she lived in a group living arrangement which, under state regulations, renders a food stamp claimant automatically ineligible for benefits unless he is a blind or disabled social security recipient. We determined that these regulations were inconsistent with the federal regulations on which they were based and that the intent of the federal legislation was to create an exception for blind or disabled social security recipients from the rule excluding otherwise eligible claimants from receiving food stamp benefits because they were residents of institutions. We found that inasmuch as Ms. Mooney purchased and prepared her own food she was not a resident of an institution; therefore, the Department's decision to exclude her from benefits because she did not qualify under the exceptions to institution-resident status was improper. We held that Ms. Mooney's living circumstances fell within the definition of a "household" under 7 U.S.C. § 2012(i)(1), which reads:
'Household' means (1) an individual who lives alone or who, while living with others, customarily
[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 91]
purchases food and prepares meals for home consumption separate and apart from the others, or (2) a group of individuals who live together and customarily purchase food and prepare meals together for home consumption. . . . In no event shall any individual or group of individuals constitute a household if they reside in an institution or boarding house, or else live with others and pay compensation to the others for meals. For the purposes of this subsection . . . disabled or blind recipients of benefits under Title II or Title XVI of the Social Security Act who are residents in a public or private nonprofit group living arrangement that serves no more than sixteen residents and is certified by the appropriate State agency or agencies under regulations issued under section 1616(e) of the Social Security Act . . . shall not be considered residents of institutions and shall be considered individual households.
Ms. Mooney has filed the present claim challenging another Mercer County Assistance Office (CAO) determination that she received an overissuance of food stamp coupons in the amount of $466.00 from February 1, 1984 to September 30, 1984 because she lived in a group living arrangement during that period and did not qualify for food stamps under Pennsylvania Welfare Regulations, the identical regulations which we held invalid as applied in Mooney I. It appears that in October of 1983, Ms. Mooney changed residences from Todd Avenue to East State Street.*fn2 She reported her new living
[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 92]
situation as that of an independent living arrangement rather than a group living arrangement. The Department approved her application for food stamps but during a subsequent re-determination procedure determined that the East State Street residence was not an "independent living arrangement" but a "group living arrangement" which the Department treats as an "institution". Ms. Mooney was determined ineligible and ordered to return any benefits she allegedly improperly received during that period. Under federal and state regulations, an overissuance is established in households which received larger allotments than they were intended to receive.*fn3
Ms. Mooney argues that the regulations as interpreted by the hearing examiner are inconsistent with federal standards, and are, therefore, invalid. She contends that her living arrangements are virtually identical to those in Mooney I, and as such, the labels of either a "group living arrangement" or "community living arrangement" are administrative labels and constitute, in reality, "a distinction without a difference".
Ms. Mooney also argues that the state regulations which acted to deny her benefits were in conflict with the federal statute pertaining to the treatment of developmentally disabled individuals, Act of October 31, 1963, P.L. 88-164, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6000-6083, and the Mental Health/Mental Retardation regulations. The federal statute and state regulations dictate the requirements that mentally retarded individuals be provided with goal plans called Individual Habilitation Plans which promote ...