should be completed immediately. Violations also were found in the following CAOs: Washington, Clearfield, Jefferson, Clinton, Centre, Franklin, and Cumberland. Paras. 64, 73-75, 87, 96-97. These violations not only deny applicants' general right to food stamps, they also impair plaintiffs' particular right to expedited issuance.
Plaintiffs have a right to expedited issuance. 7 U.S.C. § 2020 (e)(9); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(a); accord Consent Decree para. II (f). However, DPW officials in some CAOs affirm that their offices virtually completely fail to effectuate this right. See paras. 30-32 (Lehigh District of Philadelphia), paras. 33-42 (several districts of Allegheny); para. 43 (Wilkes-Barre District of Luzerne); paras. 44-46 (Lycoming); para. 47 (Jefferson); para. 48 (Schuylkill). Plaintiffs conclude, and DPW does not deny, that "more than one-third of the county and district offices whose staff was deposed openly admitted a general failure to provide expedited issuance." Para. 49. These admissions are confirmed by statistics, which also show illegalities in DPW offices with less forthright agents; nationwide data collected for FNS reveals that between 30% and 50% of all applicants for food stamps deserve expedited issuance, para. 262; see also Stipulation Between Plaintiffs and Defendant Richard E. Lyng (April 7, 1986), whereas many Pennsylvania CAOs grant expedited issuance far less often, see paras. 230-261 (between 0% and 2% of applicants received expedited issuance in 6 CAOs and in 11 district offices of 6 other CAOs; in one other district office between 3% and 8% of applicants received expedited issuance). No further analysis, statistical or otherwise, is needed to prove inexcusable noncompliance. Cf. Hess v. Hughes, 500 F. Supp. 1054, 1059-61 (D. Md. 1980). But there is more.
DPW offices are obliged to review all food stamp applications, on the day of submission, to see if the household qualifies for expedited issuance, which must be provided without discouragement and not merely made available or "offered" to eligible people. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.2 (a, i); accord Consent Decree para. II (l, n, s, v). However, certain CAOs simply refuse to read over all applications when submitted, with some offices taking one to two weeks to screen the forms. See paras. 101-138 (violations found in Allegheny, Philadelphia, Delaware, Northumberland, Chester, Washington, Luzerne, Lycoming, Jefferson, Schuylkill, Dauphin, and Wayne CAOs). Further, certain CAOs effectively deprive eligible applicants of expedited issuance by limiting screening to cover only general eligibility requirements unless the applicant takes initiative by specifically requesting expedited issuance or explaining the household's crisis state. See paras. 139, 143-45, 147-48, 150-51, 153-56, 158, 370 (violations found in Allegheny, Northumberland, Chester, Washington, Carbon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Jefferson, and Schuylkill CAOs). In the Hill and Tioga Districts of Philadelphia's CAO, DPW agents only "offer" expedited issuance of food stamps to eligible applicants, with many of these offers being declined, paras. 141-42, 159-60, apparently because DPW improperly penalizes recipients of expedited issuance by delaying cash assistance benefits, paras. 162-64. Thus, DPW offices have shirked their duty to assess each applicant's entitlement to expedited issuance, and to provide this benefit when deserved.
Notwithstanding DPW's obligation to provide informed agents to process food stamp applications, see 7 C.F.R. §§ 272.4(d), 273.2(i); accord Consent Decree para. II (m, q, r), even when they try to evaluate applicants' entitlement to expedited issuance some DPW offices apply incorrect standards. The statute and federal regulations make clear that, for the purposes of this program, benefits may not be denied for lack of verification of information in an application except for lacking verification of the applicant's identity, and not even for lacking verification of identity unless the agency attempts verification by collateral contact. 7 U.S.C. § 2020 (e)(9); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2 (i) (4) (i, ii); see also 7 C.F.R. § 273.2 (c, f, i) (protection for migrant workers). Accord Consent Decree para. II (h-k, o). However, before approving expedited issuance of food stamps, certain CAOs require verification of: whether an applicant has applied for child support, paras. 166, 169, 173, 176, 184, has registered for work, para. 167, has actually separated from a spouse, para. 181, or has financial resources, para. 186; what is the applicant's citizenship, paras. 170, 190, 193-94, income, paras. 171, 175, 186-87, 197, residence, paras. 172, 174-5, 177, 183, 187-88, 193-94, 196-97, or social security number, paras. 177, 183, 188, 196; how a last job was lost by the applicant, para. 180, 185, 190, 193, and what is the value of the applicant's car, para. 183. (In at least one case, DPW's executive deputy secretary has approved such an erroneous requirement for verification. paras. 303-305.) Further, some DPW offices require verification of all "questionable" information, paras. 179, 186, and unclear factors of eligibility such as "past management", para. 192; others generally delay the process to verify some or all of the factors normally relevant to determine eligibility for food stamps, paras. 168, 182-83, 189. Finally, some offices fail to make required collateral contacts where needed to verify identification. paras. 178, 191, 195. Moreover, the statute and regulations define clear eligibility standards and limit the type of information that may be considered in evaluating applications. 7 U.S.C. § 2020 (e)(9); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2 (f, i) accord Consent Decree para. II (f-h, j). However, certain CAOs apply the wrong income standards, paras. 202-03, 208, 221, 224-26, use improper time standards, taking too long to act, paras. 209, 353, 355-56, 363, 365, 358, 368-69, 371-72, 374-75, 379-80, 384, 387-89, 391-92, 396, 399-400, 407, or incorrectly define migrant status, paras. 210-11. Others consider irrelevant factors such as: future access to cash assistance programs, para. 200; actual cash flow, para. 201; having food in a home, paras. 204, 217; age or number of household members, paras. 214, 216, 220, 222; relatives living nearby, para. 215; state of mortgage, rent, or utility bill delinquencies, paras. 140, 217-18; views of community organizations, para. 218; or residency in a battered women's shelter, para. 223. Some DPW agents candidly admitted that they simply do not know or apply fixed standards for eligibility. paras. 205-07, 212, 219; see also paras. 350-51. Obviously, many less forthright agents are equally ignorant.
"At a minimum, due process requires the [State] agency to explain, in terms comprehensible to the claimant, exactly what the agency proposed to do and why the agency is taking this action." Ortiz v. Eichler, 616 F. Supp. 1046, 1061 (D. Del. 1985). Under 7 C.F.R. § 273.2 (c)(4), each DPW office should post notices of applicants' rights, such as those to expedited issuance or appeal. Accord Consent Decree para. II (p). Further, under 7 C.F.R. § 273.15 (d), DPW must advise applicants when they are denied expedited issuance and offer to hold an agency conference within two working days. Accord Consent Decree para. II (t). However, some offices post no notices, do not tell applicants when they are denied expedited processing, or do not offer to or hold agency conferences with applicants denied expedited issuance; in fact, in some offices important supervisory personnel do not know what an agency conference is. paras. 264-297. In light of DPW's argument that the Food Stamp Act's procedures for timely review immunize the agency from private lawsuits, the failure to secure this protection is cruelly ironic.
Full access to expedited procedures may not be restricted based on inadequate staffing, scheduling problems, or unexpected seasonal influxes of applicants. See 7 C.F.R. §§ 273.2 (a, c, e, f, i), 273.10; accord Consent Decree para. II (u). However, the evidence shows widespread computer problems that, when coupled with burdensome requirements to issue food stamps manually in local offices, impair plaintiffs' rights to expedited issuance. paras. 307-12, 316-17, 320, 323-25, 328, 331, 337. Some DPW agents blame the processing delays on inadequate staff or on excessive paperwork requirements. See paras. 313-15, 318-19, 321-22, 326-27, 329-30, 332, 334, 336, 338-40, 342. Finally, there is evidence that the centralized mailing of authorizations to purchase food stamps, from Harrisburg, can add four or more days to the time between application and receipt of food stamps. Paras. 333, 335, 341, 343, 359-61, 366, 377, 381, 386, 395, 398, 402, 405, 408; see also para. 352 (centralized mailing creates special problems for the homeless). Although it is hard to say how much these administrative difficulties impair plaintiffs' rights, clearly they contribute to the overall problem.
When evaluating the federal regulations implementing 7 U.S.C. § 2020 (e)(9), I acknowledge the general principle that FNS's interpretation of the legislation deserves some deference. However, as Judge Blumenfeld recognized in an earlier case challenging implementation of the Food Stamp Act in Connecticut, administrative actions may not distort "the clear and obvious language of the statutory mandate . . . ." Tyson v. Norton, 390 F. Supp. 545, 552 (D. Conn.), aff'd, 523 F.2d 972 (2d Cir. 1975). The same conclusion applies with even greater force to a State agency's regulation. In this case, neither the federal nor DPW's regulations comport with the governing statute.
Although a prior version was enacted in 1977, 7 U.S.C. § 2020 (e)(9) was substantially revised by amendment in 1982. Compare Pub. L. 97-253, § 170, 96 Stat. 780 with Pub. L. 95-113, Title XIII, § 11(e)(9), 91 Stat. 972. The legislation now requires:
that the State agency shall --
(A) provide coupons no later than five days after the date of application to any household which --
(i)(I) has gross income that is less than $150 per month; or