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MICHAEL J. YANUSHKO v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (07/11/88)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: July 11, 1988.

MICHAEL J. YANUSHKO, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare, in the case of Appeal of: Michael Yanushko, Case No. 40-0251267.

COUNSEL

John C. Aciukewicz, for petitioner.

Cynthia B. White, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.

Judges Doyle, Palladino and Smith, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.

Author: Palladino

[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 536]

Michael J. Yanushko (Petitioner) petitions for review of an order of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) denying him continued eligibility for cash assistance and categorically needy medical assistance because he had enrolled as a full-time college student.

Section 403(d) of the Act of June 12, 1967 (Act), P.L. 31, as amended, 62 P.S. § 403(d), prohibits the receipt of general assistance by full-time college or university students unless they have participated in a federally subsidized program for dependent children within the previous five years. This prohibition is also embodied in a DPW regulation at 55 Pa. Code § 141.61(a)(1)(xiii).*fn1

On June 23, 1986, Petitioner was determined to be chronically needy pursuant to 55 Pa. Code § 141.61(d)(1), and therefore eligible for cash assistance, medical assistance and food stamps. Petitioner was classified as

[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 537]

    chronically needy because he is unable to work due to various medical conditions.*fn2 On August 20, 1986, the Luzerne County Assistance Office (CAO) notified Petitioner that it intended to discontinue his cash assistance and medical assistance on September 15, 1986 because Petitioner had become a full-time college student. Petitioner appealed the CAO determination, and the hearing officer sustained Petitioner's appeal, concluding that the circumstances of Petitioner's case warranted an exception to section 403(d) of the Act and 55 Pa. Code § 141.61(a)(i)(xiii).*fn3

[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 538]

The director of the DPW office of hearings and appeals affirmed the continuance of food stamps but reversed the hearing officer's recommendation that Petitioner continue to receive cash assistance and chronically needy medical assistance.*fn4 The director noted that the regulation did not provide for any exception to the ineligibility of full-time college students. Petitioner has petitioned this court for review. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.*fn5

Petitioner asserts that the DPW decision is contrary to the statutory scheme for public welfare, relying heavily on the stated legislative purpose of public welfare found at section 401 of the Act:

§ 401. Legislative intent

It is hereby declared to be the legislative intent to promote the welfare and happiness of all the people of the Commonwealth, by providing public assistance to all of its needy and distressed; that assistance shall be administered promptly and humanely with due regard for the preservation of family life, and without discrimination on account of race, religion or political affiliation; and that assistance shall be administered in such a way and manner as to encourage self-respect, self-dependency and the desire to be a good citizen and useful to society.

62 P.S. § 401. Petitioner asserts that the ineligibility of full-time college students is contrary to the purpose of

[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 539]

    encouraging self-dependency, and therefore violative of the statutory scheme. It is not disputed that if Petitioner were a part-time student or were enrolled in a vocational program he would retain his eligibility for assistance. Furthermore, Petitioner notes, his attempt to better himself and achieve self-sufficiency despite his physical limitations is being thwarted by a program designed to promote such independence. Thus, Petitioner argues, the prohibition found in section 403 of the Act and in the regulation should not be applied to him. Although we are well aware of the logic in Petitioner's argument, we must rule otherwise.

Where the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, we are not free to disregard the letter of the statute under the pretext of pursuing its spirit. 1 Pa. C. S. § 1921(b). The legislature has explicitly stated that full-time college students who have not participated in a federally subsidized program for dependent children within the previous five years shall not be eligible for general assistance.*fn6 DPW has promulgated regulations to implement this legislative prohibition. The language is clear; there are no exceptions. It is entirely possible that the prohibition does not, in fact, best serve the legislature's goal. A case by case review might very well be a better approach. However, where the legislature has spoken, this court cannot properly engage in development of the best approach. We are constrained to affirm.

Accordingly, the order of DPW is affirmed.

[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 540]

Order

And Now, July 11, 1988, the order of the Department of Public Welfare in the above-captioned matter is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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