Appealed From No. 23-0275762-001. State Agency Department of Public Welfare.
Before: Honorable James Gardner Colins, President Judge, Honorable Rochelle S. Friedman, Judge, Honorable Charles A. Lord, Senior Judge. Opinion BY President Judge Colins.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colins
OPINION BY PRESIDENT JUDGE COLINS
Michele Thompson (Petitioner) petitions for the review of an order of the Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare (Department) determining that Petitioner has not met the regulatory requirements to establish an Employment Development Plan (EDP) to obtain child-care benefits while she pursues Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) training. *fn1 We reverse.
Petitioner and her three small children receive cash assistance. In 1995, she applied to the Delaware County Assistance Office (CAO) for a special allowance for child care while undergoing a one-year course in LPN training. Just prior to making this application, Petitioner had been vocationally tested at the Delaware County Office of Employment and Training where she scored well and was recommended for LPN training. She was also accepted into an LPN training program. Petitioner's desire to pursue LPN training was self-initiated, and tuition for her training would apparently be paid from county resources. Adjudication of welfare hearing officer, pp. 2-3; Notes of Testimony (N.T.), pp. 31-32.
Child care is a supportive service available for participants in the ETP, a program operated by the Department for public assistance recipients consisting, among other things, of work, job search, training, and education activities. 55 Pa. Code §§ 165.46, 165.2. Recipients of public assistance are required to enroll in the ETP unless exempt. 55 Pa. Code § 165.1(a). Exempt recipients, however, may volunteer to participate in the ETP and will be given the "highest priority for services to the extent that resources permit" when they do. Id. Because Petitioner personally provides care for a child of two years of age and younger, she is exempt from enrollment in the ETP. 55 Pa. Code § 165.21(c)(5). She therefore approached the CAO as a volunteer.
The CAO denied Petitioner's request for supportive services, deeming Petitioner to be "job ready." This assessment was based upon a brief interview wherein Petitioner filled out a form (Form PA 1530) by checking off that she was a high school graduate; that she attended education beyond high school for two years; and that she had been trained to do clerical and packaging work. In a second form, Petitioner indicated that she had skills in typing, filing, and packaging; that she had worked as a rehabilitation specialist until the job was terminated, that she worked in telemarketing until she left to have a child; and that she was then employed on an on-call basis as an unskilled production worker stuffing envelopes for a mailing service. This employment paid so little, however, that Petitioner continued to collect cash assistance without any reduction. Nevertheless, the CAO determined that Petitioner's education and employment history rendered her "job ready" and therefore, according to the CAO, ineligible for participation in the ETP.
Petitioner appealed, and a hearing was held before a welfare hearing officer (hearing officer). The Department presented testimony that Petitioner was not approved for supportive services because she indicated on her application that she was a high school graduate, had some job skills, and also had a job. The Department also presented testimony that the Petitioner was offered the alternative of remaining employed part-time at the mailing service and continuing to receive unreduced public assistance as she had been doing. (N.T., p. 9.) The extent of Petitioner's education or stated skills or job success was never explored by the CAO. The Department admitted at the hearing that the CAO made no assessment of Petitioner's job skills or aptitudes but relied only on the brief information set forth in the Petitioner's application. Adjudication of welfare hearing officer, p. 3. Petitioner testified that her interview with the CAO lasted approximately ten minutes. (N.T., p. 29.)
The Department also offered testimony that self-initiated plans can form the basis of an EDP if there is a need for the recipient to acquire skills or training to remove him or herself from public assistance. The CAO determined, however, that because Petitioner was already employed, it "didn't see that there was a need." (N.T., p.20.)
Petitioner testified that she was twenty-eight years old; her children were aged one, two, and three. She further testified that the father of her children was sentenced to prison and owed approximately $12,000 in unpaid child support. (N.T., pp. 27-28.) At the time she made application to the CAO, Petitioner was employed at $5.00 an hour "stuffing paper into envelopes," but by the time of the hearing this job had terminated because of lack of work. (N.T., p. 30.) Petitioner stated that if she had the necessary skills, she would have a job that could take care of her family; but she lacked the skills and was seeking them. Id. She further testified that she became interested in LPN work when she helped care for a relative and observed the work of the nurses and nursing aides who attended to the patient. (N.T., p. 31.) Petitioner testified that she attended nearly two years of college at Lincoln University, but left because she failed to maintain a passing grade. *fn2 She testified that she failed because it was her first experience away from home and that she then lacked focus. (N.T., p. 27.)
The hearing officer found as a fact that the CAO had failed to assess Petitioner for job skills and aptitudes and that the caseworker for the CAO who interviewed Petitioner had no training as a vocational counselor. The hearing officer further determined that Petitioner was credible in her desire to remove herself and her children from the welfare rolls, and that she was motivated to seek supportive services for the duration of the one-year LPN course to further this goal. The hearing officer determined, however, that Petitioner's current skills and "status" would not allow her to achieve her goal. Adjudication of welfare hearing officer, p. 4. The hearing officer concluded:
It would appear to this Hearing Officer based on regulations cited in this adjudication that the Appellant [Petitioner] was a prime candidate for the CAO to develop an EDP, self-initiated or not, with a potential to be a success story for any individual who wished to break the cycle of dependency. The Appellant's current skills and aptitudes are not sufficient for the Appellant to be self-supportive and she would continue to rely on some type of Public Assistance to maintain and support her and her children.
The Appellant met the criteria listed in 55 Pa. Code Section 165.31(d) to establish an EDP and the criteria in 55 Pa. Code Section 165.31(e) for self-initiated training. The Hearing Officer concludes that the CAO incorrectly denied the Appellant special allowances for ...