Before: Stapleton, Rosenn, Circuit Judges, and Restani, Judge, United States Court of International Trade*
Appeal from the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
*The Honorable Jane A. Restani, Judge, United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation.
John G. Knorr, III (Argued) Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania Department of Justice Strawberry Square 15th Floor Harrisburg, PA 17120 Counsel for Appellant
Susan Frietsche (Argued) Women's Law Project 125 South 9th Street Suite 401 Philadelphia, PA 19107 Counsel for Appellee
This appeal presents a significant constitutional question implicating an aspect of Pennsylvania's recent amendment to its public assistance benefits legislation. Pennsylvania made the change during a recent wave of federal and state welfare reform legislation which swept the nation calling for a reduction in overall welfare expenditures. Specifically, we must decide the constitutionality of § 9(5)(ii) of Pennsylvania's Act 35 of 1996. See Pa. Stat. Ann., tit. 62, § 432(5)(ii). It mandates that an eligible family arriving in Pennsylvania from another state shall, during itsfirst twelve months of bona fide residence, receive as cash benefits the lesser of: (1) the benefit level available to similarly situated Pennsylvania residents of twelve months or more, or (2) the benefit level the family would have been eligible to receive in their prior state had they not moved to Pennsylvania.
In 1997, several months after the passage of this legislation, Maria and Edwin Maldonado and their six minor children migrated to Pennsylvania from Puerto Rico. They became eligible for public assistance benefits but were informed that the cash benefits allowance available to them would be substantially lower than the benefits provided to similarly situated long-term Pennsylvania residents.*fn1
Shortly thereafter, the Maldonados and several organizations that represent their interests (collectively, the "Maldonados"), instituted a class action against Feather O. Houstoun, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Public Welfare, and Don Jose Stovall, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Board of Assistance, both in their official capacities (collectively, the "Commonwealth"), in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Maldonados sued pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that Pennsylvania's two-tier welfare scheme violates their constitutional rights to travel, to equal protection, and to non-discriminatory treatment under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The district court held that the scheme did not appear to be supported by a rational basis, and thus likely violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Therefore, the court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the two-tier scheme and certified the class, with the Maldonados as class representatives. The Commonwealth timely appealed the injunction. We affirm, although our analysis differs.
The relevant facts of this case are for the most part undisputed. In May 1996, after several attempts to pass similar measures failed throughout the early 1990s, Pennsylvania, as part of the state's broad-scale welfare reform, enacted Section 9(5)(ii), governing public assistance benefits to eligible families that have resided in Pennsylvania for less than one year. Section 9(5)(ii) provides that during the first twelve months of residence in Pennsylvania, an eligible family's cash assistance benefits are limited to the lesser of (1) the benefit level that family would have received in its prior state of residence, or (2) the benefit level available to otherwise similarly situated long-term Pennsylvania residents.*fn2 Because Pennsylvania grants larger cash benefits than 40 other states, under this two-tier scheme, a typical eligible family moving to Pennsylvania would lose anywhere from over 60%, to as little as 2%, of their cash benefits for the first twelve months that they reside in the state.
Pennsylvania's legislation received considerable reassurance when several months later, in August 1996, Congress passed landmark welfare reform legislation known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("PRWORA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 601, et seq. The PRWORA dramatically changed the climate for welfare programs in this country and encouraged states to adopt restrictive cash benefit programs of the type contained in Pennsylvania's Act 35 for those relocating from another state. Among other things, the PRWORA changed the basic funding format for state Temporary Assistance to Needy Families ("TANF ")*fn3 plans to awards of block grants, expressly terminating the prior program's entitlement nature. Especially relevant to this appeal is Section 604(c) of the PRWORA, which explicitly authorized two-tier cash benefits provisions like that enacted by Pennsylvania. Section 604(c) authorized states to treat new residents differently than longer-term residents.
Prior to May 1997, Plaintiff Edwin Maldonado worked as a mechanic in Puerto Rico and supported his family with his salary plus government-provided nutritional and medical assistance. In May 1997, Maldonado's job ended. He and his wife both had health problems, and therefore in May 1997, they and their six children moved from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Maldonado was born and spent part of his childhood, to seek better health care.
Shortly after establishing residence in Pennsylvania, the Maldonados applied for TANF benefits. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ("DPW") approved their application and also certified that both Mr. and Mrs. Maldonado temporarily were unable to work. Under Pennsylvania's revised welfare scheme, the Maldonados qualified for monthly cash benefits of $304, the amount they would have received in their prior place of residence, Puerto Rico, $720 in food stamps and medical benefits paid by the state of $1,483.60, plus a one-time grant of $213 to defray job-search expenses.*fn4 Had the Maldonados been residents of Pennsylvania for at least ...