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Edward Karpinski v. Department of Public Welfare

February 22, 2011

EDWARD KARPINSKI, PETITIONER
v.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dan Pellegrini, Judge

Submitted: January 14, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE PELLEGRINI

Edward Karpinski (Petitioner) appeals pro se from an order of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) denying him cash benefits under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) because his gross income exceeded the annual income limit for the 2009-2010 LIHEAP program year and finding that Petitioner was not prejudiced by LIHEAP's failure to timely decide whether Petitioner was eligible for the program because he ultimately lost on the merits of his appeal.

Petitioner alleges the following facts, the truth of which the DPW has not contested unless noted. Petitioner is an elderly disabled man who received LIHEAP benefits for each of the four years preceding the 2009-2010 LIHEAP program year. Each year he received the LIHEAP application in early October and immediately sent it back. The 2009-2010 LIHEAP program year was no different. Around October 4, 2009, Petitioner received the LIHEAP application, and he filled it out and mailed it the same day. (The DPW did dispute that Petitioner filed a LIHEAP application in October.) When he had not heard back by November 4, he went to the Delaware County Assistance Office (Office) and filled out another application. (The DPW claimed this was done on November 13.) The rest of the year passed with no word from the DPW concerning the application.

Meanwhile, Petitioner, who uses oil to heat his home, ran low on oil and was no longer able to heat his home. He called the Office on January 4, 2010, stating that he had no heat or oil. Later that same day, he visited the Office to get information on his application and was told there had been no decision yet. Petitioner again called the Office on January 6 and January 8, 2010, again stating that he had no oil to heat his home. The temperature during this time was consistently in the 20s, and Petitioner suffered health problems from the lack of heat in his home. He did not have enough oil because he expected to receive LIHEAP assistance as he had the previous four years and had not counted on LIHEAP taking so long to process his application.

Finally, on January 15, 2010, the DPW issued its decision. It denied his application determining that Petitioner's income exceeded the annual income limit for the 2009-2010 LIHEAP program year.*fn1 Notably, the January 15, 2010 decision was issued more than two months after the DPW claimed Petitioner applied for LIHEAP benefits and more than three months after Petitioner claimed he applied. Under either scenario, the DPW did not issue a decision within 30 days. The LIHEAP regulation found at 55 Pa. Code §601.22, provides:

The LIHEAP administering agency will send the applicant a written notice of the decision on eligibility within 30 days after receiving a completed application.

Before the official starting date of each year's program, the [DPW] will mail LIHEAP application forms to households that received LIHEAP cash benefits during the previous year. Households that complete and return these mailed application forms to the LIHEAP administering agency before the program has officially begun will receive a written notice of a decision on eligibility no later than 30 days after the official starting date of the program.

(Emphasis added.)*fn2

Petitioner appealed the determination to the DPW's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. He did not contest that his income was above the LIHEAP maximum but instead argued that the delay in informing him of this prejudiced him and violated the DPW's regulations. Petitioner's appeal was denied. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held that because the DPW determined that Petitioner's income was not low enough to be eligible for LIHEAP, the DPW's failure to abide by its 30-day timeframe was "irrelevant." Petitioner again appealed, and the Final Administrative Action Order affirmed the ALJ's decision. Petitioner then appealed to this Court.*fn3

On appeal, Petitioner again contends that the DPW was required to issue a decision within 30 days, its failure to do so prejudiced him in the ways described above, and that he is entitled to interim assistance for the period between his application and the January 15, 2010 determination. Petitioner also argued that because the hearing before the ALJ did not occur until after the LIHEAP program had ended for the year, making the hearing a moot issue, he was denied due process.*fn4

An examination of the regulations involved shows the procedure to follow when the DPW fails to comply with the 30-day timeframe in Section 601.22. This procedure is largely analogous to the procedure for appeals following a timely denial of a LIHEAP application. Section 601.123, 55 Pa. Code §601.123, provides:

(a) An applicant may appeal and receive a fair hearing if the applicant believes a decision on eligibility for LIHEAP benefits is ...


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