This is an action under N.J.S.A. 44:7-19 by the Monmouth County Welfare Board against Rennel Coward, the defendant, seeking reimbursement for old age assistance payments made to his mother, Mary Coward. The mother is aged 77 and resides at 41 Main Street, Keyport. She has been a recipient of old age assistance since June 1953 and is presently receiving a total payment of $117 per month, $116 being paid by the Board and $1. being paid by the son since January 1959.
On November 15, 1963 the Director of the Monmouth County Welfare Board entered an order against the defendant requiring him to reimburse the county by payment of $95 per month. The amount was arrived at by using the usual formula in these matters. The son resists the payment on the ground that his mother is not eligible for old age assistance since she has a child and another person (the son's wife) able and willing to support her, and further that they are willing to afford her support in kind by having her live with them in their home.
Mary Coward, the mother, has lived all her life in Keyport. Her husband, the father of the son, died in 1936 and consequently no social security payments are available to the mother. After the father's death she did housework and washing and ironing for others until she suffered a heart attack
preventing her from doing any work. She occupies a small second floor apartment in Keyport and prefers to continue to live alone. The mother has never lived with her son since his marriage and she refuses the son's offer to live in his home. If there is any underlying cause for her refusal or if there is any discord between the mother, the son and his wife she failed to express it, merely stating that she had always lived alone since the death of her husband and that she desired to continue to maintain her independence and self-maintenance with the help of the old age assistance in her present home.
The defendant son, 58 years old, is regularly employed with a net annual wage of approximately $3,000 and his wife, with whom he is living, is regularly employed at an annual net salary of approximately $4,200. The son and his wife occupy one-half of a duplex home in South Amboy. Their one-half contains three rooms and bath downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. The son and his wife occupy one bedroom and he offers the other bedroom for the use of his mother. He further offers to supply all other necessary facilities for her proper support and maintenance. The son and his wife are in possession of the South Amboy home under some agreement with their daughter, the owner of the fee, whereby they may continue to occupy the premises upon payment of all current expenses and charges.
The defendant contends that the mother is not a "needy person" within the terms of the statutory provisions of N.J.S.A. 44:7-3 and 5 arguing that she is not without persons defined in the act who are able to support her. He further contends that since he is a responsible person chargeable by law with support who has offered to accept the old age recipient in his home that there is no statutory authority that will require him to reimburse the Welfare Board. Lastly the defendant contends that he is without sufficient financial means to comply with the order of the Director.
The Welfare Board argues that the mother is a needy person within the act; that the defendant is financially able to contribute to the support of his mother and the son's offer
to take her into his home does not relieve him of the obligation to reimburse the Welfare Board.
There is no common law duty to support owed an indigent parent by his children but this has long since been remedied by the enactment of statutes fixing the duty upon certain relatives and such actions for support or reimbursement may be enforced under the statute by direct actions of the indigent person or by certain governmental representatives who have a right of indemnification for reimbursement against the responsible relatives for the support. In modern times the Federal government, recognizing the social problems and need of the indigent old and also the tremendous financial burden created thereby, entered the area and Congress enacted 42 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq. "to encourage each state to help needy individuals obtain self care." This authorized grants and aid to the states in making payments under the old age assistance provisions. Our act which implements the distribution of these funds for old age assistance is N.J.S.A. 44:7-1 et seq. The act is in the nature of social legislation and is to be construed liberally. R.S. 44:7-2.
The statute defines assistance as "money payments to or on behalf of eligible persons." N.J.S.A. 44:7-1. An eligible person is a resident who has attained age 65, without adequate support, unable to support himself and without "parents, spouse or child able to support him and ...