Goldmann, Lewis and Matthews. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiffs appeal from a determination of the Department of Institutions and Agencies which affirmed the decision of the Gloucester County Welfare Board that plaintiffs were no longer eligible for benefits under the New Jersey Assistance for Dependent Children (ADC) Program. Although the appeal was filed after the running of the 45-day period fixed by R.R. 1:3-1(b), now R. 2:4-1(b), without any extension of time being sought or obtained, we proceed to deal with the matter on the merits.
Plaintiff Julia Green lives in a family household consisting of herself, her present husband Edward Green, and nine children. She is the mother of all nine. Green is the natural father of the four youngest children; the other five are his stepchildren. The father of three of the stepchildren has been declared legally dead, and the father of the other two, who is under a court order of support, has disappeared and complaints have been filed against him.
Mrs. Green has been receiving ADC benefits from the Gloucester County Welfare Board since 1960, and received assistance from the former State Board of Child Welfare for more than six years prior thereto.
The Greens were ceremonially married in August 1967, at which time Mrs. Green was receiving for herself and her five children the sum of $408 monthly ADC benefits. When she and the children moved into her husband's home, her case was rebudgeted by the county welfare board, resulting in a reduction from $408 to $80 a month for the month of
October 1967. The grant was increased to $99, effective November 1, 1967, when a rebudgeting error was discovered and corrected. Mrs. Green appealed from that determination, requesting a fair hearing before the Department of Institutions and Agencies. That hearing was held on November 17, 1967 and resulted in a determination by the Department, issued February 15, 1968, sustaining the county welfare board's decision. The following was developed at the hearing.
Green is a regularly employed truckdriver who has been on his present job for about ten years. He refused to disclose to the county welfare board details pertaining to his income and his alleged special circumstances or debts on the grounds that this was his personal business and he was not legally obligated to support the five stepchildren. He declared himself willing to provide full support for his wife and their three children (a fourth was born shortly after the hearing) and also shelter for the stepchildren in the home he owned. He told the board that he would support the stepchildren, even though not legally obliged to do so, if he could afford it; however, he would not provide specific information regarding his own obligations, special requirements, income or other resources. Unable to obtain that information, the county welfare board estimated his net take-home pay, based on the hourly wage rate for his fellow drivers, using a 40-hour work week; deducted certain allowable items, and then determined that the family was entitled to an ADC grant of $99 to meet the family requirements.
On September 18, 1968 the county welfare board wrote Mrs. Green advising her that at a meeting held the day before the board had determined she was no longer eligible for assistance "because need cannot be determined because Mr. Green will not supply any financial information about the family. Also, the income is greater than need." She was advised that she could reapply for aid whenever she believed her circumstances had changed with respect to the
stated cause for closing the case. Plaintiff brought no further information to the attention of the board; instead, on December 9 her attorney, connected with the Camden County Legal Services, Inc., wrote the Department requesting another fair hearing. The request was granted and a second hearing held on January 23, 1969. At that time it was determined that Green was employed by a Glassboro trucking company full-time and that he had consistently refused to give any information with regard to his income or expenses, or to permit the welfare board to verify his wages through his employer. Mrs. Green professed total ignorance of any facts relating to her husband's financial circumstances. She asserted that he objected to providing food for his stepchildren and refused to furnish them with clothing, medical care and other necessities.
In an effort to develop data that would be relevant to a correct determination of the family's eligibility for public assistance, the welfare board was informed by Green's employer that the average wages of its truck drivers was $250 a week. Using this figure as a basis, and deducting allowable expenses, the board arrived at a budgetable income figure which exceeded the family's requirements by some $460.
The hearing officer found that Mrs. Green "had persistently failed or refused to respond substantively or credibly to any questions about her involvement in or relationship to the management of the financial and budgetary affairs of the household." Further, "her posture of total and complete ignorance about any element of the household finances was so exaggerated as to compel disbelief" on his part.
Counsel for Mrs. Green at the second fair hearing argued that (1) her husband had no legal responsibility under New Jersey law to support his stepchildren; (2) under the New Jersey Categorical Assistance Budget Manual Regulations, § 502, only available resources could be considered as income, and since the husband's ...