Halpern, Matthews and Lynch.
[124 NJSuper Page 519] Appellant, a recipient of old age assistance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:7-1 et seq. , appeals from a decision of the Department of Institutions and Agencies (Department) which affirmed the action of the Passaic County Welfare Board in denying her application for an increase in her monthly allowance of $162. Appellant asserts that such
amount is inadequate to provide for her reasonable maintenance and well-being. She states that her monthly rent is $135, her utilities average $34 a month, and food stamps cost $6 a month, totaling $175.
It is obvious from the above figures that appellant's expenses exceed her income. In addition, she suffers from arthritis, rheumatism and asthma, plus several other ailments. Her application for an increased allowance was triggered by the fact that she had incurred an unpaid utility bill of $247, resulting in Public Service giving notice that the service would be cut off unless the delinquent bill was satisfied by payment of $64 by May 23, 1973 and $44 on the first of each month thereafter. Plaintiff's "emergency" application to the welfare board was for an increase of $54 a month, to be used towards payment of the first installment of the utility bill, the remaining $10 to be paid by her, and $39 monthly thereafter, with the remaining $5 to be paid by appellant. The first installment of $64 was satisfied by payments of $10 by appellant herself and $54 by the welfare board pursuant to an interim order of a judge of the Appellate Division, pending disposition of the motion for temporary relief before this court.
In its decision the Department held that the determination of appellant's grant in the amount of $162 a month was correctly based on the rules and regulations adopted by the Division of Public Welfare (Division) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:7-6 and -12, and in accordance with the Financial Assistance Manual used by the Division. The grant of $162 a month is a "flat grant" arrived at pursuant to the regulations of the Division which became effective July 1, 1971, whereby the Categorical Assistance Budget, theretofore the guide, was replaced by the Financial Assistance Manual as the basis for establishing the amount of a grant. Cf. New Jersey Welfare Rights Organization v. Cahill , 349 F. Supp. 501 (D.N.J. 1972), for explanation of the difference between the manuals. The Division has provided that a county welfare board may make additional payments to a recipient
beyond those established in the "flat grant" only where an "emergent situation" exists. An "emergent situation" is defined as "a sudden and urgent occasion calling for immediate financial assistance, recognized in this Chapter when the occurrence is one over which the eligible unit had no control or opportunity to plan in advance." N.J.A.C. 10:82-1.1. And N.J.A.C. 10:82-12.11(c) reads:
When there has been substantial loss of shelter, food, clothing or household furnishings by fire, flood or other similar natural disaster; or when because of an emergent situation over which they had no control or opportunity to plan in advance, the eligible unit is in a state of homelessness; and the county welfare board determines that the providing of shelter and/or food and/or emergency clothing, and/or minimum essential house furnishings are necessary for health and safety, such needs may be recognized in accordance with the following regulations and limitations: * * *.
It was on the basis of these provisions that appellant was denied her application for an increase in her grant. The hearing officer had found:
In the instant case, appellant did have her public assistance grant available to her, with which to pay her bill. Consequently, she could have averted her "imminent state of homelessness" had she only paid her monthly bill. Therefore, the Hearing Officer finds that appellant did have control of the situation and an opportunity to plan in advance. The Hearing Officer finds the action by the Welfare Board consistent with official regulations as applied to facts presented during the hearing proceeding.
That finding was affirmed by the Decisional Panel of the Division and by the final decision of the Department.
At oral argument appellant's attorney expressly abjured any attack on the concept of "flat grant" as such. Cf. New Jersey Welfare Rights Organization v. Cahill, supra. Rather, the argument is made that the regulations are in conflict with the statute pursuant to which they were promulgated. Appellant interprets the statute as mandating accommodation of the ...