Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:1-86, which provides a summary procedure for obtaining a judicial review of the decision of the Director of Welfare in an individual case:
The director of welfare * * * shall determine who are to be relieved by him, subject to an application by any person * * * to the juvenile and domestic relations court * * * applying for a summary review and determination by the court of the action of the director as to the extent and amount of relief, if any, to be rendered.
Mamie Harris, a welfare recipient, petitions the Union County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to review the action of the Director of Welfare of the City of Plainfield reducing her public assistance grant to $69 a month. She contends that such amount is inadequate to provide for her basic needs of food and shelter, thereby exposing her to unnecessary suffering, contrary to N.J.S.A. 44:8-122, and she requests this court to order that her monthly assistance payment be increased to $242.50.
Plaintiff has no income other than her public assistance grant. She is a widow, residing in a two-bedroom apartment with two adult sons. Most weekends she cares for her institutionalized retarded daughter. None of her children
contribute toward meeting the household expenses. One son, aged 19, is unemployed and receives $69 a month public assistance in his own name; another son, James, aged 30, is a full-time college student. All of the $65 a week which James earns working part-time is applied toward the cost of his education, and defendant admits that this money is unavailable to plaintiff.
Plaintiff is classified as employable, capable of light to moderate work despite a medical condition limiting her strength and endurance. In the past she has worked as a domestic, but she now believes her health to be too poor to resume such activity. She testified that all attempts to find alternate employment have been unsuccessful.
Plaintiff applied to the City of Plainfield for public assistance in December 1974, following the termination of county welfare benefits upon her son's graduation from high school. She was awarded a grant of $163 for herself and one child, which grant was reduced to $138 a month in March 1975 after the Plainfield Welfare Board became aware that her other son, James, also lived with her. When her youngest son became employed in August 1975 Plaintiff's grant was further reduced to $69 a month. The grant was continued at this level even though her son's employment terminated shortly thereafter. Defendant or her representatives informed plaintiff that her son would be required to apply for assistance in his own name.
Plaintiff submitted an itemized affidavit listing monthly expenses of $242.50, which figures defendant stipulated are reasonable. Defendant maintains, however, that the stipulation merely acknowledged the general reasonableness of the expenses and is not conclusive on the issue of plaintiff's individual needs since the items include costs chargeable to the emancipated children. Plaintiff denies that her expenses would be lowered if the children were to leave home and reside elsewhere.
Defendant testified that it is the stated policy of the Plainfield Welfare Board to limit public assistance grants
to the schedules of maximum assistance allowances prepared by the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies, Division of Public Welfare in its § 2.300A, General Assistance Budget Manual (Manual), for statewide use by municipal welfare directors, and that each reduction of plaintiff's grant was consistent with that policy.
Plaintiff bases her claim for increased aid on the provisions of the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 to 145. She contends that she is a "needy person," as that term is used throughout the statute, and therefore entitled to receive whatever aid is necessary to protect her well-being and provide for her basic needs, specifically $242.50, the amount required to meet her monthly expenses. Plaintiff further contends that even if the statute is construed to permit defendant director in her discretion to award a lesser sum, defendant abused that discretion by arbitrarily limiting the grant to the figure suggested in the Manual solely to minimize the cost to the city, without regard to plaintiff's actual needs.
Defendant testified that she considered it of the utmost importance that employable persons receiving public assistance not be encouraged to depend on their grant for extended periods of time, and she defended the Manual's maximum grants as being consistent with this incentive policy. The Manual provides a certain limited incentive to work, in that it exempts ...