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Purnell v. City of Bridgeton

January 29, 1976

CHRISTINE PURNELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF BRIDGETON ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Testa, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Testa

[139 NJSuper Page 259] Plaintiff seeks to compel the City of Bridgeton's director of welfare to increase the amount of general assistance rendered pursuant

to the general assistance program established by N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq. Jurisdiction is conferred upon the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court by N.J.S.A. 44:1-86.

Plaintiff, a resident of Bridgeton, applied to the city for public assistance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq. in March 1975. The director of welfare found plaintiff to be eligible for public assistance and made an award to her of $82 a month. This figure represented the maximum grant for a person in plaintiff's position, as set forth in the State's General Assistance Budget Manual. In addition, an award for medical expenses was made of $5 per doctor visit for as many visits as were needed in any given month. This amount was based on the availability of medical care through the Community Health Improvement Program operated by the Bridgeton Hospital at $5 per visit. Following a complete investigation, the amount of public assistance initially awarded was continued.

Plaintiff, in seeking to compel the director of welfare to increase the amount of the public assistance grant, contends that since she computes her "needs" for food, shelter, fuel, clothing and medical care at $117 per month, the city is obligated under N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq. to fashion an award so that these computed "needs" are met. Thus, the question presented, which is apparently one of first impression in this State, is whether the city must award public assistance in the amount of the applicant's computed "needs" even where such amount exceeds the maximum grant set forth in the State's General Assistance Budget Manual.

Plaintiff focuses primarily upon the policy statement set forth in the General Public Assistance Law. That statement provides, in pertinent part:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of the State that every needy person shall * * * be entitled to receive such public assistance as may be necessary , and that the furnishing of such public assistance is primarily the duty of the municipalities * * * [ N.J.S.A. 44:8-109; emphasis supplied]

Based upon this statement of policy, plaintiff maintains that the city is obligated to make an award of public assistance in whatever amount is "necessary." Furthermore, plaintiff contends that since the duty of providing such assistance is primarily that of the city, it can be compelled to make a grant which exceeds the State's maximum reimbursement level whenever an applicant's "needs" exceed that level.

In support of this construction of the statute, plaintiff relies on Higdon v. Boning , 121 N.J. Super. 276 (J. & D.R. 1972). In that case plaintiff applied for public assistance to the local director of welfare to pay for medical expenses. The application was denied by the director on the ground, among others, that the medical expenses were "in the nature of sophisticated treatment" and therefore not within "the tenor and intendment of the act." Id. at 279. The Sussex County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court overruled the director, holding (at 282) that the "legislative intent was to make certain that the needy should not suffer unnecessarily from the burdens of sickness." Plaintiff contends that this and other language in Higdon indicates that medical assistance must be provided by the municipality under the General Public Assistance Law, whatever the cost.

The holding in Higdon does not decide the issue before this court. Higdon is factually distinguishable in that it dealt only with unusual medical expenses and not with the everyday basic needs which are the subject of the dispute herein. The court finds that the amount necessary to meet those everyday needs can be computed and a fixed sum awarded accordingly. In fact, the Commissioner of Welfare has fixed an amount considered to be sufficient to meet an individual's everyday living expenses, pursuant to his authority under the General Public Assistance Law. Medical expenses, on the other hand, are individual in nature and awards for such must be arrived at on an individual basis.

Bridgeton argues that the Proposed Schedule II of the General Assistance Budget Manual ...


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