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Essex County Welfare Board v. Department of Institutions and Agencies

Decided: February 10, 1976.


Allcorn, Kole and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, J.s.c., Temporarily Assigned.


[139 NJSuper Page 192] The Essex County Welfare Board (board) appeals from the decision of the State

Department of Institutions and Agencies (Department) which, following a fair hearing procedure pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:7-18, ruled in favor of Ms. Banks and directed assistance retroactive to September 1974.

Applicant Brenda Banks, a resident of Essex County, was enrolled as a third-year student at Ramapo College, majoring in political science at the time the board discontinued benefits. Ms. Banks has been a recipient of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for a number of years under the grant program of the board. In addition to her regular monthly grant she has been receiving training allowance and child care payments from the board in order to assist her in the pursuit of her education, pursuant to ยงยง 420.1 and 411.2 of the Financial Assistance Manual (FAM). Ms. Banks requested continued child care and training allowances after completing two years of college. On September 30, 1974 the board sent her notification of its intent to suspend payment of the requested additional benefits in aid of her education. On October 11, 1974 she requested a fair hearing before the Division of Public Welfare (Division) of the Department to contest suspension of her benefits under N.J.S.A. 44:7-18.

At the hearing held on October 30, 1974 the board's representative testified that Ms. Banks' training allowance and child care expenses were suspended on the basis of the board's general policy to terminate such benefits after the successful completion of two years of college. The board stated that all recipients in such a position are deemed "job ready and further education is not considered reasonable or feasible." The hearing officer from the Division found that the board's suspension of service payments constituted abuse of its lawful discretionary authority insofar as it was based on a county-formulated board policy and not on an individual consideration of Ms. Banks' particular situation.

On January 23, 1975 the Division's decisional panel adopted the hearing officer's recommended findings and directed the board to reinstate Ms. Banks' supplemental benefits

retroactive to September, 1974. The hearing officer's decision as adopted by the Commissioner states as follows:

Regulations as specified in section 400 do require consideration of the merits of each request on an individual case basis. There is no evidence that such an evaluation was undertaken by the Welfare Board. Duly promulgated official regulations may not be abrogated by unilateral action on the part of the County Welfare Board. The hearing officer concludes that the Welfare Board's rejection of appellant's request, solely on the grounds of Welfare Board policy, is an unreasonable exercise of lawful discretionary authority. Accordingly, the hearing officer recommends that the Welfare Board be directed to provide the requested service payments, retroactive to September, 1974.

The Decisional Panel recognizes the discretion accorded the Welfare Board to approve or deny such special payments as requested in the instant case. However, the exercise of such discretion requires determinations based on the merits of the individual case. According to the evidence the determination in the instant case was pursuant to a locally formulated policy without deliberate review and evaluation of the vocational objective or whether attainment of such objective was reasonable or feasible. Accordingly, the action terminating expenses incident to training has not been adequately substantiated and such action is reversed.

The Essex County Welfare Board is directed to reinstate expenses incident to training retrocative to September 1974 and to recognize verified child care costs actually incurred during such period.

On March 4, 1975 appellant filed a notice of appeal for a reversal of the Division's findings and a termination of contested payments.

The county welfare board argues on appeal that although its power to continue or terminate grants is limited by specific statutory prescriptions, the discretionary powers granted to the local boards by those enactments is controlling in this case. We find this contention to be without merit. Pursuant to the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies, Division of Public Welfare, Manual of Administration, Part II, "Individual and Public Assistance," the following pertinent policy was adopted.

The goal of public assistance is to help the client realize his full potential and make use of his own ...

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