Plaintiffs State of New Jersey, Department of Human Services; Ann Klein, Commissioner, Department of Human Services, and G. Thomas Riti, Director, Division of Public Welfare (hereafter collectively referred to as the State), have instituted this action against defendants City of Bordentown, its Mayor and Board of Commissioners, and its Local Assistance Board and the members thereof, alleging in substance that defendants are operating and administering the local general assistance program in violation of the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq.
Two residents of the City of Bordentown, Mary E. Eltonhead and Joseph DeSilvia, have by motion sought leave to intervene as plaintiffs, representing themselves to be needy persons qualified to receive assistance under the general assistance program and to have been denied such assistance. Their motion was made on short notice on the day of the return and argument of the State's present application for interlocutory relief. The motion for leave to intervene was granted and the complaint of the intervenors was filed, but their individual applications for relief are not considered here, defendants obviously requiring reasonable time to consider and answer them.
The State contends that such operation is both illegal and detrimental to the public interest, and seeks judgment restraining such illegal operation and ordering that defendants operate and administer the program in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations promulgated thereunder by the Commissioner. This matter is before the court on order to show cause why an interlocutory injunction should not be granted forthwith restraining defendants from thus violating the law and mandating corrective action to comply therewith.
The essential facts are not disputed. Prior to August 1, 1978 the general assistance program in the City of Bordentown was being conducted in compliance with the law. It was administered by a Director of Welfare, Mrs. Beatrice
Busch (who was employed part-time), and supervised by defendant local assistance board, whose members were properly appointed by the mayor in accordance with N.J.S.A. 44:8-115. The city's provision of general assistance benefits was facilitated by receipt of 75% funding by the State.
On August 1, 1978 Mrs. Busch resigned from the position of director of welfare, for the stated reason that the duties of the office were too burdensome to be handled properly by a part-time employee. Previously, on July 24, 1978, the board of commissioners voted to discontinue receipt of state general assistance funds and to administer the program locally without the employment of a municipal director of welfare. About the same time all five members of the local assistance board tendered their resignations therefrom. No action has been taken to appoint a director of welfare to replace Mrs. Busch, nor has any action been taken to appoint new members to the local assistance board.
Since August 1, 1978 the board of commissioners has undertaken to administer the local assistance program. The mayor has assumed the duties of director of welfare. Applications for public assistance are received and reviewed on days of regularly scheduled meetings of the board of commissioners, and then only in the hour directly preceding such meetings. An independent and locally administered "work system" has been established, with applicants required to do certain work, generally of a menial nature, for the municipality as a condition of any grant of public assistance. The State contends that needy residents of the City of Bordentown who are qualified to receive assistance are, by reason of these restrictive requirements, being denied in whole or in part the assistance benefits to which, under the statute, they are entitled.
The General Public Assistance Law mandates that every municipality in the State shall establish and administer a general assistance program. N.J.S.A. 44:8-114 provides:
Every municipality shall provide public assistance to persons eligible thereto * * * which shall be administered by a local assistance board according to law and in accordance with this act and with such rules and regulations as may be promulgated by the commissioner.
The cost of such assistance may be paid by the State to the extent of 75% of each year's "public assistance loan." N.J.S.A. 44:8-129. But while a municipality may elect not to apply for or receive State aid, and to finance its assistance program exclusively from its own funds, such election does not alter or derogate from its obligation to provide public assistance and to conduct its program in accordance with the statute and with rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner thereunder. Ricker v. Lawson , 155 N.J. Super. 536 (Cty. Ct. 1977). ...