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Gilbert v. State

Decided: March 1, 1979.

ETHEL GILBERT, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Division of Public Welfare.

Conford, Pressler and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, J.A.D. Conford, P.J.A.D. (retired, temporarily assigned, dissenting).

Pressler

This welfare case projects a novel issue concerning federal-state relations.

Congress in 1973 and as part of its anti-poverty efforts enacted 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 4951 et seq. , providing for a variety of domestic volunteer service programs including Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA). 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 4951 to 4958. The purpose of the VISTA program, as stated by 42 U.S.C.A. § 4951, is to

As one of the measures evidently designed to encourage individual participation in VISTA as well as the other designated domestic volunteer programs, 42 U.S.C.A. § 5044(g) provides that

Notwithstanding any other provision of law except as may be provided expressly in limitation of this subsection, payments to volunteers under this chapter shall not in any way reduce or eliminate the level of or eligibility for assistance or services any such volunteers may be receiving under any governmental program.

New Jersey, in addition to its participation in such federally-funded public assistance programs as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Aid to Families of the Working Poor (AFWP), and Medicaid,*fn1 also maintains its own program for the assistance of eligible needy persons not otherwise provided for. That program is encompassed by the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq. , which delegates initial responsibility therefor to the municipalities and which provides for its funding by way of local appropriations supplemented by state aid.*fn2 It receives no direct federal financial contribution. The administration of the program is governed by the General Assistance Manual, N.J.A.C. 10:85-1.1 et seq. Standards of financial eligibility of participants are prescribed by N.J.A.C. 10:85-3.3, which, by subsection (e)(1)(ii), provides that in calculating unearned income,

Income in the form of benefits, grants or earnings received from any Federal bureau or agency must be applied in computing the amount of the eligible unit's grant.

The appellant here had been, prior to September 1977, a recipient of a monthly grant of $82 under the General Assistance Program. In September 1977 she joined VISTA, was assigned to work at the Newark Justice Program and received a bi-weekly federal stipend of $145.85. The following month she was advised by the Newark Municipal Welfare Department that her general assistance benefits would be terminated because her receipt of the VISTA stipend caused her monthly income to exceed the level of eligibility for general assistance. She contested that determination on the ground that the proscription of 42 U.S.C.A. § 5044(g) would be thereby violated. That decision was nevertheless subsequently affirmed both by the City of Newark and the Division of Public Welfare (Division), both of which relied on N.J.A.C. 10:85-3.3(e)(1)(ii) and concluded that since the General Assistance Program received no reimbursement or contribution of funds by the Federal Government, the federal statute respecting the consequence of VISTA stipends was inapplicable.*fn3

The first question thus posed by the apparent conflict between 42 U.S.C.A. § 5044(g) and N.J.A.C. 10:85-3.3(e)(1)(ii) is whether Congress in enacting the former intended by its use of the phrase "any governmental program," to extend the proscription of that provision to states and their political subdivisions in respect of local welfare programs receiving no federal financial assistance. The second ...


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