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HARRIS v. HECKLER

November 18, 1983

Essie Mae HARRIS, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Margaret M. HECKLER, as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, George J. Albanese, individually and in his capacity as Commissioner of New Jersey Department of Human Services, and Audrey M. Harris, individually and in her capacity as Acting Director of the Division of Public Welfare, New Jersey Department of Human Services, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LACEY

 INTRODUCTION

 Plaintiffs are former recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") benefits. They challenge the "lump sum rule," under which they were declared ineligible for benefits for a period of time. Defendants administer the AFDC program on the state and federal levels.

 The underlying facts are undisputed. Plaintiffs move for a preliminary injunction requiring defendants to pay them AFDC benefits pending the outcome of this suit. (I have already denied their application for a temporary restraining order.) Defendants move for summary judgment. In the meanwhile, plaintiffs have cross-moved for summary judgment and class certification.

 I have bypassed the preliminary injunction stage and addressed the summary judgment question directly. Because I could not decide defendant's motion without settling the law of the case, and because the legal issues have been sufficiently aired, this decision disposes of plaintiff's summary judgment motion as well. I will decide the class certification motion upon proper briefing and oral argument.

 While on AFDC, each plaintiff came into a sum of money following the death of a relative. Under the lump sum rule, each was declared ineligible for further benefits for a specified period. The period was calculated by dividing the amount of the lump sum by the amount of plaintiffs' monthly grant. The rule thus treats lump sums as the equivalent of future AFDC aid. Each plaintiff, however, has spent the lump sum long before the ineligibility period has run out. Defendants, in accordance with the lump sum rule, denied the application of plaintiff Harris for further aid. It appears likely that plaintiff T.E. will have a similar experience.

 Were it not for the rule, plaintiffs would probably qualify for AFDC, as they did in the past. Destitute and in need of assistance, they challenge the lump sum rule on the following grounds:

 
(1) That it rightfully applies only to AFDC recipients with earned income, and was therefore wrongly applied to them; and
 
(2) That it creates an unconstitutional irrebuttable presumption of continuing ineligibility. *fn1"

 In essence, they seek to have their reapplications judged by the same needs test applied to all the applications for AFDC.

 A. Essie Mae Harris

 Essie Mae Harris was collecting AFDC benefits of $372 per month in October 1981. She used that grant, as well as food stamps and Medicaid, to provide for herself and her daughter. After the death of her nephew, she received an insurance check for $11,568.36. On November 1, 1981 defendants terminated her AFDC benefits until April 1985 under the lump sum rule. Her food stamps and Medicaid eligibility were also cancelled.

 By March 1983 the insurance money was gone. Harris had, and has, no other income or assets, so she reapplied for AFDC benefits. Defendants again found her ineligible until April 1985. She appealed. The state Administrative Law Judge reviewed her expenditures. He found that she had spent the money on food, shelter and clothing; indeed her basic living expenses amounted to $17,123, about $5400 in excess of the lump sum. The state Division of Public Welfare rejected the ALJ's recommendation that she be reinstated.

 Harris and her daughter are now destitute. Harris suffers from high blood pressure, asthma, and arthritis, but cannot afford medical care for herself or her daughter. Her daughter had a part-time job during the summer, but has now returned to high school. She lacks adequate clothing for the coming winter. The family survives on food stamps ...


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