On appeal from a decision of the Commissioner, Department of Human Services.
Michels, Shebell and Arnold M. Stein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Shebell, J.A.D.
This is an appeal from the denial by the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) of two petitions for rulemaking. The first was filed on behalf of all recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in the State of New Jersey and the second on behalf of all recipients of General Assistance (GA) in the State. The petitions seek amendments to N.J.A.C. 10:82-1.2 and N.J.A.C. 10:85-4.1, respectively, to establish a "standard of need" based on actual living costs in New Jersey. We have consolidated the two appeals to this court, one from the petitioners and the second from approximately 100 amici consisting of civic, social, political, fraternal, charitable and religious organizations supporting the requests for relief sought in the class petitions. In keeping with the importance and magnitude of the problem to be addressed, we have had the benefit of extraordinarily competent, complete and well-reasoned briefs from each of the parties.
Petitioners envision the relief sought as a first and all important step in obtaining adequate financial assistance for the poor. The petitioners' briefs are, in part, treatises on the suffering of the poor and the resultant social ills they deem to have been caused by the gap between money allocated and what in fact constitutes a realistic "standard of need." The proofs submitted demonstrate that the grants under both the AFDC and GA programs are insufficient to meet actual living costs in New Jersey. While appellants have urged both State statutory and constitutional grounds in support of the relief sought, our decision today is based solely on State statutory grounds. From our review of the applicable law we find that it is the statutory obligation of the Commissioner of Human Services of the State of New Jersey (Commissioner) to establish a "standard of need" based upon the actual cost of basic necessities in New Jersey.
We find no need to recount in detail the consequences of the inadequacy of the AFDC and GA grants to the needy in this
State. They have been graphically presented by the petitioners, and it is fully recognized, even by respondent, that welfare assistance under either program is insufficient to meet the basic living needs of the average recipient. This court has recognized the consequences of the inadequacies of the State's welfare programs in its recent decisions in Rodgers v. Gibson, 218 N.J. Super. 452 (App.Div.1987) and Maticka v. City of Atlantic City, 216 N.J. Super. 434 (App.Div.1987).
Petitioners argue that the Department of Human Services and its Commissioner have failed to fulfill their duty under the New Jersey statutes to carry out the legislative policy of providing for the reasonable maintenance and well-being of the needy. No federal issues are raised. We conclude that neither of the programs involved can be carried out in the manner intended by the Legislature in the absence of a "standard of need" which is based upon the actual cost of purchasing the necessary food, clothing, shelter and basic essentials for health and safety in the State of New Jersey.
Our initial concern in this matter is whether the intervention of the judiciary is appropriate or whether, as urged by respondent, it is an intrusion by the judiciary "into the delicate relations between two co-equal branches of government. . . ." See also Ivy Hill Park v. Property Liability, 221 N.J. Super. 131, 139-40 (App.Div.1987). We do not regard what we do today as such an intrusion. Rather, we perceive this opinion as fulfilling our constitutional obligation to give sense and meaning to legislation designed to provide essentials for the physical health and safety of the poor. See Hausman v. Dept. of Inst. and Agencies, 64 N.J. 202, 207, cert. den. 417 U.S. 955, 94 S. Ct. 3083, 41 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1974); Rodgers, supra; Maticka, supra.
The AFDC was established by the Social Security Act of 1935 and was then known as the "Aid to Dependent Children" program. 49 Stat. 620 as amended 42 U.S.C. § 301-1394. See King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 88 S. Ct. 2128, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1118 (1968). AFDC is administered by those states electing to take part in the program. 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. New Jersey
chose to participate in the AFDC program and therefore enacted L. 1959, c. 86 (N.J.S.A. 44:10-1 et seq.). Participating states are free to pay as little or as much as they choose under the AFDC program. Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 408, 90 S. Ct. 1207, 1215, 25 L. Ed. 2d 442, 453 (1970). The cost of providing assistance under the AFDC program in New Jersey is shared by the Federal, State and County governments. N.J.S.A. 44:10-5.
The two critical factors in the determination of the amount of the AFDC grant paid to a recipient are: first, the "standard of need" and second, the "level of benefits" that will be paid. Rosado, 397 U.S. at 408, 90 S. Ct. at 1216, 25 L. Ed. 2d at 453. Diversity exists among the states with respect to their standards of need, the items which are included as essentials, as well as the level of benefits to be paid. Ibid. Some states impose a maximum on the amount of public assistance payable to an individual or family while others place a limitation on the benefits by ...