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Williams v. Department of Human Services

Decided: November 15, 1988.


On appeal from the administrative actions of the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

Pressler, O'Brien and Scalera. The opinion of the court was delivered by Scalera, J.A.D.


This action involves the efforts of destitute, sick and disabled homeless citizens to compel the State, through the Department of Human Services (DHS), to grant them, in their plight, continued assistance in obtaining adequate shelter.

Appellants are all recipients of funds under the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107, et seq. (GA). The monthly grant under GA has been established by DHS as either $140 if the recipient is deemed employable, or $210 if deemed unemployable because of a physical or mental disability. N.J.A.C.

10:85-4.1. Some recipients also qualify for a grant of food stamps. These amounts may vary, because the Legislature has dictated that "[t]he extent of individual grants shall be determined in accordance with the standards and budgets authorized by the Commissioner." N.J.S.A. 44:8-124(b); 44:8-114. In addition, so-called emergency grants or assistance (EA) have been made available to GA recipients to aid them if they lose their housing. N.J.A.C. 10:85-4.6. There is no dispute that the maximum entitlement to such EA is made up of a basic three month period plus a two month extension if an individual is unable to find suitable housing due to illness or incapacity. N.J.A.C. 10:85-4.6(b)(v).

The majority of appellants here receive the $210 maximum monthly grant under GA because they are in some way disabled. Their challenge on this appeal attacks the validity of N.J.A.C. 10:85-4.6(b) which terminates their EA benefits after a maximum of five months following which they must continue their day to day existence on the basis of their regular monthly GA grant. The appeals to this court emanate from DHS notices terminating their EA benefits because of the expiration of the five month period.*fn1

The record in these cases is replete with evidence that appellants themselves and persons similarly situated are homeless adults who have lost their EA benefits, which had enabled them to live in various kinds of shelters, including motels or apartments, for the five month period provided for in the cited regulation. While the State denies that the problem is as widespread as claimed, there is no doubt that at least some of them are now living "on the streets" solely because of the loss of these EA benefits. They are unable to find suitable shelter which is affordable on the limited residual income of regular GA benefits.

For example, WB suffers from seizures and became homeless after he lost his job. As a result of the termination of his EA benefits he now sleeps with other homeless people on a concrete floor at the Path Station in Jersey City.

WD became homeless when his wife left him and he could no longer live in that apartment. Eventually he was laid off from his job and lived in a vacant garage. He suffers from severe epilepsy which causes him to black out and was able to reside at a motel only while he was receiving EA.

Jane Doe (a fictitious name) became homeless after she was evicted from her East Orange apartment due to overcrowding. She used to share this shelter with her aunt and 20 other people. She then lived in various shelters and motels through the utilization of EA funds. She now suffers from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, (AIDS).

The AIDS makes me paralyzed. Sometimes for entire days, I can't walk, and sometimes the pain is so bad that I can't eat. I also suffer from heart troubles, gall stones, ulcers, high blood pressure, chest pains and breast discomfort. There are lumpy areas in my breast.

In spite of her illness, however, she has continued to look for suitable affordable housing but to no avail.

CR has been left homeless as a result of her financial destitution and is now "walking the streets at night and visiting with friends during the day."

Several of the appellants have unsuccessfully attempted to secure public housing shelter in larger cities like Newark and Jersey City. "In short, the record in this case describes a catalogue of human suffering, illness, disease, degradation, humiliation and despair which shakes the foundations of a common belief in a compassionate, moral, just and decent society." Rodgers v. Gibson, 218 N.J. Super. 452, 457 (App.Div.1987).

In assessing the broad purposes of the GA Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq., this court has taken note that it is basically a local government welfare program administered by the State which has been ...

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