On appeal from Division of Family Development, Department of Human Services.
Michels and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.
Appellant is a disabled Vietnam War veteran who receives veterans disability benefits of $308 per month. In addition, appellant is eligible for food stamps, a federal program administered by the Passaic County Board of Social Services (the Board) under the supervision of the Division of Family Development, formerly the Division of Economic Assistance (the Division). During 1991 appellant was receiving the maximum food stamp allowance of $111 per month. In August 1991, appellant also began receiving federal supplemental security income (SSI) benefits of $176.25 per month.
When the Board became aware that appellant was receiving SSI benefits, it notified him that his food stamp benefits would be reduced from $111 to $55 per month, effective January 1, 1992. The notice, dated December 17, 1991, stated:
Your food stamp benefits will be reduced from $111 to $55 effective January 1, 1992.
This action is taken because there has been a receipt of or increase in supplemental security income (SSI). Your total supplemental security income benefits are $157.
The notice also stated that appellant was entitled to a hearing if he contested the reduction of his benefits. However, the notice did not inform him how the reduction had been calculated.
Appellant contested the reduction of his food stamp benefits on the grounds that the notice had been defective and that the Board had failed to consider a rent increase he received in March 1991. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that appellant's current monthly rent is $325. This rent expense entitles appellant to the full $111 per month food stamp allowance, even though he now receives both $308 per month of veterans disability benefits and $176.25 of SSI. The ALJ also found that appellant had used a lump sum payment of retroactive SSI benefits to pay his landlord back rent for a period commencing in March 1991. However, the ALJ concluded that appellant was not retroactively entitled to the full food stamp allowance of $111 for the months of January, February and March, 1992 because he had failed to notify the Board of his rent increase until March 26, 1992.
Appellant filed exceptions to the ALJ's recommended decision, contending among other things that "[t]he state-generated notice of December 17, 1991 was legally insufficient and could not effect a reduction [of his Food Stamp benefits]." However, the Director of the Division rejected appellant's arguments and adopted the ALJ's recommended decision, stating that "[s]ince [appellant's receipt of SSI benefits] was the only change contemplated by the agency the notice was sufficient."
Congress enacted the food stamp program in 1964 to "permit low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power." Pub.L. No. 88-525, § 2, 7 U.S.C.A. § 2011. Congress delegated broad supervisory authority over the administration of the program to the Secretary of Agriculture, which includes the authority to adopt such regulations "as the Secretary deems necessary or appropriate for the effective and efficient administration of the food ...