July 8, 2010
JENNIFER VELEZ, COMMISSIONER OF NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF FAMILY DEVELOPMENT, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, Agency Docket No. C034339.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 26, 2010
Before Judges Graves and Sabatino.
Appellant W.W. is a recipient of food stamp benefits. He appeals from a final administrative decision by the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development (the DFD) dated April 29, 2009. The DFD found that the medical expenses incurred by appellant's wife, S.W., could not be used in the calculation of appellant's food stamp allotment between April 28, 2005, and August 1, 2005, because appellant's wife was an "excluded household member" under N.J.A.C. 10:87-2.3 due to her status as an ineligible alien. We affirm.
Appellant's wife underwent surgery in December 2004, and incurred medical bills that totaled approximately $4000 to $4500. At the time of appellant's recertification on April 28, 2005, he requested an increase in his food stamp benefits based on his claim that he was responsible for paying his wife's medical expenses.
The Passaic County Board of Social Services (the Board) denied appellant's request for an increase in his benefits, finding S.W. was not part of appellant's food stamp household because she was not an "eligible alien" under N.J.A.C. 10:87-2.3(c)(3). Appellant requested a fair hearing to contest the decision, and on July 13, 2005, the matter was transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law.
At the hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on September 6, 2005, appellant stipulated his wife was "not on a grant for [food stamps] or any other benefits due to her alien status." Nevertheless, appellant claimed he was entitled to include his wife's medical expenses when calculating his food stamp benefits under the doctrine of necessaries set forth in Jersey Shore Med. Ctr. v. Estate of Baum, 84 N.J. 137 (1980).
In a decision dated September 13, 2005, the ALJ noted that the New Jersey Administrative Code did "not provide for the expenses of an ineligible alien to be available in the calculation of an eligible recipient's [food stamp] benefits." Therefore, the ALJ determined that appellant was "not eligible for an increase in his [food stamp] benefits based upon the medical expenses incurred as a result of his wife's surgery." On September 21, 2005, the DFD adopted the ALJ decision, and appellant appealed.
In an unpublished opinion, W.W. v. Dep't of Human Servs., No. A-2252-05 (App. Div. Apr. 11, 2007), this court remanded the matter for further proceedings because the record did "not reflect whether appellant is elderly or disabled, whether he has incurred medical expenses under Jersey Shore, whether he is liable for same, and if so, when such liability attached."
Following the remand decision, the Director of the DFD consulted with Joseph Weingart, the Regional Director of the Food Stamp Program for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to obtain an opinion whether appellant could deduct his wife's medical expenses. In a letter dated June 22, 2007, Weingart indicated:
We have received an informal opinion from the USDA Office of General Counsel (OGC). Our OGC concurs with New Jersey's position that the household in question is not entitled to the excess medical expense deduction.
Moreover, OGC observes that express provisions of federal law, such as the Food Stamp Act provisions noted above [7 U.S.C.A. § 2014(e)(5)], supersede any State laws or regulations to the contrary.
At the remand hearing on April 20, 2009, the ALJ considered testimony from appellant and S.W., medical bills, and statements from the Social Security Administration. The balance remaining on S.W.'s medical bills was $2,970.24 as of December 30, 2008. Appellant testified he provided S.W. with five dollars per month to pay the medical expenses and also began paying each of the four medical service providers five dollars per month himself. He indicated that three of the four medical providers eventually stopped sending him bills and he continued to pay ten dollars per month to the surgeon.
The ALJ found appellant was elderly as defined by N.J.A.C. 10:87-2.34, and that his wife was unable to pay her medical expenses from the time appellant was recertified on April 28, 2005 until August 1, 2005, when she began receiving Social Security payments in the amount of $290 per month. Based on appellant's payments in the total amount of twenty dollars a month to the four physicians who treated his wife, the ALJ ordered the Board to recalculate appellant's eligibility for increased food stamp benefits "from April 28, 2005 until August 1, 2005 to include payment of medical expenses of twenty dollars per month during this period." The ALJ also concluded that appellant was not responsible for his wife's medical bills after August 1, 2005, because his wife had the ability to "continue the monthly payment arrangement" from her Social Security payments.
On April 29, 2009, the Director of the DFD rejected the ALJ's decision. The Director determined that the medical bills incurred by appellant's wife could not be used to calculate appellant's food stamp adjustment between April 28, 2005 and August 1, 2005, "because the [appellant's] wife was an ineligible alien until August 7, 2008."
The federally-funded Food Stamp Program "is designed to promote the general welfare and to safeguard the health and well being of the population by raising the levels of nutrition among low-income households." N.J.A.C. 10:87-1.1. In New Jersey, county welfare agencies "are responsible for certifying eligible households," N.J.A.C. 10:87-1.2(a), but "the State is ultimately responsible for ensuring that program operations conform with Federal laws and USDA regulations." N.J.A.C. 10:87-1.2(b). See also 7 C.F.R. § 272.2 (2010).
In the present matter, appellant claims he is entitled to use his wife's medical expenses as an income deduction when calculating his food stamp benefits. However, N.J.A.C. 10:87-5.10(a) limits deductions from income to those "medical expenses in excess of $35.00 per month" that are "incurred by any household member who is elderly or disabled,"*fn1 and it is clear that appellant is not entitled to the deduction under both federal and state regulations, because his wife was not a member of his food stamp "household" between April 28, 2005 and August 1, 2005, due to her ineligible alien status.
Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). We will not disturb an administrative agency's determinations or findings unless the decision was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or the decision was not supported by substantial evidence. In re Virtua-West Jersey Hosp., 194 N.J. 413, 422 (2008); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997).
We conclude from our review of the record and the briefs, and from oral argument, that the final agency decision is supported by substantial credible evidence as well as the administrative regulations governing the Food Stamp Program. Consequently, the decision is neither unfair nor unreasonable. Appellant's remaining arguments do not warrant any further discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D) and (E).