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Rivera v. Dep't of Public Aid

OPINION FILED MARCH 12, 1985.

JUAN RIVERA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,

v.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES AND CROSS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Louis J. Giliberto, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

In January 1984, plaintiff's benefits under the General Assistance Program (GA) (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1982 Supp., ch. 23, par. 6-1 et seq.) were terminated for a period of four months due to plaintiff's receipt of a lump-sum payment from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in November of 1983. Plaintiff appealed on January 10, 1984, and, after a hearing, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA) affirmed the termination in a final administrative decision issued on March 2, 1984. Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint seeking judicial review. The trial court's order upheld the IDPA's "lump sum" rule but directed the IDPA to enforce the rule, not by canceling GA for the appropriate time as mandated by the rule, but by continuing GA and prorating the disqualification over a six-month period.

Plaintiff Rivera is a 49-year-old disabled man who resides with his wife and seven children in Chicago. Plaintiff suffered an accident in 1974 and has been unable to work since then.

In August 1981, plaintiff filed a claim for disability benefits with the SSA seeking supplemental security income (SSI). In December 1981, while his SSI application was pending, plaintiff applied for and began receiving public assistance benefits under the GA program. In January 1982, plaintiff's wife and five children were added to the cash GA grant.

In October 1983, plaintiff's SSI claim, filed in August of 1981, was approved, and he was awarded $6,784.37 from SSA retroactive over the two-year period he was determined to have been disabled and eligible for SSI. Pursuant to an authorization agreement signed by plaintiff, SSA sent the entire award to IDPA for public assistance provided to plaintiff while his SSI claim was pending. From that sum, IDPA deducted $2,389.15 for assistance provided to plaintiff under the GA program from February 1982 through October 1983. A State warrant was drawn payable to plaintiff in the amount of $4,395.25 as the balance due plaintiff after IDPA's deduction.

On October 21, 1983, IDPA deleted plaintiff from the GA grant, effective November 1, 1983, because he would be receiving monthly SSI payments. Plaintiff was then established as the "representative payee" for the remaining GA family case. Plaintiff, however, was not informed by the IDPA of these changes.

Plaintiff received the lump sum from the IDPA in November 1983. In a notice dated January 6, 1984, IDPA informed plaintiff that, effective January 1984, his benefits under GA would be discontinued. The notice stated, "your family is ineligible to receive General Assistance for five (5) months because of the lump sum you received from SSI. This action conforms with the statement contained in the Categorical Assistance Manual PO 510.2." Plaintiff filed a timely administrative appeal, and the family's GA benefits were thereby continued during the pendency of the action.

IDPA's temporary suspension of GA benefits was based upon its "lump sum" policy, embodied in IDPA Rule 3.387 (7 Ill. Reg. 395) and in sections PO 510.2(f) and PO 620.2(c) of IDPA's GA manual. This rule, effective January 1, 1983, renders any GA case that receives a one-time, nonrecurring cash payment ineligible for GA benefits for a period of months determined by dividing the amount of the lump-sum payment by IDPA's monthly "standard of need" applicable to the case.

At the administrative hearing on January 31, 1984, plaintiff stated that the entire lump sum he received from SSI had been spent prior to IDPA's proposed suspension of benefits, and various documents were tendered to the hearing officer as receipts to support plaintiff's claimed expenditures. The final administrative decision issued on March 2, 1984, affirmed the suspension of benefits under IDPA's lump-sum rule, but directed a recomputation of the period of ineligibility because the assistance unit was, in fact, greater than the unit included in IDPA's original calculation.

Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint for administrative review on April 5, 1984. The complaint was subsequently amended to a writ of certiorari. In an order entered on May 30, 1984, the circuit court affirmed the administrative decision, but modified it such that the lump-sum disqualification period was prorated and offset against continuing assistance for six months. The modification was predicated on the court's belief that when the lump sum was sent to plaintiff, the local IDPA office had a duty to simultaneously notify plaintiff that GA would be suspended under the rule. The court thus determined that the rule would fall too harshly on the plaintiff. The court also considered why the local office did not budget the money for plaintiff. The court stated that due process required that plaintiff be given notice of the consequences of receiving the lump sum simultaneously with his receipt of the sum. The court thereafter ordered the disqualification prorated over six months instead of a blanket suspension.

Plaintiff appeals, seeking a reversal of the trial court's order, and defendant cross-appeals, seeking a reversal of that portion of the order that modified the application of its lump-sum rule by engrafting proration principles to it, and an affirmance of the portion of the order upholding the administrative decision and the lump-sum rule.

• 1 Plaintiff raises three points on appeal. First, that IDPA's lump-sum rule is violative of the plain language of the Public Aid Code (Code), in the absence of a prior legislative enactment authorizing such a rule; second, that IDPA's application of its rule to plaintiff was invalid because the application was in contravention of IDPA's own interpretation of the rule as set forth in its manual; third, that plaintiff was denied due process by IDPA's failure to promptly notify plaintiff that his GA benefits would be suspended due to his receipt of the lump-sum payment.

The overriding purpose of the Code is the alleviation and prevention of poverty. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 23, par. 1-1; Lawrie v. Department of Public Aid (1978), 72 Ill.2d 335, 348, 381 N.E.2d 226.) To achieve this salutary goal, the allocation of the State's fiscal resources must be made with an eye toward providing relief to the greatest number of people. Economic reality demonstrates that the source of funds for public assistance programs is finite and, accordingly, any construction or application of the Code must reflect that fact. (Miller v. Department of Public Aid (1981), 94 Ill. App.3d 11, 17, 418 N.E.2d 178.) The IDPA is charged with the duty of implementing rules and regulations necessary to carry out the aims of the Code "to the end that its spirit and purpose may be achieved and the public aid programs administered efficiently throughout the State." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 23, par. 12-13.

Plaintiff first contends that IDPA's lump-sum rule violates sections 6-1.2 and 6-2 of the Code because the rule authorized the suspension of his GA benefits even though, at the time his benefits were terminated, he had already spent the entire sum. Plaintiff argues that, under sections 6-1.2 and 6-2 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 23, pars. 6-1.2, 6-2) of the Code, the IDPA, when evaluating a person's eligibility for GA benefits after receipt of the lump sum, may consider only that income which is "present or ready for immediate use" to the GA recipient. Since plaintiff had expended his entire sum, the suspension of his benefits and IDPA's rule violate sections 6-1.2 and 6-2 of the Code.

The proposition is well settled that the authority of an administrative agency to enact rules and regulations is limited by the statutory language under which the rules are enacted. (Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc. v. Trainor (1977), 68 Ill.2d 540, 551, 370 N.E.2d 223; City of Chicago v. Fair Employment Practices Com. (1976), 65 Ill.2d 108, 112-13, 357 N.E.2d 1154.) "Like a statute, an administrative rule or regulation enjoys a presumption of validity." (Northern Illinois Automobile Wreckers & Rebuilders Association v. Dixon (1979), 75 Ill.2d 53, 58, 387 N.E.2d 320.) Generally, if the rule is consistent with the spirit of the statute and furthers its purpose, then the rule will be sustained. As stated by our supreme court in Stofer v. Motor Vehicle Casualty Co. (1977), 68 Ill.2d 361, 369 N.E.2d 875: "In most cases, therefore, the administrator's task is not merely to interpolate among broadly stated legislative prohibitions, but, rather, to extrapolate from the broad language of his enabling statute, and, using the regulatory tools given him by the legislature, to deal with the problems which the legislature sought to address." (68 Ill.2d 361, 370.) In interpreting IDPA's grant of authority under the Code and its rule-making power derived from section 12-13, this court stated:

"Wide latitude must be given to such agencies in their exercise of such discretion. The [IDPA's] discretion is broad, and its exercise will not be overturned by this court solely because we may think that the decision is unwise or because we find the policy behind it inappropriate." (Miller ...


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