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Park v. Coler





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. John P. Meyer, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied June 12, 1986.

The case concerns interplay between Federal legislation providing for grants to States to fund Aid to Families with Dependent Children programs (AFDC) and that creating Old Age, Survivors or Disability Insurance benefits (OASDI). The universal rule in determining the amount of AFDC benefits to which an eligible family is entitled is to subtract the amount of the family income from the projected needs of the family. By enactment of the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 (DEFRA) (Pub. L. No. 98-369, 98 Stat. 1134 (1984)), Congress provided that, in order to obtain Federal grants, States must require that their AFDC programs include income of all parents and siblings living together in determining the family income.

Some families seeking AFDC include both children who receive OASDI benefits because of the death of one of their parents and children who do not receive such benefits. Federal legislation purports to make expenditure by the representative of a minor recipient of OASDI funds on behalf of any one other than the minor recipient to be a felony. (42 U.S.C. § 408(e) (1982).) Thus, in situations where the OASDI benefits to a particular minor are larger than the average portion of the AFDC benefits attributable to each of the other siblings in the family, the existence of such purportedly sheltered benefits for one minor can make the family ineligible for any benefits or reduce the portion attributable to each of the children to a very low level.

Effective October 1, 1984, acting in conformity with the Federal AFDC grant program, defendant Department of Public Aid (the Department) duly enacted rules conforming the State's AFDC program to the Federal requirements (89 Ill. Admin. Code, ch. I, secs. 112.9, 112.126, 112.300 (1984)). Thereafter, plaintiff, Sandra Park, was ordered by Department agents to sign documents listing all of her children and their income in order to continue to receive AFDC benefits. Living in plaintiff's family with her were her young sons, Jason and Jerry, who had no source of income, and an older minor daughter, Natasha. As representative of Natasha, plaintiff received $439 per month in OASDI benefits to which Natasha had become entitled because of the death of her father, who was not the father of her brothers. At the time plaintiff was directed to give information concerning Natasha's income, the family was receiving AFDC benefits of $294 monthly. With the inclusion of Natasha's OASDI benefits in the family income, they would no longer be entitled to AFDC.

On November 2, 1984, acting apparently on the advice of counsel, plaintiff informed her Department caseworker that she would not sign the document which she had been directed to sign. The Department then notified her that her aid was being terminated for her failure to cooperate. On November 5, 1984, plaintiff filed written notice of appeal with the Department, and, subsequently, an administrative hearing was held in the Department's Vermilion County office. On December 17, 1984, the Department affirmed its decision to terminate aid. Plaintiff then filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Vermilion County. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 3-104.

The circuit court of Vermilion County recognized the predicament plaintiff and her family would be in if they could not receive AFDC benefits and the OASDI income could only be used for the benefit of Natasha. It concluded that the appropriate remedy was to enjoin the Department from requiring plaintiff to execute the document request by the Department and issued such an injunction. Defendants, the Department and Gregory L. Coler, its director, have appealed.

No question has been raised as to whether an injunction is a proper disposition of an administrative appeal. In any event, we share the concern of the circuit court as to the complexities of the problems arising from DEFRA. We agree with the circuit court that if the OASDI benefits of Natasha are not available for use by the rest of the family, a legislative scheme whereby other members of the family are denied AFDC benefits because of income of Natasha, which cannot be applied to other members of the family, cannot stand. It would deprive the other members of the family of equal protection.

• 1 The only direct authorities called to our attention are the decisions of various Federal district courts, many of which have been rendered since the decision of the circuit court. However, we deem the recent decision in Cunningham v. Toan (8th Cir. 1985), 762 F.2d 63, to have a close analogy to the case here. Based upon that decision and some of the Federal district court decisions, we hold that DEFRA made the OASDI benefits of siblings such as Natasha available for the common purpose of maintaining the family. Thus, requiring families whose members have those benefits to list those benefits in determining the income of the family does not put the siblings and other members of the family in any worse position, as far as total support is concerned, than would be the case if no member of the family had OASDI benefits. The DEFRA provisions to be discussed indicate a clear intent of Congress that reimbursement for AFDC payments made was not to be given to States that did not require the OASDI beneficiary benefits to be included in determining the income of AFDC recipient families.

For reasons we now explain in more detail, we reverse the decision of the circuit court thus leaving in force the Department's decision.

Section 2640 of Public Law 98-369 provided in part for the addition of subparagraph 602(a)(38), which states as follows:

"[A State plan for aid and services to needy families with children must]

(38) provide that in making the determination under paragraph (7) with respect to a dependent child and applying paragraph (8), the State agency shall (except as ...

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