Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit, Bureau County, Illinois. No. 93 MR 29. Honorable Terence M. Madsen, Judge Presiding.
Present - Honorable Allan L. Stouder, Presiding Justice, Honorable Tom M. Lytton, Justice, Honorable Michael P. MC Cuskey, Justice. Stouder, P.j. and Lytton, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mccuskey
JUSTICE McCUSKEY delivered the opinion of the court:
The plaintiff, Anna Kaszynski (mother), filed a complaint seeking administrative review of a decision of the Department of Public Aid (Department) regarding AFDC benefits. She appeals from the trial court's order affirming the Department's decision.
The mother raises two issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred in affirming the Department's decision that Old Age, Survivors or Disability Insurance benefits (OASDI benefits) received by her husband on behalf of his children could properly be considered in determining her eligibility for AFDC benefits; and (2) whether the doctrine of equitable estoppel bars the Department from collecting any overpayment of AFDC benefits.
We conclude that the OASDI benefits paid on behalf of the stepfather's children (stepsiblings) should not have been considered in determining the eligibility of the mother and her children for AFDC benefits. As a result, we find the trial court erred in affirming the Department's determination that the mother and her children were not eligible for benefits and that an overpayment occurred. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.
The mother applied for and received AFDC benefits for herself and her two children for the 10-month period from September 1991 through June 1992. At the beginning of each month, the mother completed a form which showed her assets and income for the previous month. The form was used to calculate the amount of the AFDC benefit that she would receive the following month. On these forms, the mother listed disability benefits received by her husband, Mike Kaszynski, her children's stepfather.
The stepfather received both OASDI benefits and VA benefits. The amount of the monthly benefits received by the stepfather changed several times and varied from $1,011 to $1,197 during the 10-month period. Included in these amounts were payments made on behalf of the stepsiblings pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (Act) (42 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq. (West Supp. 1995)) because of their father's disability. Section 402(d) provides for OASDI benefits for children. (42 U.S.C.A. § 402(d) (West Supp. 1995).) The payments were sent directly to the stepfather, as representative payee. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(j)(1)(A) (West Supp. 1995).)
In June, the mother's caseworker realized that she had not been budgeting stepparent liability as required by Department policy. The caseworker then determined the mother's eligibility for AFDC benefits based upon the form the mother completed listing the income the family received in May 1992. The caseworker added the OASDI and VA benefits received by the stepfather. The total amount was $1,302. This amount included $294 in OASDI benefits the stepfather received on behalf of the stepsiblings. The caseworker then subtracted from that total amount $927, the Department's standard of need for four people. The amount remaining, $375, was considered to be available to meet the needs of the mother and her two children. This amount exceeded the $355 AFDC benefit for a family of three. Accordingly, the mother was determined to be ineligible for benefits for July 1992.
The caseworker then recalculated the AFDC benefit the mother should have received for each month from September 1991 to June 1992. She calculated the amount of stepparent liability for each month, using the same formula. She determined that the mother had been overpaid for those months in the amount of $1,724.
On June 15, 1992, the Department notified the mother that her AFDC benefits would be discontinued, effective July 1992, based upon stepparent liability. On June 29, 1992, the mother was notified that she had been overpaid in the amount of $1,724 from September 1991 to June 1992. The notice stated that the overpayment occurred because stepparent liability was inadvertently omitted. The mother appealed both decisions, and a hearing was held on May 27, 1993.
The Department issued its decision on July 2, 1993. The Department set out portions of the Department's AFDC manual related to stepparent liability. The Department then concluded that the OASDI benefits paid to the stepfather on behalf of his children were not exempt and were properly considered in determining stepparent liability. The Department affirmed the decision to discontinue the mother's benefits and also affirmed the determination that the mother was overpaid in the amount of $1,724.
On August 6, 1993, the mother filed her complaint for administrative review. The parties submitted memoranda in support of their respective positions. On October 12, 1994, the trial court entered an order affirming the decision of ...