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HUDSON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES AUGUST 12, 2010
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION PROCEDURAL HISTORY STATEMENT OF FACTS ARGUMENT CONCLUSION
TABLE OF CITATIONS Cases R.H. v. MONMOUTH COUNTY WELFARE AGENCY (HPW 2310-04) BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF SOCIAL SERVICES v. T.B.,(HPW951-05) Regulations N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.1 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.2 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.3 (a) 1. Immediate need N.J.A.C. §10:90-4.8 Individual Responsibility Plan N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.3 (a) 1. Kinds of emergency assistance authorized N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.3 (a) 6 N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.5 (a) N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.5 (a)1 N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.5 (a)2 N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.6 (a) 1.i (1) iii N.J.A.C. § 5:28-1.6 (c), (f) Exhibits 1. Photos: HPW5363-10, 21 Color Photos
INTRODUCTION Robin Pugh is a single disabled female who applied for welfare on March 25, 2010. She had insufficient food and money, her power had been turned off and eviction was imminent. She received no assistance on the day that she applied. She was not advised of, nor did she receive an Individual Responsibility Plan or Emergency Assistance (EA) service plan. To date RP has received no documentation identifying the responsibilities of the agency, of the landlord, or of her own rights and responsibilities or types of benefits she is in receipt of. The April 22, 2010 WFNJ-15 lists EA and TRA however it does not contain details of the specific benefits received. RP has received no notifications which affirmatively state that she is indeed a recipient of TRA and as such is responsible for contributing 65 percent of her cash assistance benefit towards the payment of her rent. RP submitted documentation from various credible sources at the June 16, 2010 fair hearing which demonstrated that a 65 percent contribution towards rent only (with no allowance for utilities) from her cash assistance grant is unduly excessive. With regard to the apartment itself, the EA worker referred RP to the 232 Bidwell Avenue Apt 2 which was not safe, decent, or sanitary. When RP reported these problems to the EA worker, the worker advised that there was nothing she could do about them. RP was unaware at the time that the apartment was not up to code due to the way in which the bathroom light fixture was situated. PROCEDURAL HISTORY RP contested the decision of the local county welfare agency to reduce her cash assistance grant at a fair hearing before the Office of Administrative Law. RP received an
initial decision from the Administrative Law Judge and final decision from the Department of Human Services Division of Family Development which upheld the decision of the county welfare agency to reduce RP’s cash assistance and continue her 65% contribution toward the monthly rent despite a the fact that the April 22, 2010 WFNJ-15 did not include details on exactly what EA benefits RP had received. The ALJ refused to deal with the incompleteness of the form and as such there was no review of the specifics regarding the reduction of RP’s cash grant or the identification of other EA benefits. STATEMENT OF FACTS RP applied for welfare at the Hudson County Department of Social Services on or about March 25, 2010 with an eviction notice. After being interviewed and directed to sign several pages of paperwork, RP was given a Med-1 form and letter requesting additional documentation. The worker advised RP that she could not receive any assistance until that documentation was received despite the fact that RP had presented an eviction notice, that her utilities had been turned off the day before, that she had insufficient food and money, that she had trouble walking and standing, and that she was diabetic. The intake worker advised RP to call and make an appointment to see an emergency worker with regard to receiving any emergency assistance. Upon returning to the waiting area, RP called a Ms. Patricia Gerges to see if she could intervene on her behalf. RP had previously been given Ms. Gerges’ number by a lawyer at LSNJ. Ms. Gerges gave RP a referral to see a social worker and advised RP that she could fax her back the information requested by the intake worker. After lunch, RP finally got to see Ms. Margarita Gaynor, the EA worker. After having RP fill out an
application for emergency assistance, the EA worker made copies RP’s PSE&G shut off notice and other documents then advised that there was nothing further that she could do until RP returned with additional documentation including a transcript from PSE&G showing usage for the prior year. Regarding her utilities which had been shut off the day prior, the EA worker advised RP to go to PACO to apply for assistance, showing no concern for RP’s difficulty in getting around due to her disability or the fact that RP had applied for GA earlier that day but had not been provided with immediate assistance. The next day, on March 26, 2010, RP went to PACO and was given vouchers in the amount of $1160.00. Although she took them to PSE&G the very same day, they were not applied as PSE&G was requiring a $400.00 security deposit. When RP called the EA worker to advise her of the situation, she again advised that there was nothing she could do. RP remained without power until April 2nd when after one of several conversations with the Board of Public Utilities and PSE&G, service was restored eight days after it had been discontinued on March 24th. On or about March 31, 2010, a worker came out to RP’s apartment to deliver her benefits card. After returning to see the EA worker on the afternoon of April 12, 2010 upon receiving notification that the lockout would happen on April 15, 2010 (subsequently rescheduled to the morning of April 16th), the EA worker referred RP to 232 Bidwell Avenue, Apt 2. Although it was cloudy and near dusk by the time RP arrived and there was no power in the apartment, it appeared to have been freshly painted and new kitchen cabinets had been installed. The more obvious problems were the bathroom light and sink fixtures which needed to be repaired. The light fixture was hanging out of its setting with wires exposed. The landlord advised that these repairs were minor, not a problem and
would be done prior to RP moving in. Under better circumstances, RP would not have considered the Bidwell apartment but unfortunately she had no other options. When RP asked the EA worker if her belongings could be stored so that she would have time to search for an apartment, the worker told RP that she wasn’t sure if the agency would pay to store her belongings and the turn right around and pay to move them. As such, RP gave the landlord the paperwork which had been prepared by The EA worker earlier that day and left. On the morning of April 16, 2010, The EA worker called RP as the lockout was taking place to advise that the landlord had faxed her back the paperwork and to ask RP if she was still willing to take the apartment. Again, having no other options, RP agreed. The EA worker then advised RP to provide her with the name of a moving company so that the agency could pay for moving expenses and afterwards to schedule the move ASAP. Under extreme duress, RP scheduled the move for that Sunday, April 18, 2010. Afterward, the EA worker asked RP where she would be staying until she could move in. When RP advised that she had nowhere to stay, the EA worker advised that she would make shelter arrangements and that she was leaving the office for the day at lunchtime. The EA worker called back to advise RP that she had made arrangements for RP to stay at the Belmont Residence from April 16 – April 18, 2010. When RP called the EA worker on April 19th to advise that there was no power in the new apartment and that she had not received a copy of the lease yet so that she could go to PSE&G to have services turned on, the EA worker advised that RP would only be able to stay at the Belmont Residence through April 19, 2010. RP began her tenancy at 232 Bidwell Avenue on April 19th and remained without utilities until April 26, 2010.
On April 22, 2010, when RP reported to the EA worker that the apartment was filthy, that the floor throughout the entire apartment was black from where mice or maybe even rats had run along the baseboards, that the bathroom light and sink fixtures had not been repaired, the EA worker again advised that there was nothing that she could do about it. When RP reminded the EA worker that there was no power in the apartment, the EA worker stated that as long as RP had the PACO vouchers, there was nothing that she could do about that either. One of the papers the EA worker had RP sign on April 22nd was form WFNJ-74 (New 3/98) NOTICE TO EMERGENCY RECIPIENTS, complete with the EA worker’s handwritten calculations of a 65% monthly contribution to be deducted from RP’s cash assistance and paid towards the rent. The EA worker’s handwritten annotations contradict the WFNJ-74 form itself which clearly states that “This notice is not meant for you if you are receiving Temporary Rental Assistance (TRA).” The EA worker also had RP sign a Rent Subsidy Agreement (4/90) advising that she is responsible for finding less expensive housing or obtaining employment to assist in paying her rent despite the fact that the EA worker referred RP to substandard housing in the first place and that RP is disabled. The subsidy form also states that the client must comply with EA regulations even though RP was never provided with a copy of those regulations. Prior to leaving The EA worker’s office RP asked the worker if there was any way that the landlord could be forced to make the necessary repairs since RP could not withhold payment due to the fact that he was receiving direct payments. The EA worker advised that there was nothing that she could do about that situation either.
Since occupying the apartment RP has discovered that the wooden molding at the kitchen entrance had been eaten away by rats or mice and then painted over and that because there is no wall switch to control the light fixture in the bathroom, the apartment is not up to code. There is a painted over wall plate where the light switch should be. Subsequently, an inspection was done on RP’s apartment on or about May 12, 2010. RP is unaware of who called for it or the status of the outcome of that inspection. As of May 2010, RP’s cash assistance grant was reduced from $140.00/mo to $49.00/mo. The monthly 65% contribution towards RP’s rent was $91.00. Effective June 2010, RP’s cash grant was increased to $210.00/mo based on agency receipt of RP’s Med-1 form. After the monthly 65% contribution was deducted, RP received cash assistance in the amount of $74.00. This was all done without notification. The April 22, 2010 WFNJ-15 contained no details on what benefits the RP actually received or what changes were made to any preexisting benefits. At the June 16, 2010 fair hearing, after much discussion the Administrative Law Judge finally allowed RP to submit copies of her unpaid PSE&G bills into evidence, The EA worker submitted a document to the judge to prove that she had made a payment of $613.00 to PSE&G on RP’s behalf at some time in April 2010. This document was not entered into evidence. Additionally, the judge refused to deal with the inadequacies of the WFNJ-15 that RP did receive with regard to the unavailability of details of the benefits she had received and the resultant deductions made to her cash assistance benefit. With regard to Temporary Rental Assistance, the ALJ stated that TRA provides a rental subsidy of up to $700.00/mo and that RP’s 65% contribution was intended to make up the difference between that subsidy and the actual monthly rental amount.
The ALJ’s refusal to deal with these inconsistencies, especially in light of the fact that utilities and moving fees are usually paid as a function of Emergency Assistance raises serious questions about the validity of the 65% contribution RP is being forced to pay towards the rent at 232 Bidwell Avenue. The actual source of the rental subsidy has not been documented and is inconsistent with subsidy amounts required by other rental assistance programs. In summary, RP was not advised of her rights and responsibilities, the responsibilities of the landlord, or the role of DHA with regard to her application for GA and EA. As a result, she is living in substandard housing that does not take into account her disability and is without adequate cash resources for even day to day living.
ARGUMENT POINT 1 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.1 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.2 (e) states that “The applicant(s) and/or his or her designee shall be assisted by the WFNJ worker in completing the Application and Affidavit for WFNJ and the Agreement to Repay. The applicant shall be given the WFNJ Participant Handbook and “Fair Hearings in the Work First New Jersey Program (WFNJ)” pamphlet.” The intake worker did not give RP a WFNJ handbook or fair hearing pamphlet. POINT 2 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.3 (a) states, “If the county or municipal agency determines that immediate need exists, based upon an applicant’s written statement signed under oath and subject to the applicant appearing to meet all other program eligibility requirements, the agency shall ensure that the needs of the assistance unit are met until such time as the final eligibility determination is made.” The GA intake worker took RP’s application and then advised her that she would not receive assistance until further documentation was received. POINT 3 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.3 (a)1. states “Immediate need means that the assistance unit lacks shelter or imminently lacks shelter, essential utilities, or has no food or insufficient food for unit members’ immediate needs, or lacks minimal clothing to protect their health and safety. In those situations where no other appropriate services are available to meet the needs of the assistance unit, cash assistance shall be provided but such monies shall not exceed the amount of the cash assistance payment level for the appropriate eligible assistance unit size for that period.” The GA intake worker did not acknowledge RP’s immediate need. She refused cash and food stamp assistance and refused to refer RP for Emergency Assistance. POINT 4 N.J.A.C. § 10:90-4.8 (a) states that “An individual responsibility plan (IRP) shall be developed jointly by the county or municipal agency representative, as appropriate, and the WFNJ recipient at time of eligibility determination” and that
the “IRP shall be signed and dated by the recipient and the respective agency representative. The original IRP shall be maintained electronically or in the case record and a copy shall be provided to the recipient.” An IRP was not developed for RP nor was she advised of the existence of, or the need for such a thing. POINT 5 N.J.A.C. § 10:90-6.3 (a) states “The county or municipal agency is authorized to provide the following kinds of assistance to meet emergency situations when there is no other source of support available: payment for emergency shelter and emergency temporary housing; allowances for permanent living arrangements including, but not limited to, allowances for retroactive rental, mortgage or utility payments, security deposits for rent and utilities and advance rent, reasonable costs of transportation required to search for housing, reasonable costs of temporary storage of personal possessions, moving expenses, food, clothing, and essential house furnishings.” The EA worker refused to pay for retroactive utilities, security deposits for utilities, and temporary storage costs. There was no discussion about help with transportation costs to search for an apartment. The EA worker strongly suggested it was best to just move and be done with it since the Bidwell Avenue apartment was available. To date RP has received no documentation that she was even provided with moving fees or utility payments. Though the EA worker presented the ALJ documentation of a $613.00 payment at the June 16, 2010 fair hearing, it was not entered into evidence. POINT 6 N.J.A.C. § 10:90-6.3 (a) 6. states “Temporary rental assistance (TRA) may be provided, when the recipient is facing eviction, in order to maintain current permanent housing which had previously been affordable but which is no longer affordable for reasons such as, but not limited to, loss of employment, temporary unemployment or underemployment and it is anticipated that such housing will again become affordable; or when it is determined that maintaining the unit in the current housing arrangement is both the least costly alternative and serves to preserve the family structure while the search for affordable housing continues.
Although it was on March 25, 2010 that RP presented the EA worker with an eviction notice, an overdue PSE&G shutoff notice and advised that her gas and lights had been shut off on March 24th, the EA worker did not act to provide RP with appropriate shelter until RP was in the process of being locked out. POINT 7 N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.5 (a) states “Recipients of emergency assistance shall contribute from their income towards payment of all emergency shelter arrangements, including all forms of temporary housing and temporary rental assistance.” NEW JERSEY REGISTER Copyright © 2005 by the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, VOLUME 29, NUMBER 14. ISSUE DATE: MONDAY, JULY 21, 1997 – RULE ADOPTION, HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF FAMILY DEVELOPMENT 29 N.J.R. 3287(a), Adopted New Rules: N.J.A.C. 10:90 Although the rationale for this code is not provided, it appears that its intent is for recipients living in emergency housing who would not otherwise be billed for it, contribute towards the cost of utilities. Although references to temporary rental assistance are made here, there nothing in the code affirming that recipients of TRA who reside in permanent housing are to make like contributions as those who reside in temporary housing. To require those TRA recipients in permanent housing who must also pay for their own utilities to contribute 65% towards the cost of TRA renders those recipients whose sole source of income is GA not only unable to pay their utilities, it severely limits their ability to take care of other necessities, especially those who are disabled. The EA worker’s determination that RP make a 65% monthly contribution towards Temporary Rental Assistance has caused a misdirection of RP’s already limited resources to the landlord and a severe hardship that is undue, unnecessary, and unconscionable. RP’s current cash assistance benefit has been reduced to $74.00/month. Annually this amounts to less than $900.00/year. There is no rationale presented in the
N.J.A.C. to justify a 65% contribution towards rent for those recipients residing in permanent housing in the form of an apartment. POINT 8 The EA worker’s imposition of a 65% recipient contribution towards a permanent rental situation, i.e., an apartment, is inconsistent with findings in other cases as described in R.H. v. MONMOUTH COUNTY WELFARE AGENCY (HPW 2310-04) and BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF SOCIAL SERVICES v. T.B.,(HPW951-05) whereas these cases pertain to recipients of EA and/or TRA but contain no references such a contribution towards the rent. In R.H. v. MONMOUTH COUNTY WELFARE AGENCY (HPW 2310-04) the ALJ states “I FIND that petitioner’s household consists of petitioner and his two (2) children, ages 14 and 10 years. The petitioner receives monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in the amount of $424.00 and $352.00 per month in benefits under the Food Stamp Program. The petitioner is receiving EA for shelter, but this is scheduled to terminate as of April 30, 2004…He was given temporary rental assistance (TRA)…” Had R.H. been required to contribute 65% of his grant towards the cost of TRA, he would have been in receipt of $148.00/month instead of the $424.00 benefit as cited in the above record. As such the conclusion must be drawn that R.H. was not required to contribute 65% of his grant towards TRA. In BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF SOCIAL SERVICES v. T.B., (HPW951-05) it states, “BCBSS notified respondent by separate letters dated February 10, 2005, that she received an overissuance of FS ($1,654.36) and overpayment of TANF ($2,440.00) and EA ($14,172.40) as a result of having failed to report income. The overissuance and overpayments were calculated for the months of February through June 2004. The letters demanded reimbursement.” It also states, “However, T.B. alleges that
BCBSS overpaid the landlord for EA housing and argues that she should be required only to repay fair market value, rather than the full amount expended by BCBSS.” Based on the above, TB received a cash benefit of $488.00/month for a family of four. Had she been required to contribute 65% of her cash benefit towards EA housing, she would have been receipt of $176.00/month after contributing $317.00 towards EA housing. Beyond that since TB was looking to reduce the size of her overpayment, it would have made sense for her to bring up the fact that she had already contributed 65% of her TANF grant, or approximately $1585.00, towards the EA housing assistance. This would have reduced her overpayment towards EA housing down to approximately $12,587.00. As none of these calculations were cited in the record, the conclusion must be drawn that T.B. was not required to contribute 65% of her grant towards EA housing. POINT 9 N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.6 (a) states “The county/municipal agency shares responsibility with the individual/family in receipt of emergency assistance to resolve the emergency situation and to assist the individual/family to secure a suitable permanent housing arrangement. Receipt of emergency assistance is contingent upon the recipient’s taking reasonable steps toward resolving the emergent situation. Reasonable steps shall include the recipient’s signature on a written notice of recipient responsibilities while receiving temporary housing/shelter; participation in formulating, complying with and carrying out a plan for service; fulfilling the number of housing searches mutually agreed upon; and following agency recommendations related to resolving the emergent situation. Failure to substantially comply with the service plan will result in termination of EA.” The EA worker never gave RP paperwork advising of her responsibilities nor did she ever discuss the existence of, or the need to create a service plan. When RP applied for emergency assistance on March 25, 2010 she had an eviction notice and her utilities had already been turned off neither the GA intake worker, nor the EA worker took immediate action on RP’s behalf.
POINT 10 N.J.A.C. §10:90-6.6 (a) 1 states “The service plan shall… provide a plan of action aimed at working toward securing permanent shelter and… where appropriate… shall be coordinated with the development of the Individual Responsibility Plan (IRP). The service plan shall include but is not limited to: i. Selection of a housing arrangement which takes into consideration the recipient’s circumstances, such as mental or physical problems; ii. Provision of the following specified services: (1) Information; (2) Referral; (3) Assistance in securing shelter, including transportation; (5) Referral for legal services; iii. Referral to affordable housing (if known) as well as referral to and/or application for other available benefits or services. . Instead of acting to meet RP’s emergent needs during her initial application for services on March 25, 2010 by setting up a shelter referral, assisting RP on how and/or where to apply for subsidized housing, and advising RP that she had the right to make apartment searches and receive transportation support to do so, the EA worker waited until RP was in the process of getting locked out on April 16, 2010 before she acted on RP’s behalf. As a result, RP was forced to live without heat and utilities in her former apartment and then accept, under duress, an apartment that was not safe, decent, or sanitary because the worker provided RP no alternatives besides homelessness. POINT 11 The EA worker’s imposition of a 65% recipient contribution from RP is inconsistent with the fact that the worker referred RP to an apartment that was not only not safe, decent, or sanitary, it was not up to code. Apartment 2 at 232 Bidwell Avenue meets neither state regulations nor HUD Housing Quality Standards. The presumption is that as a state agency, DHS would only make referrals to housing that meets state housing standards. 1. Photos: HPW5363-10, (21 Color Photos) attached.
POINT 12 N.J.A.C. §10:90-1.1(c). states “The WFNJ Program is designed specifically to emphasize personal responsibility, instill dignity, promote self-sufficiency and pride…” Whether able bodied or disabled, for the EA worker to require that RP contribute 65% of her cash benefits towards TRA is clearly inconsistent with the goals of the Work First New Jersey program. Overall it is clear that the EA worker did not work in the best interests of RP as she waited until the lockout was in progress to address RP’s emergent needs. As such, she left RP to choose between homelessness and a substandard apartment. Not only were the actions of the EA worker counterproductive to the promotion of any of the above goals, her inaction, in conjunction with such a substantial and duplicative contribution with regard to the payment of rent and utilities has made any attempt to sustain dignity and self-sufficiency futile. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth in this brief, appellant, respectfully requests that the Court reverse the DHS final administrative decision on this appeal and direct the agency to restore appellant’s GA grant to the full $210.00 amount, to provide appellant with documentation of the changes made to her benefits, develop both Individual Responsibility and EA Service Plans which would document the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved, and provide transportation and other support services that would enable appellant the opportunity to live in decent housing.
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