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TERMINI v. CALIFANO

February 7, 1979

Samuel TERMINI, Plaintiff,
v.
Joseph A. CALIFANO, Jr., as Secretary of Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Barbara Blum, as Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CURTIN

In this case, the plaintiff challenges the decision of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to terminate his Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, arguing that the category of SSI recipients "living with others" does not meet certain regulatory and constitutional standards applicable to SSI. Both the plaintiff and the defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, summary judgment is granted to the plaintiff.

I. FACTS

The pertinent facts are not in dispute. During the relevant time period, the plaintiff was 76 years old and resided in Cattaraugus County, New York. His household consisted of himself and his two natural children, ages 14 and 16. His sole sources of income, other than SSI, consisted of social security retirement benefits and a small civil service pension.

 Up until July 1, 1977, when his SSI benefits were terminated, the plaintiff received SSI payments in an amount equal to the difference between his income from other sources and $ 205.98, the standard of need established by the state for recipients "living with others." In addition to these cash payments, his SSI eligibility automatically entitled him to medicaid coverage, to emergency assistance coverage, and to an exclusion of his income in determining his children's eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (A.F.D.C.). 42 U.S.C. §§ 602(a)(24), 1396a(10); N.Y.Soc.Serv.Law § 300. Although the record on this point is not free from ambiguity, his children received a monthly A.F.D.C. grant of approximately $ 105.00. (Tr. 35). Their only other source of income, apart from occasional summer earnings, was social security children's benefits of $ 25.10 per month per child.

 On July 1, 1977, the plaintiff received a cost-of-living increase in his social security benefits, as a result of which his monthly income totalled $ 206.11 ($ 194.30 in social security benefits and $ 11.81 in pension benefits). Since his income then exceeded the SSI standard of need for recipients "living with others" by 13›, SSA, which administers both social security benefits and SSI, notified the plaintiff that he was no longer eligible for SSI. See affidavit of Valerie Poris, dated December 4, 1978.

 As a result of this determination, the family's net income has been reduced. Although the cost-of-living increase appears to have more than offset the amount that the plaintiff previously received in SSI payments, the household's A.F.D.C. grant fell to $ 10.20 per month *fn1" because the plaintiff's income was no longer excluded in calculating his children's eligibility for A.F.D.C.

 The plaintiff appealed SSA's determination through the administrative appeals process provided by statute. He argued that since the other members of his household were dependent minor children, he should have been classified as "living alone," which would have raised his standard of need or minimum guaranteed income to $ 258.65 per month. His classification as "living with others," he argued, violated both federal regulations and the Constitution. The plaintiff's arguments were rejected at all administrative levels, and he now seeks judicial review of the termination under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). *fn2"

 II. THE SSI PROGRAM

 The SSI program went into effect on January 1, 1974, replacing a variety of state administered categorical aid programs for the aged, blind, and disabled. In an attempt to standardize widely disparate eligibility requirements and benefit levels, Congress designed SSI to provide eligible needy persons with a minimum guaranteed monthly income for basic living expenses. SSI is a federal program and is administered by SSA.

 SSI provides benefits to aged, blind, and disabled individuals who have incomes and resources below the statutory ceilings. Benefits take the form of a flat grant set by statute. 42 U.S.C. § 1382. Two benefit levels are established, one for eligible individuals and one for eligible spouses. These amounts are reduced by the recipient's actual, non-excludable income. An eligible individual or couple who lives in another person's household and receives support and maintenance in cash or in kind is also subject to a one-third reduction in benefits. Id. § 1382a(a)(2)(A).

 Under the program, individual states are encouraged to supplement the basic federal benefits by establishing minimum income levels or standards of need above the minimum federal standard. Id. § 1382e. These state supplements may be administered either by the state or by the federal government, but Congress will bear the administrative costs of optional supplements, if federal administration is elected. This scheme has resulted in virtually all state supplements being administered by the SSA.

 In return for federal administration, the state must enter into an agreement with HEW which satisfies certain statutory and regulatory requirements. Id. This agreement must contain "rules with respect to eligibility for or amount of the supplementary payments, and such procedural or other general administrative provisions, as the Secretary finds necessary . . . to achieve efficient and effective administration of both the (SSI) program and the optional State supplementation." Id. § 1382e(b)(2).

 Under the federal regulations, a state may provide different supplementation levels based on different living arrangements. However, these differences "must be based on rational distinctions between both the types of living arrangements and the costs of those arrangements." 20 C.F.R. § 416.2030(b). The regulation provides in pertinent part as follows:

 
(a)(2) Living arrangements. In addition, a State may elect no more than five variations in recognition of the different needs which result from various living arrangements. Types of living arrangements for which ...

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