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REICHENTHAL v. HARRIS

May 22, 1980

Irving REICHENTHAL et al., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Patricia Roberts HARRIS, Secretary, Department of Health, Education and Wlfare, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINSTEIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, poor people who are elderly, blind and disabled, seek additional monthly payments from the state and declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief against the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and the Director of New York State's Department of Social Services. They allege that the Secretary has not promulgated required regulations to rectify violations of federal laws by the Director and New York State. 42 U.S.C. § 1382g. Claims of denial of substantive and procedural due process and of equal protection are also made. All parties move for summary judgment.

 For the past several years, as the federal government increased Supplementary Security Income Program (SSI) benefits to account for inflation, the state decreased its share of monthly payments to plaintiffs, resulting in an unchanged total monthly check to the recipients. Since 1975, the last time members of the class received an increased monthly check, the cost of living has risen 77%. Even in 1975 people who make up this class were supported at a bare subsistence level.

 The federal government appears to have been somewhat more compassionate than the state. But New York has not, with a minor exception discussed below, reduced its total expenditures for all SSI recipients. It has utilized increased federal funds to raise the monthly payments to those even worse off than plaintiffs. This represents a legislative-executive judgment on the allocation of resources. As demonstrated below, no violation of the federal Constitution has occurred. Whether there has been a violation of federal statutes by the state depends on interpretive regulations not yet extant because the Secretary has neglected to adopt them. While the court recognizes plaintiffs' urgent need for assistance, the only relief it can afford is to order the Secretary to take immediate steps to determine the validity of New York's actions under applicable federal statutes.

 I. STATUTORY BACKGROUND

 Prior to 1974, individuals who were aged, blind or disabled were eligible to receive public assistance under state categorical programs of Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled ("AABD") that had been approved by the Secretary pursuant to the Social Security Act. New York State had such a program. Congress enacted the SSI plan effective January 1, 1974, to replace the AABD programs and provide cash benefits to individuals of low income and limited resources who are blind or disabled or have reached sixty-five. Pub.L. No. 92-603, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. This scheme includes, but is not limited to, individuals who had been receiving benefits under AABD. Uniform criteria and uniform payment amounts were established in place of the prior multiplicity of categorical eligibility requirements and payment amounts of the state operated systems.

 Recognizing regional variation in living costs, Congress authorized each state to supplement the federal standard payment amount at whatever level it deemed appropriate. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382e, 1382a(b)(6). A state can, as New York has, enter into an agreement to have the federal government administer the "optional" supplementary payments monthly by adding it to the single federal SSI check mailed by Washington. 42 U.S.C. § 1382e(d). Federal administration of the state optional supplementary payment is governed by the federal rules and regulations in effect for the SSI program. 42 U.S.C. § 1382e(b)(2) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.2005(d).

 In addition to optional state supplementation, there are circumstances under which a state is required to make supplementary payments. Persons who were eligible for and receiving state-federal public assistance under AABD prior to the inception of SSI, were transferred to the federal SSI program, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382c(a)(2) and (a)(3)(E), and were not required to file an application in order to establish their status as eligible individuals. An individual who had received assistance under a state plan for December, 1973 was "grandfathered" into the SSI program and was entitled to receive SSI benefits at a rate, including other income, not less than the total benefits and other countable income, that such an individual received under the repealed state programs in December, 1973. P.L. 93-66, 212(a); 42 U.S.C. § 1382(h).

 Those whose AABD benefits were converted to the SSI program are entitled to receive the flat federal amount plus either the optional state supplementation or the mandatory state supplementation, whichever is greater. P.L. 93-66, 212(a)(3)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382(h). Federal portions of SSI benefits are adjusted periodically to reflect increases in the cost of living. 42 U.S.C. § 1382f. New York complies with the grandfather clause by providing a guarantee of an additional state payment in an amount which, when added to the federal benefit and other countable income, is equal to the individual's December, 1973 AABD cash grant. New York Social Services Law § 210. As the federal portion of plaintiffs' SSI increases, the state supplementary payment for these individuals decreases.

 Because the federal statute did not require maintenance of a 1973 level to non-grandfathered individuals, these other recipients are said to receive "optional" payments. These monthly payments are generally below those of former AABD recipients. New York has revised its statutes annually to "pass along" the federal cost of living adjustments to recipients of optional payments; as a result their payments have gradually risen to a level approaching plaintiffs'. Stipulation P 12.

 In 1976, Congress enacted an amendment designed to encourage states to pass along to all SSI beneficiaries as a class all federal cost of living adjustments. It conditioned state eligibility for Title XIX participation (Medicaid) on there being in effect an agreement with the Secretary to continue to make optional and mandatory supplementary payments and to maintain such payments to individual SSI beneficiaries at levels no lower than the total (state plus federal) payments to any individual in effect in December, 1976. Alternatively, the state could maintain its total expenditures for all SSI recipients at an annual rate no lower than that of the prior year. 42 U.S.C. § 1382g provides:

 
Payments to State for operation of supplementation program; eligibility, agreement with Secretary; levels of supplementary payments
 
(a) In order for any State which makes supplementary payments . . . on or after June 30, 1977, to be eligible for payments pursuant to subchapter XIX of this chapter with respect to expenditures for any calendar quarter which begins
 
(1) after June 30, 1977, or, if later,
 
(2) after the calendar quarter in which it first makes such supplementary payments,
 
such State must have in effect an agreement with the Secretary whereby the State will
 
(3) continue to make such supplementary payments, and
 
(4) maintain such supplementary payments at levels which are not lower than the levels of such payments in effect in December 1976, or, if no such payments were made in that month, the levels for the ...

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