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ROSENFELD v. SECRETARY OF HHS

May 6, 1983

DOROTHY ROSENFELD, Plaintiff,
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINSTEIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

WEINSTEIN, CH. J.:

 Plaintiff challenges the determination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services denying her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits because her imputed income was too high. The Secretary erred in attributing to the wife all money deposited in a joint bank account with her husband. The sums are small, but to this aged, sick woman they are important. The case must be remanded.

 I. Facts

 Dorothy Rosenfeld first inquired orally about SSI benefits on January 27, 1981; she made a formal application on February 4, 1981. At the time of her application she was 76 years old, had apparent psychiatric problems, and was residing in an adult home. She had been living with her husband of 39 years until November of 1980 when he had a heart attack. Upon his discharge from the hospital he felt that he could no longer care for his wife and placed her in the adult home. In the first quarter of 1981 deposits were made to the Rosenfeld joint checking account as follows: Date Amount Source of Money Deposited 1/2/81 $683.80 Social Security Benefits (H) (466.80) Social Security Benefits (W) (217.00) 1/5/81 468.53 Private Disability Benefits (H) (371.43) Other (97.10) 1/12/81 412.50 Private Disability Benefits (H) 1/23/81 132.00 Private Disability Benefits (H) 1/26/81 600.00 Transfer from Joint Savings Account (H-W) 2/24/81 217.00 Social Security Benefits (W) 3/3/81 217.00 Social Security Benefits (W) 3/24/81 570.12 Transfer from Joint Savings Account (H-W)

 The issue before us arises because the husband's benefit checks deposited in January were treated by the Secretary as income to the wife. In February 1981 the husband opened an individual bank account, and stoped depositing his checks to the joint account.

 In February and March, the wife withdrew funds from the account in order to make payments to her adult home. The record contains copies of three checks made out to the facility during this period in the total amount of $727.85. It is not clear from the record, however, whether these constitute the only funds withdrawn from the account for the benefit of the wife. There is also evidence in the record of checking account transactions in April 1981 that may bear on the uses to which the funds deposited in the first quarter were subsequently put.

 In order to determine whether the petitioner's income was low enough to qualify for SSI benefits the administrative law judge computed her income for January through March of 1981 in accordance with 20 C.F.R.§ 416.221 (1981). He added the deposits of January 2nd, 5th and 12th, a total of $1,564.83. To this he added petitioner's monthly social security benefits (before the medicare deduction) of $226.60 and, averaging over the three months of the first quarter of 1981, arrived at monthly unearned income of $748.21. Deducting the $20 monthly allowance of 20 C.F.R. § 416.1124, petitioner's countable income came to $728.21 (The correct figure on the Secretary's theory, after eliminating computational errors, should have been $699.88.)

 As a resident of her adult home -- a Level II Congregate Care Facility in New York State -- petitioner's SSI payment standard under the July 1, 1980 schedules then in effect was $495.16. Because petitioner's countable income exceeded this amount, the administrative law judge found that she was not elegible for SSI during January, February and March of 1981.

 II. Law

 A. Statute, Regulations and Manual

 All deposits to the joint accunt were attributed to the petitioner as unearned income on the assumption that wife and husband had equal access to the joint account and that she in fact used funds that were deposited to the account to meet her basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. This was done pursuant to an administrative policy memorialized in the Social Security Claims Manual (CM). At the relevant time, the Manual read:

 When a joint bank account is held by an SSI eligible [the wife] and an ineligible [the husband], the total amount of . . . any deposit to the account made by . . . the ineligible . . . ...


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