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Biggs v. Richard E. Lyng Secretary of United States Department of Agriculture

decided: June 30, 1987.

SONJA BIGGS, LINDA BRAUNSTEIN, PETER DE RESPIRIS, GASTON INMAN, LOUIS JACKSON, GRACE NUGENT, CONSTANCE SCANDOLA, AND JANET TRIANT, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES
v.
RICHARD E. LYNG SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, AND JOSEPH A. D'ELIA, COMMISSIONER OF THE NASSAU COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, CESAR PERALES, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DEFENDANT



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Wexler, Judge, granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and denying defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment. Reversed.

Author: Mahoney

Before; NEWMAN, KEARSE and MAHONEY, Circuit Judges.

MAHONEY, Circuit Judge:

The Secretary of Agriculture ("Secretary") appeals from a summary judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Wexler, J.) overturning the Secretary of Agriculture's classification of certain state relief benefits as "income" rather than "loans" under the Food Stamp Act, 7 U.S.C.A. §§ 2011-2029 (West 1973 & Supp. 1987), and ordering retroactive food stamp benefits to be paid to the members of the plaintiff class.

We reverse.

BACKGROUND

This case concerns the Secretary's definition of a "loan" under 7 U.S.C.A. § 2014(d) (West Supp. 1987), which provides in pertinent part that: "Household income for purposes of the food stamp program shall include all income from whatever source excluding only . . . (4) all loans other than educational loans on which repayment is deferred." The relevant regulation, 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(b) and (c)(4) (1987), reinforces the statutory framework:

(b) Definition of income. Household income shall mean all income from whatever source excluding only items specified in paragraph (c) of this section.

(c) Income exclusions . Only the following items shall be excluded from household income and no other income shall be excluded:

(4) All loans, including loans from private individuals as well as commercial institutions, other than educational loans on which repayment is deferred.

Id.

Whether or not a particular benefit is designated as income has an ultimate bearing on how many food stamps a family can receive. The Secretary has interpreted the loan exception as not recovering a certain class of interim benefits under New York's Home Relief Program ("HRP") -- benefits that are paid to persons awaiting an eligibility determination under the federal Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") program.

The SSI program provides monetary relief to those who meet its eligibility requirements. 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1381-1383c (West 1983 & Supp. 1987). If an SSI applicant is approved, he receives, through the Department of Health & Human Services ("HHS"), monthly benefits starting on the date of approval, and a lump-sum payment retroactive to the date of application. Food Stamp regulations treat monthly SSI benefits as income, 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(b)(2)(i) (1987), but exclude the lump-sum retroactive benefits from the definition of income. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(c)(8) (1987).

The HRP is administered by the New York State Department of Social Services ("SDSS"). HRP participants cannot simultaneously be recipients of SSI benefits, and HRP participants who appear to qualify for SSI benefits must apply therefore. The HRP pays monthly benefits while participants have their applications on file for SSI benefits. The HRP benefits terminate once an SSI application is approved. These HRP benefits paid between filing and approval of the SSI application are called "interim assistance" benefits. See N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 158(a) (McKinney 1983). The HRP requires recipients to sign a "Repayment of Interim Assistant Authorization," which provides that if the recipient receives SSI benefits, HHS is to forward the recipient's SSI retroactive lump-sum payment to the SDSS so that SDSS can recover the amount of benefits it has paid the applicant during the interim period. The balance is then forwarded to the recipient. If the SSI ...


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