that the Secretary had a rational basis for setting the limit at $ 1500.
Plaintiff argues that the population of AFDC recipients and that of food-stamp recipients were not identical because the two programs have different eligibility requirements. The Secretary was not insensitive to these differences, however, but he nevertheless found that there was a substantial correlation between the two groups. Falin v. Sullivan, 776 F. Supp. 1097, 1101 (E.D.Va. 1991), aff'd, 6 F.3d 207 (4th Cir. 1993) (per curiam), cert. denied, 114 S. Ct. 1551, 128 L. Ed. 2d 200 (1994). He also found that food-stamp recipients were, on average, more affluent than AFDC recipients. 47 Fed. Reg. at 5657. Therefore, I do not find it likely that plaintiff can establish that these two groups were so dissimilar as to render the Secretary's use of this data irrational.
Plaintiff also contends that the Secretary was incorrect in stating that ninety-six percent of food-stamp recipients who owned cars had equity value in the cars of $ 1500 or less. In support of this argument, plaintiff has submitted a report by Dr. Peter S. Fisher, who holds a Ph.D. in economics. See Attachment to Affidavit of Elaine Frederick sworn to on Aug. 4, 1994. Dr. Fisher opines that the Secretary incorrectly included within this group not only recipients who owned cars with up to $ 1500 in equity value, but also recipients who owned no car at all. He also states that the Secretary ignored the seventeen percent of recipients whose automobile-equity value could not be determined. He concludes that it would have been more appropriate to find that 90.5 percent of food-stamp recipients who actually owned cars with a known equity value had equity in the vehicles of $ 1500 or less. Id. at 13.
However, as the court in Gamboa v. Rubin, No. 92-397 HMF, slip op. at 15 (D.Haw. Nov. 4, 1993), pointed out, this does not alter the fact that the $ 1500 limit would still leave ninety-six percent of the group studied eligible to receive benefits. And, like the Gamboa court as well as the courts in Falin, 776 F. Supp. at 1100, Hall v. Towey, No. 93-1780-CIV-T-21B, slip op. at 6 n. 3 (M.D.Fla. Dec. 10, 1993), and Champion v. Shalala, 845 F. Supp. 1332, 1335 (S.D.Iowa 1993), I find that even accepting Dr. Fisher's view that 90.5 percent would have been a more appropriate figure, that still does not render irrational the Secretary's conclusion that the $ 1500 limit was "within the range of the vast majority of current recipients . . ." 47 Fed. Reg. at 5657.
Plaintiff also argues that the Secretary improperly failed to take into consideration the special needs of some AFDC recipients, such as recipients living in rural areas. Plaintiff contends that a proper analysis would have taken into account the market value of average, reliable used cars, typical financing terms, etc.
As with plaintiff's critique of the Secretary's statistical analysis, however, this argument, while it may present an defensible alternative viewpoint, does not make the Secretary's decision unsupportable. The issue is not "whether the Secretary used the best available source to develop a regulation, but whether the Secretary's conduct was reasonable." Champion, 845 F. Supp. at 1335. More than one course of action may be reasonable. It might well have been rational for the Secretary to have undertaken the sort of study suggested by plaintiff. That does not mean, though, that the decision he actually made is unsound simply because he followed a different course of action. In sum, none of plaintiff's attacks on the Secretary's initial arrival at the $ 1500 figure persuade me that plaintiff is likely to prevail on the merits.
In addition to challenging the Secretary's initial decision to limit equity at $ 1500, plaintiff claims that the Secretary has acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not adjusting that figure over time to account for inflation. I conclude that there is no likelihood that plaintiff will prevail on the merits as to this contention.
The statute, 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(7)(B)(i), which directed the Secretary to create the exclusion, places no duty upon the Secretary to periodically adjust the limit. Furthermore, while inflation has undoubtedly eroded the value of the limit when measured in constant dollars, that is but one factor that the Secretary may consider, along with the added costs that would ensue if the limit were raised, and the impact that those costs would have on other worthy programs. I find it unlikely that plaintiff will prevail on her claim that it was irrational or arbitrary for the Secretary not to raise the limit after he had balanced all the relevant factors.
Plaintiff also argues that maintaining the AFDC limit at $ 1500 constitutes a denial of equal protection because it is dramatically lower than that for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits for needy disabled persons. By statute, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382b(a)(2)(A) the Secretary is directed to exclude from an SSI applicant's resources "household goods, personal effects, and an automobile, to the extent that their total value does not exceed such amount as the Secretary determines reasonable." Pursuant to that authority, the Secretary has promulgated a regulation that completely excludes a single automobile if it is "necessary for employment" or "medical treatment," or if it is necessary "because of climate, terrain, distance, or similar factors to provide necessary transportation to perform essential daily activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.1218(b)(1). If none of these complete exclusions apply, the vehicle may be excluded up to $ 4500 in market value. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1218(b)(2).
These are two separate programs, however, and there is no Constitutional requirement that they utilize the same eligibility requirements and limitations. Gamboa, slip op. at 19. As the court in Champion observed, it is not the task of this court to assess the consistency or wisdom of federal welfare programs. 845 F. Supp. at 1336. Nor is it for the court to decide whether, in a moral sense, plaintiff deserves benefits. Rather, my task is limited to determining whether the Secretary's actions have a rational basis when measured against the statutes--specifically, the OBRA amendments--that are the source of his authority.
Plaintiff next argues that the regulation is contrary to the legislative intent underlying the AFDC program because it is too low to enable recipients to achieve financial independence. Plaintiff also argues that the Secretary's failure to adjust the limit to offset inflation is arbitrary and capricious and not consistent with congressional intent.
Although plaintiff presents these as separate, discrete arguments, they both relate closely to an analysis of congressional action (or inaction) in the years since AFDC was instituted. I find that plaintiff is unlikely to prevail on these matters.
Plaintiff correctly states that the AFDC program is intended to allow recipients to attain financial self-sufficiency. The inquiry into Congress's intent, however, does not end with the creation of AFDC. It must be remembered that the $ 1500 vehicle-equity limit was actually set not contemporaneously with the original enactment of AFDC, but pursuant to OBRA, "the central purpose of which was to reduce government expenditures." Travelers Ins. Co. v. Cuomo, 14 F.3d 708, 716 (2d Cir. 1993). Thus, "despite the fundamental objectives of the AFDC program, . . . it must be acknowledged that the primary purpose of the OBRA amendments
is to reduce or eliminate welfare benefits for those considered by Congress to be less needy than those completely without resources--persons or households that have available other sources of income or resources with which to support themselves.