B-140345, FEB. 9, 1965

B-140345: Feb 9, 1965

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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: REFERENCE IS MADE TO YOUR LETTER OF DECEMBER 28. THIS MATTER WAS THE SUBJECT OF A CONFERENCE BETWEEN REPRESENTATIVES OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT AND THIS OFFICE. OR IF THEY FIND THAT THE RECIPIENT'S CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE ALTERED SUFFICIENTLY TO WARRANT SUCH ACTION. WAS ESTABLISHED AS AN ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL IN ORDER TO ASSURE THAT A PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT WOULD NOT BE CONTINUED BEYOND THE CURRENT AUTHORIZATION PERIOD UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THE WORKER COMPLETED THE REQUIRED RECONSIDERATION AND CERTIFIED THAT THE CASE REMAINED ELIGIBLE FOR ASSISTANCE. IT WAS POINTED OUT THEREIN THAT THE AUTOMATIC CUT-OFF OF A PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT BECAUSE OF LATE ELIGIBILITY REVIEW IS NOT IN CONFORMANCE WITH HEW HANDBOOK REGULATIONS GOVERNING FEDERALLY AIDED PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS.

B-140345, FEB. 9, 1965

TO THE HONORABLE WALTER N. TO BRINER, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:

REFERENCE IS MADE TO YOUR LETTER OF DECEMBER 28, 1964, CONCERNING THE VALIDITY OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS MADE TO RECIPIENTS BEYOND THE REQUIRED TIME LIMITS PROVIDED BY THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1962, FOR REVIEW OF EACH RECIPIENTS' ELIGIBILITY STATUS. AS INDICATED IN YOUR LETTER, THIS MATTER WAS THE SUBJECT OF A CONFERENCE BETWEEN REPRESENTATIVES OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT AND THIS OFFICE.

SECTION 11 OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1962, APPROVED OCTOBER 15, 1962, 76 STAT. 916, PROVIDES AS FOLLOWS:

"SEC. 11. ALL PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANTS MADE UNDER THIS ACT SHALL BE RECONSIDERED BY THE COMMISSIONERS AS FREQUENTLY AS THEY MAY DEEM NECESSARY, BUT IN EVERY CASE THE COMMISSIONERS SHALL MAKE SUCH RECONSIDERATIONS AT LEAST ONCE IN EACH YEAR. AFTER SUCH FURTHER INVESTIGATION AS THE COMMISSIONERS MAY DEEM NECESSARY, THE AMOUNT OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE MAY BE CHANGED, OR MAY BE ENTIRELY WITHDRAWN, IF THE COMMISSIONERS FIND THAT ANY SUCH GRANT HAS BEEN MADE ERRONEOUSLY, OR IF THEY FIND THAT THE RECIPIENT'S CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE ALTERED SUFFICIENTLY TO WARRANT SUCH ACTION. IF AT ANY TIME DURING THE CONTINUANCE OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE THE RECIPIENT THEREOF BECOMES POSSESSED OF INCOME OR RESOURCES IN EXCESS OF THE AMOUNT PREVIOUSLY REPORTED BY HIM, OR IF OTHER CHANGES SHOULD OCCUR IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES PREVIOUSLY REPORTED BY HIM WHICH WOULD ALTER EITHER HIS NEED OR HIS ELIGIBILITY, IT SHALL BE HIS DUTY TO NOTIFY THE COMMISSIONERS OF SUCH FACT IMMEDIATELY ON THE RECEIPT OR POSSESSION OF SUCH ADDITIONAL INCOME OR RESOURCES, OR ON THE CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES.'

YOU STATE THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE OF THE D.C. GOVERNMENT HAS FOLLOWED THE PRACTICE, OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS, TO WITHHOLD OR SUSPEND PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS TO RECIPIENTS IN ANY INSTANCE WHEREIN A CASE REVIEW, OR RECONSIDERATION OF ALL FACTORS OF ELIGIBILITY HAS NOT BEEN COMPLETED ON TIME BY THE SOCIAL WORKER HAVING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CASE. THIS PROCEDURE, YOU SAY, WAS ESTABLISHED AS AN ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL IN ORDER TO ASSURE THAT A PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT WOULD NOT BE CONTINUED BEYOND THE CURRENT AUTHORIZATION PERIOD UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THE WORKER COMPLETED THE REQUIRED RECONSIDERATION AND CERTIFIED THAT THE CASE REMAINED ELIGIBLE FOR ASSISTANCE.

YOU REFER IN YOUR LETTER TO A COMMUNICATION FROM THE BUREAU OF FAMILY SERVICES OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, EDUCATION, AND WELFARE, TO THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, REGARDING THE PRACTICE OF SUSPENDING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS BECAUSE OF DELAYED REVIEWS OF ELIGIBILITY STATUS. IT WAS POINTED OUT THEREIN THAT THE AUTOMATIC CUT-OFF OF A PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT BECAUSE OF LATE ELIGIBILITY REVIEW IS NOT IN CONFORMANCE WITH HEW HANDBOOK REGULATIONS GOVERNING FEDERALLY AIDED PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS. ALSO, THE LETTER REQUESTED TO BE INFORMED AS TO THE ACTION PLANNED TO BE TAKEN BY THE DISTRICT TO DISCONTINUE THE PRACTICE.

THE DIRECTOR OF THE D.C. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, IN REPLY TO THE COMMUNICATION, STATED THAT THE PRACTICE FOLLOWED BY THE DISTRICT IN SUSPENDING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS BECAUSE OF DELAYED ELIGIBILITY REVIEW WOULD BE DISCONTINUED. THIS POSITION, IT IS SAID, WAS TAKEN ON THE BASIS THAT THE ACTION BEING PRESSED FOR BY HEW IS NOT CONTRARY TO THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE PROVISIONS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1962.

ON THE BASIS OF THE FOREGOING FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES, THE SPECIFIC QUESTION PRESENTED FOR OUR DECISION IS WHETHER IN THE EVENT THE PRACTICE OF SUSPENDING A PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT IS DISCONTINUED, IN INSTANCES WHEREIN ANNUAL RECONSIDERATIONS ARE NOT MADE WHEN DUE, WILL CONTINUATION OF THE PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENT BEYOND THE REVIEW DATE CONSTITUTE A LEGAL PAYMENT WITHIN THE MEANING OF SECTION 11.

THE PURPOSE OF SECTION 11 IS EXPLAINED AT PAGES 3 AND 4 OF H.REPT. NO. 2447, 87TH CONG., 2D SESS., ON THE BILL (S. 914) WHICH BECAME THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1962. IT IS STATED IN THE REPORT THAT THE SECTION PERMITS THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA TO PRESCRIBE BY REGULATION THE PERIODS OF TIME WHICH MAY ELAPSE IN EACH CATEGORY OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE COVERED BY THE BILL PRIOR TO A REINVESTIGATION OF THE RECIPIENT'S FINANCIAL AND PHYSICAL CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT REQUIRES THE COMMISSIONERS TO MAKE SUCH RECONSIDERATION IN EACH CASE AT LEAST ONCE IN EACH YEAR. THE LAWS IN EFFECT PRIOR TO ENACTMENT OF SECTION 11, WITH REFERENCE TO THE VARIOUS CATEGORIES OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, PROVIDED DIFFERENT PERIODS OF TIME FOR REINVESTIGATION OF THE RECIPIENT'S FINANCIAL AND PHYSICAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

THUS, SECTION 11 IS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF APPROPRIATE TIME SCHEDULES FOR REINVESTIGATING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ELIGIBILITY BASED ON CASE NEEDS. WE FIND NOTHING IN THE LAW OR IN ITS LEGISLATIVE HISTORY TO WARRANT THE VIEW THAT BY THE DIRECTION THEREIN TO THE COMMISSIONERS TO RECONSIDER ALL GRANTS TO RECIPIENTS AT LEAST ONCE IN EACH YEAR, IT WAS INTENDED TO PENALIZE RECIPIENTS OF GRANT ASSISTANCE FOR ADMINISTRATIVE DELAY OR ERROR IN MAKING REDETERMINATIONS WITHIN THE PRESCRIBED PERIODS OF TIME. HAD IT BEEN THE INTENTION OF THE CONGRESS TO REQUIRE THE AUTOMATIC CUT-OFF OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS TO RECIPIENTS BECAUSE OF ADMINISTRATIVE FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THE REQUIREMENT FOR ANNUAL REDETERMINATION OF ELIGIBILITY, IT IS TO BE PRESUMED THE CONGRESS WOULD HAVE SO STATED.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING AND IN SPECIFIC ANSWER TO THE QUESTION PRESENTED, IT IS OUR VIEW THAT PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PAYMENTS MADE TO RECIPIENTS BEYOND THE REQUIRED TIME LIMIT FOR ANNUAL REDETERMINATIONS OF ELIGIBILITY BY REASON OF ADMINISTRATIVE DELAY IN REVIEWS OF ELIGIBILITY WOULD NOT CONTRAVENE THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 11 OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1962 AND, IF OTHERWISE PROPER, ARE LEGALLY UNOBJECTIONABLE.

HOWEVER, NOTHING STATED HEREIN IS TO BE CONSIDERED AS IN ANY WAY SANCTIONING DISREGARD OF THE REQUIREMENT FOR RECONSIDERATION OF ELIGIBILITY AT LEAST ONCE IN EACH YEAR. WHILE THIS IS A MATTER PRIMARILY FOR SETTLEMENT BETWEEN THE CONGRESS AND THE D.C. GOVERNMENT, OUR OFFICE WILL REVIEW COMPLIANCE WITH THE REQUIREMENT IN THE AUDIT OF DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC ASSISTANCE TRANSACTIONS.