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COE v. MATHEWS

November 23, 1976

Jane COE et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
F. David MATHEWS, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CORCORAN

 I

 CORCORAN, District Judge.

 This case presents a complex question of statutory interpretation under the 1975 Child Support and Establishment of Paternity Amendments to Title IV of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. Those amendments, in pertinent part, added a comprehensive new federal-state program for child support and the establishment of paternity at Title IV-D of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 651 et seq., and correspondingly amended provisions of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program under Title IV-A, 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.

 Plaintiffs are the National Welfare Rights Organization, the State of Alaska and five mothers of dependent children receiving assistance under the federally funded AFDC program. They commenced this action on May 7, 1976, seeking an order in the nature of mandamus directing the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) to issue, within twenty days, proposed standards to implement a statutory "good cause" exception for non-compliance with mandatory establishment of paternity, parental location and support provisions of the 1975 Amendments. In the alternative, the complaint requests declaratory and broad injunctive relief against the continued enforcement of existing HEW regulations until such time as standards pertaining to the good cause exception have become effective.

 The plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment and the Secretary of HEW has filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment.

 II

 There is a maze of statutory interplay between the Title IV-A AFDC and Title IV-D Child Support and Establishment of Paternity provisions of the Act.

 Under the Title IV-A AFDC program, which is optional with the states, the costs of providing assistance in the form of money payments because of death, continued absence, or mental or physical incapacity of parents are shared by the federal and state governments. Certain caretaker relatives of such children are also eligible for federally subsidized AFDC assistance. 42 U.S.C. § 606. The states are responsible for direct administration of their AFDC programs -- state IV-A agencies, for example, make all eligibility determinations and set applicable need and payment standards. However, in order to qualify for substantial federal reimbursement of its AFDC expenditures, a state must operate its program under a state plan approved by the Secretary of HEW as meeting all applicable federal statutory and regulatory requirements. 42 U.S.C. § 602(b).

 The primary responsibility for "enforcing the support obligations owed by absent parents to their children, locating absent parents, establishing paternity and obtaining child support" under the new Title IV-D Child Support and Establishment of Paternity program rests with a single and separate state organizational unit, the state IV-D agency, 42 U.S.C. § 651. Such Title IV-D agency carries out those functions under a state plan for child support which must meet all of the requirements of section 454 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 654, and implementing federal regulations. Once its Title IV-D plan is approved by the Secretary, the state becomes eligible for reimbursement by the federal government of seventy-five percent of the expenditures made under that plan. In addition to review and approval of state child support plans, 42 U.S.C. § 652(a)(3), the Secretary's responsibilities under Title IV-D include, inter alia, providing technical assistance to state IV-D agencies, periodically evaluating and auditing state child support programs, maintaining records of amounts collected by the states and reporting to Congress on the effectiveness of state child support activities. See 42 U.S.C. § 652(a). Section 652(a)(1) further directs the Secretary of HEW to "establish such standards for State programs . . . as he determines to be necessary to assure that such programs will be effective."

 The specific statutory provisions of Title IV-A and Title IV-D which are at issue in the present case appear at 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(26)(B) and § 654(4). Section 654(4) requires that state IV-D agencies must undertake to establish the paternity of each child born out of wedlock on whose behalf assistance is claimed under the Title IV-A AFDC program, and to locate the absent parents (or other persons legally liable for support) of the AFDC children, and to obtain any support payments due to the children or their caretaker relatives. Section 602(a)(26)(B) of Title 42 mandates that state agencies administering AFDC programs under Title IV-A of the Act condition the eligibility for assistance of an AFDC applicant or recipient upon his or her cooperation with the state in the establishment of paternity, location and support efforts.

 However, sections 654(4) and 602(a)(26)(B) permit Title IV-A and Title IV-D state agencies, respectively, to excuse the cooperation of an AFDC recipient or applicant, and to forego the establishment of paternity and parent-location and collection of support owed to an AFDC household upon a finding by the state Title IV-A agency that good cause exists for such an exception. It is further specified that such finding is to be made "in accordance with standards prescribed by the Secretary [of HEW]" pursuant to section 602(a)(26)(B), "which standards shall take into consideration the best interests of the child on whose behalf aid is claimed", 42 U.S.C. §§ 602(a)(26)(B), 654(4). *fn1"

 Standards relating to the good cause exception of sections 602(a)(26)(B) and 654(4) have been published in proposed form; *fn2" and, on November 21, 1975, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, HEW, advised participating states through the Agency's regional offices that state IV-A and IV-D agencies should "utilize care and common sense in administering its program so that children and their custodial parents or caretaker relatives will not be harmed by the support enforcement process." *fn3" Nonetheless, the only standards for excusing compliance to have been actually and formally incorporated to date in HEW regulations are limited to situations involving ...


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