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CAMPBELL v. USDA

June 4, 1981

James CAMPBELL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This action was originally brought in early 1980 to compel defendants United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW, now the Department of Health and Human Services or HHS), and the Secretaries of those Departments to promulgate final regulations implementing the provision of the Food Stamp Act of 1977, P.L. 95-113, 91 Stat. 979, 7 U.S.C. §§ 2011 et seq., requiring establishment of a system whereby eligible Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants and recipients could apply for food stamps at their social security offices. Defendant USDA administers the food stamp program, while defendant HHS administers the SSI program. The two individual plaintiffs, James Campbell and Jane Doe, (a fictitious name), allege that they are SSI recipients who are eligible for, and in need of food stamps, but cannot participate in the program because of various practical difficulties, primarily lack of transportation and inability to cope with the long lines at food stamp offices due to health problems and disabilities. They further allege that if a food stamp application could have been processed in conjunction with an SSI review at their social security office, their participation in the food stamp program would have been assured. Plaintiff Utah State Coalition of Senior Citizens (USCSC) is a voluntary membership organization composed of over 4,000 members over age 55, some of whom are alleged to be SSI recipients who are eligible to participate in the food stamp program, but cannot do so because of the lack of certification facilities at the social security office. Plaintiff Utahns Against Hunger (UAH) is alleged to be a voluntary membership organization of participants and potential participants in the SSI and food stamp programs and their representatives.

 Food stamps and SSI are two separate programs with potential to assist the low income aged, blind and disabled. The food stamp program is designed to alleviate hunger and malnutrition among low income households by directly increasing their food purchasing power. State agencies implement the program. 7 U.S.C. §§ 2012(h) and 2024(b). The state agencies develop food stamp application forms, accept applications from potentially eligible households, verify information contained in the application, and certify the household for participation in the program. 7 U.S.C. § 2019. The SSI program is authorized under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, P.L. 92-603, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. (1973). It establishes a minimal annual income for the nations' aged, blind and disabled, and is administered directly by the federal government through the Social Security Administration (SSA) of defendant HHS. Current benefits under the SSI program for persons with no other source of income are $ 238 per month for an individual and $ 375 for a couple. These amounts will be increased to $ 264.70 and $ 397, respectively in July of 1981. If an SSI recipient has other income, he or she will receive an amount such that total income exceeds the amounts set forth above by $ 20. Thus the total maximum monthly income of an individual SSI recipient at this time is $ 258.

 The Food Stamp Act was reauthorized and amended in 1977, and in 1980 the Act was again amended and the authorization levels for fiscal years 1980 and 1981 were raised. At both times, Congress expressed an intent to continue a program which had been shown to be essential in the reduction of the grave problems of hunger and malnutrition existing in this country, and to increase the participation of those in need, while eliminating certain categories of less needy households from the program and preventing fraud and abuse. See Food Stamp Act of 1977, H.R.Rep. No. 95-464, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. (1977), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1977, p. 1704, (hereinafter 1977 House Report); Food Stamp Act Amendments of 1980, H.R.Rep. No. 96-788, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. (1980), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1980, p. 843, (hereinafter 1980 House Report).

 In preparation for the 1977 legislation, the House Committee on Agriculture undertook a comprehensive study to collect basic information about how the program actually operates, who participates, what the incomes of participants are, and to determine the nature and extent of administrative problems. The study explored, inter alia, why obviously needy groups such as SSI recipients had such a low participation rate in the program (40 to 50%). In 1975 and 1976, the Committee sent questionnaires on the food stamp program to local and state administrators and community groups. The responses indicated that lack of transportation, complex and confusing program rules, restrictive income and resource limitations, and the "welfare stigma" were substantial barriers to participation in the food stamp program by SSI recipients. The Committee was "quite concerned about dealing with the barriers confronting the elderly, blind and disabled (and) therefore included specific provisions to enhance their current unacceptably low participation ..." 1977 House Report at 98, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1977, p. 2076. These included the provision which is at issue here, which was intended "to lessen the significant burden of forcing SSI recipients to deal with two different offices in order to qualify for SSI and food stamps." This amendment, now 7 U.S.C. § 2020(i)(2), and (j), *fn1" required the Secretary of Agriculture in conjunction with the Secretary of HEW (now HHS) to prescribe regulations permitting SSI households to apply for food stamps at SSA offices by executing a simplified affidavit there utilizing information contained in the SSA files. "Simplified affidavit" was changed to "simple application" in 1980. (See discussion below.) The purpose of the 1977 amendment was to "accomplish food stamp application and certification for SSI recipients as efficiently and conveniently as possible." House Report at 97-98, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1977, p. 2076. At the same time, in keeping with the goal of encouraging participation of the needy, while insuring fairness and elimination of the non-needy, the Committee rejected "automatic" eligibility for food stamps for SSI recipients, requiring such households to meet all the eligibility tests (except work registration) applied to other applicants. Id.

 In 1980, Congress passed legislation increasing authorization for appropriations for the food stamp program for fiscal years 1980 and 1981, in order to assure that over "19 million needy Americans in more than 6 million households are going to continue to be able to buy sufficient food to avoid hunger and malnutrition and the social, economic, and personal harm that accompanies them." 1980 House Report at 12, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1980, p. 845. At the same time, amendments were included to deter error and punish abuse; to feed the needy and terminate the greedy. Id. at 12-13. The Committee found that although there were some abuses requiring correction, the image of people driving Cadillacs to buy expensive steaks with food stamps was a total misconception. The shocking reality demonstrates that the average food stamp recipient as of December 1979 had less than 36 cents worth of food stamps to use for each meal, or $ 32.82 per person per month.

 According to a medical study funded by the Field Foundation, diseases of malnutrition evident among poor and hungry American children in 1967 had greatly diminished by 1979. In the view of the authors of the study, the dramatic difference found, including a 33% decline in infant mortality, and greater than 50% reduction in infant deaths from causes related directly to poverty and malnutrition, was primarily a result of the food stamp program. The report concluded that the food stamp program "is the most valuable health dollar spent by the Federal Government." 1980 House Report at 14, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1980, p. 847.

 The provision which is the subject of this lawsuit was amended in 1980. The Committee reaffirmed that the purpose of the provision was to "lessen the significant burden of forcing SSI recipients to deal with two different offices in order to qualify for both programs." 1980 House Report at 133, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1980, p. 966. However, it reported that unfortunately a shortened and simplified affidavit that could be used nationwide by SSA for joint application for both programs could not be worked out, because much of the information needed to determine food stamp eligibility is not needed to determine SSI eligibility, there being considerable differences in income and asset definitions and exclusions in the two programs. Therefore, the language of the provision was changed from "simple affidavit" to "simple application" so that state agencies could use the national food stamp application form or a comparable state form no more lengthy or complex. The Committee stated that "(there) will be no greater burden upon clients under this approach as long as the SSI caseworker fills out that application form during the SSI interview and then forwards the form to the appropriate food stamp office." Id. at 134, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1980, p. 967.

 At the time this lawsuit was filed, more than two years after enactment of the provision mandating regulations to allow food stamp applications by SSI participants at SSA offices, no final regulations had been issued. The primary aim of plaintiffs at that time was to obtain the issuance of those regulations. During the progress of this case, on April 22, 1980, defendants issued final regulations (45 Fed.Reg. 27246 et seq.), in connection with settlement negotiations in a similar case earlier instituted, Action Alliance of Senior Citizens, Inc. v. Bergland, Civil Action No. 79-2822, E.D.Pa. The consent order in that case provided for implementation of the regulations on or before August 1, 1980. Thus, the issues originally raised here become moot. Nonetheless, by the Order of June 6, 1980, this Court allowed the plaintiffs to file a further dispositive motion raising issues within the scope of their complaint. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that defendants' regulations failed to comply with the Food Stamp Act of 1977 and congressional intentions thereunder. Specifically, plaintiffs challenge two aspects of the regulations. First, application for recertification (required at intervals of one year or less in order to retain entitlement to receive food stamps), as opposed to initial certification, are only provided at the social security office when a household member's visit to the SSA office for a redetermination of SSI eligibility coincides with the period for making an application for recertification for food stamps. 7 C.F.R. 273.2(k); 45 Fed.Reg. 27432. In other cases, SSI recipients must deal with the food stamp office for recertification. Since SSI redeterminations are only occasional, and are not timed to coincide with food stamp recertification, recertification at the social security office would be the exception rather than the rule under the regulations. Plaintiffs contend that the failure to provide for recertification at social security offices is a violation of the clear language of the statute and of congressional intent. Defendants on the other hand argue that the statutory language does not require recertifications, as opposed to initial certifications, to take place at SSA offices, and that the system adopted by defendants fulfills congressional intent.

 Plaintiffs' second objection to the regulations involves expedited processing under 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(9) for SSI households which apply for initial food stamp certification at the social security office. The Act provides that destitute households in immediate need because of no income are to receive coupons on an expedited basis. The regulations implementing this section, 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i), provide that households which are found eligible will have their food stamps mailed to them by the second working day after the application was filed, or may pick them up at the food stamp office no later than the start of business of the third working day following the date the application was filed. The new regulations allow the actual processing of food stamp applications to take place at the food stamp office even when they are received by the SSA office. (The states may choose this procedure, or alternatively, may "outstation" food stamp workers in the SSA office to process applications there). 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(k)(1); 45 Fed.Reg. 27432. When an application entitled to receive expedited treatment is filed at the SSA office and will be processed at the food stamp office, the deadlines for issuance of stamps begin to run from the time the application is received at the correct food stamp office. 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(k)(1)(i)(I); 45 Fed.Reg. 25432-33. Accordingly, applicants for expedited processing who file at social security offices are subject to a delay in receiving their food stamps, consisting of the time it takes for the application to go from the social security office to the food stamp office. Plaintiffs claim that the delay may be one week or longer, and that the procedure provides the elderly, blind and disabled SSI recipients with considerably less protection from expedited food stamp assistance than other households. Plaintiffs argue that the statutory language providing that SSI recipients applying for food stamps at the social security office "be certified for eligibility utilizing information contained in the files of the Social Security Adminstration...", 7 U.S.C. § 2020(i)(2), requires that the eligibility determination be made at the social security office, thereby eliminating any delay inherent in the transmission of the application to the food stamp office. In a subsequent filing, plaintiffs suggest that the initial determination be made in the social security office, followed by a confirming telephone call to the food stamp office as to the household's eligibility for food stamps on an expedited basis. Food stamps would then be issued by the food stamp office based on information supplied by the SSA worker. Further processing of the application would continue as for non-expedited applications. Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment at 3-4. (Limited verification is required to issue stamps on an expedited basis. The full investigation applied to non-expedited applications takes place after the emergency issuance of food stamps). Defendants counter that the expedited processing regulations are reasonable and in accordance with law. The SSI household has the option of applying at the food stamp office if time is of the essence. The regulations require that the SSA inform households which appear to meet the criteria for expedited service that benefits may be issued a few days sooner if the household applies directly at the food stamp office. 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(k)(1)(H); 45 Fed.Reg. 27432. Where applications are made at the social security office, the regulations require that the application be forwarded to the designated food stamp office within one working day. 7 C.F.R. 273.2(k)(1)(i)(B), 45 Fed.Reg. 27432. The mail normally takes no more than one day. Clearly, expedited processing would be accomplished within the one week suggested by the 1977 House Report. (There is no statutorily imposed time frame for expedited processing). Defendants further argue that if the same time limitations were applied to expedited applications forwarded from SSA offices as apply to those submitted directly to food stamp offices, the food stamp office would have to begin processing the application before it was ever received. This would run counter to the congressional intent to reduce error, or fraud, and make the program accountable. Finally, defendants contend that the legislative history of the 1980 amendments to the Food Stamp Act demonstrate that Congress approves the practice of processing applications received at the SSA office at the food stamp office, and does not require processing at the SSA office based on information contained in SSA files.

 Plaintiffs claim that both the failure to provide recertification for food stamps at the social security office and the delay permitted in the expedited processing of food stamp applications of those who apply at the social security office run counter to equal protection of the law and violate the United States Constitution.

 Defendants responded to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment with a combined motion for summary judgment and opposition to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in July of 1980. In January 1981, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for want of prosecution, or, in the alternative, that defendants' motion for summary judgment be treated as conceded, and renewed their motion for summary judgment. The basic ground for this motion is that plaintiffs never responded to defendants' motion for summary judgment. In response, plaintiffs filed an opposition to defendants' motion, and moved for leave to file points and authorities in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs' position is that defendants' motion for summary judgment was a direct response to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs had regarded the issues as joined on cross motions for summary judgment and ripe for adjudication by the Court. In the event that the Court finds that there was a violation of Local Rule 1-9(d) (requiring oppositions to motions to be filed within 10 days, or the Court may treat that motion as conceded), plaintiffs ask leave to file points and authorities in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment.

 The Court finds that the issues were joined for adjudication at the time defendants filed their motion for summary judgment and opposition to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs were not required to respond further. However, they were entitled to do so if they so chose. For record clarification, plaintiffs are given leave to file their points and authorities, earlier attached but not formally filed, in support of their opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment. This filing has been considered in the decision on the merits made here.

 Defendants have also filed a motion to vacate the order of January 29, 1980 (providing that plaintiff Jane Doe be allowed to remain anonymous), and a motion for leave to file affidavit in supplemental support of defendants' motion for summary judgment and in opposition to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The filing will be permitted and is considered in this decision. In support of the first motion, defendants argue that the concealment of plaintiff's true identity deprives them of their rights to know against whom they are litigating, to determine whether the anonymous allegations are based on fact, to gather contrary evidence, and to determine who is precluded from relitigating issues decided in their favor. The order in question, (per Pratt, J.) provides that Jane Doe's name and address, having been given to the Clerk of Court, "will be made available to Defendants upon presentation of necessity." Defendants contend that their right to know the litigant's identity should not be conditioned upon a showing of necessity. Plaintiff Doe's identity has been concealed to protect sensitive personal information and to shield her from feared abuse and harrassment from her neighbors, the media, and ...


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