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Court Decides ACD Case

A New York Family Lawyer said that, these motions, numbers 98 and 100, seeking intervention and temporary relief are consolidated for disposition. In this long running case that this court has presided over since its inception and that is now post trial, two mothers seek to intervene on behalf of themselves and their families, requesting that this court stay their imminent eviction from homes where they have resided for many years. They claim that Social Services Law § 350 (1) (a), the decision of the New York State Court of Appeals and this court’s decision after trial and judgment require that shelter allowances, under the Safety Net Assistance (SNA) program (Social Services Law §§ 343-360) and the Temporary Shelter Supplements (TSS) regulations (18 NYCRR 370.10) are adequate to cover the reasonable costs of housing in New York City.

A New York Custody Lawyer said that, the original plaintiffs brought this action under the public assistance program known as Aid to Dependent Children (ADC). ADC was the state promulgation of the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. In 1990, the New York Court of Appeals determined that New York’s Social Services Law § 350 (1) (a) imposes a duty on the State Commissioner of Social Services to establish shelter allowances for ADC recipients bearing a reasonable relationship to the cost of housing in New York City. In so holding, the Court of Appeals relied on the statute’s express language: “1. (a) Allowances shall be adequate to enable the father, mother or other relative to bring up the child properly, having regard for the physical, mental and moral well-being of such child, in accordance with the provisions of section one hundred thirty-one-a of this chapter and other applicable provisions of law. Allowances shall provide for the child support, maintenance and needs of one or both parents if in need, and in the home and for the support, maintenance and needs of the other relative if he or she is without sufficient means of support, provided such parent, parents and relative are not receiving federal supplemental security income payments and/or additional state payments for which they are eligible. The social services official may, in his discretion, make the incapacitated parent the grantee of the allowance and when allowances are granted for the aid of a child or children due to the unemployment of a parent, such official may make the unemployed parent the grantee of the allowance.” Section 350 (1) (a) remains unchanged today.

A Queens Family Lawyer said that, the Court of Appeals then remanded the case back to this court for a determination as to whether the shelter allowances that the Commissioner had established previously in 1988 were adequate under the statutory standard. After a 3½-month trial, this court found that the 1988 shelter allowances did not bear a reasonable relationship to the cost of housing in New York City and ordered the Commissioner to “develop and submit to the Secretary of State for promulgation by March 2, 1998 or, on application to the court, by a reasonable date thereafter, a proposed schedule of shelter allowances for and any successor program.” The Appellate Division affirmed this decision. To date, the Commissioner has not complied with the court’s order, but recently, on July 19, 2002 and in February 2003, the Commissioner proposed regulations to increase shelter allowances. Thus, the shelter allowances for New York City remain inadequate.

A Long Island Family Lawyer said because the court had found that shelter allowances did not bear a reasonable relationship to housing costs in New York City and, in order to avoid the need for repeated intervention motions in this action, this court directed the parties to operate an interim relief system for families with children who face eviction solely because of the inadequacy of the shelter allowance schedule. Plaintiffs contend that today the State routinely approves requests for interim relief according to the following schedule: Family Size 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Allowance $450 $550 $650 $700 $725 $750 $775 The State adopted these figures in the early and mid-1990’s. Plaintiffs contend that, because housing costs have continually escalated since that time, this schedule is about $100 to $200 below the actual housing costs today in New York City for each household size for families who face eviction.

A Bronx Order of Protection Lawyer said that, both plaintiffs seek to intervene in this action on the grounds that their situation has questions of law or fact in common with those of the action. Plaintiffs also seek to join their landlords as defendants. After intervening, plaintiffs will seek to amend the complaint to bring before the court “additional or subsequent transactions or occurrences” involving the substantial increases in both rent levels and homelessness and the changes in the statutory scheme since the trial of this case in 1991.

A Bronx Child Custody Lawyer said that, the main relief plaintiffs seek is equitable. Plaintiffs seek (1) a judgment declaring that the schedule of maximum shelter grants for families residing in New York City set forth in 18 NYCRR former 353.3 (now 18 NYCRR 370.10 [the TSS regulations]) is inadequate; (2) an injunction permanently enjoining the State defendant from applying a maximum rent schedule for public assistance families residing in New York City that does not enable these families to obtain and maintain housing in New York City; and (3) an order directing the State to pay all of plaintiffs’ arrears and provide them with a monthly shelter grant of the full amount of their rent less any third-party contributions. Plaintiffs also seek attorneys’ fees pursuant to 42 USC § 1988.

The issue in this case is whether plaintiff’s motion for temporary relief should be granted.
The parties do not dispute that, but for the current time limits, plaintiffs, as parents with minor children facing eviction, would qualify for family assistance under the FA statute. Defendants predicate most of their opposition to all of the relief that plaintiffs seek on the argument that the adequacy standard from New York’s Social Services Law § 350 (1) (a) does not apply to SNA recipients and therefore plaintiffs lack standing to use section 350 (1) (a) as a basis to challenge the State’s denial of their applications. Plaintiffs argue that the State has an obligation to provide adequate shelter allowances no matter the funding source. Because the other issues in the case rise and fall upon whether the adequacy standard from section 350 (1) (a) applies to SNA, the court will address this issue first.
A plain reading of section 350 (1) (a), including what that statute does not say, favors plaintiffs’ position. Section 350 (1) (a) makes no mention of limiting its applicability to recipients of FA, or even to families who have received cash assistance for more than five years. Indeed, the statute does not even mention FA. Surely the Legislature could have expressly limited section 350 (1) (a) to FA recipients had it meant to do so. The Legislature had ample opportunity in 1997 when it undertook a comprehensive amendment to the State’s welfare laws. At that time, the Legislature took care to insert references to “family assistance” where it wanted those words to appear. In chapter 436 (§ 37) of the Laws of 1997, the Legislature looked directly at section 350 of the Social Services Law and repealed some and amended other parts of that section, including paragraph (c) of subdivision (1). Thus, the Legislature could have amended section 350 (1) (a). It did not. Accordingly, it is clear that the Legislature intended section 350 (1) (a) to continue to apply as it had before.

Now for what the statute does state. By its plain language, section 350 (1) (a) applies to families with minor children. Section 350 (1) (a) requires that shelter allowances be adequate to enable parents “to bring up the child properly, having regard for the physical, mental and moral well-being of such child in the home.” (Emphasis supplied.) The statute contains no restriction on the funding source. Thus, the allowances that must be “adequate” under section 350 (1) (a) include shelter allowance payments for families with minor children under whichever program those allowances are paid.

This reading is consistent with this court’s language in this case making the judgment applicable to “any successor program” to the Aid to Dependent Children program. This language meant to ensure the adequacy of shelter allowances in any future program that provides public assistance to families with dependent children. To the extent that the SNA program assists families with dependent children who reach their federal time limits, the program serves precisely that purpose. Accordingly, the “successor program” language of the judgment covers families with dependent children who transition into the SNA program.
Title 10 of the Social Services Law is entitled “Aid to Dependent Children.” Section 141 of the 1997 Welfare Reform Act provided that “references to `aid to dependent children’ shall refer to the family assistance program.” The State argues that because section 350 (1) (a) is located within title 10, it thus only applies to the FA program. This argument is a non sequitur. That section 350 (1) (a) is located within title 10 does not establish that section 350 has no applicability outside the FA program. Thus, to limit section 350 (1) (a)’s applicability to the FA program merely because it is located within title 10 would elevate form over substance, particularly when section 350 (1) (a) expressly applies to families with minor children.
Defendants argue that, because the Legislature authorized the State to provide supplemental shelter allowances for time-limited families, it must have meant for the adequacy requirement in section 350 not to apply, because otherwise there would be no need for the Legislature to provide for extra funding in the budget. However, it could just as easily be said that the Legislature authorized the appropriations precisely because it meant to continue section 350’s mandate. By stepping in to ensure that funds are available to provide for adequate allowances for time-limited families, the Legislature demonstrated the continuing applicability of the adequacy requirement for those families. In light of this court’s determination, there is no need to address the constitutional arguments plaintiffs have raised.

Plaintiffs’ motions to intervene are granted. CPLR 1013 permits any person to intervene in an action when that “person’s claim or defense and the main action have a common question of law or fact.” The issue central to plaintiffs’ case is that the shelter allowance bears no reasonable relation to the costs of housing in New York City. This is also the central issue in the main action.
The State makes a number of arguments in opposition to plaintiffs’ application to intervene. The first is that plaintiffs’ motion to intervene is untimely. Although this case certainly has a long history, HRA did not deny Ms. Cuevas’ application until September of 2002. OTDA denied the application in October 2002. Thus, plaintiffs could not have brought these motions to intervene any earlier. The State also argues that because plaintiffs are SNA, their suit lacks commonality with the main action that concerned only the ADC and later the FA. However, as discussed above, the central issue in both suits is the applicability of the adequacy requirement from section 350 to those statutes and it would not serve judicial economy to require plaintiffs to start another action on precisely this issue. The State also makes the naked assertion that it would be “grossly prejudiced” should this court grant intervention. However, this court fails to see the prejudice particularly when not granting intervention would only result in the State defending itself in an entirely new action.

To demonstrate entitlement to injunctive relief, plaintiffs must show (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) that they would suffer irreparable harm were this court not to grant an injunction; and (3) that the balance of the equities favors plaintiffs. As stated earlier, plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the issue that they have a right to adequate shelter allowances. If this court does not grant a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm in the truest sense they and their young children will face eviction from their homes and likely homelessness. Obviously then, the balance of the equities favors plaintiffs over the State that will suffer only monetary loss should the injunction prove improvident.
Accordingly, the court ordered that defendants to pay plaintiffs-intervenors’ attorneys’ fees pursuant to this court’s prior decision and order dated August 6, 2002. The court has considered defendants’ other contentions and finds them without merit.

If you have family issues such as support or custody, seek the help of a Bronx Family Attorney and Bronx Child Support Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates in order to know the reliefs available to your case.

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