Attorney General: The Honorable Audrey Rowe, Department of Income Maintenance, 1992-013 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

June 9, 1992

The Honorable Audrey Rowe
Department of Income Maintenance
110 Bartholomew Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106-2200

Dear Commissioner Rowe:

You have requested the opinion of the Attorney General as to whether you have the authority to provide state reimbursement to a town that fails to meet the requirement that two-thirds of the employable general assistance recipients participate in a work or education program in accordance with 17-281a(a). Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a(f); 17-292. The work or education requirement is popularly known as Workfare. You have also suggested that the statutory provisions applicable to Workfare clash as a result of increased difficulties experienced by the towns in complying as a result of the current economic climate. It is the opinion of the Attorney General that it is your responsibility as Commissioner to administer the General Assistance program in accordance with the requirements of state law. Accordingly, you lack the authority to reimburse towns that fail to meet Workfare statutory and regulatory requirements for reimbursement. Furthermore, it is the opinion of the Attorney General that increased difficulty in compliance does not constitute a conflict in the statutes. Any relief for the towns requires legislative action.

Background

General Assistance is a program authorized by state statute that requires indigent persons to be financially supported by the town where such persons reside or become in need of aid. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-273 et seq .; 17-3a. The towns are required to provide assistance in accordance with "... mandatory standards for the granting of general assistance ..." established in regulations promulgated by the Department of Income Maintenance. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-3a. State reimbursement may be provided to the towns for substantially all of the costs of providing General Assistance provided that the towns meet statutory requirements for reimbursement. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-292(b).

One requirement of the General Assistance program is the requirement that employable General Assistance recipients perform certain work or participate in an approved education or training program. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a. In accordance with the requirement of Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a, General Assistance recipients are required to perform work or to participate in training or education programs for at least the number of hours per week that equals their assistance award when compensated at the minimum hourly wage. Towns are required to ensure that at least two-thirds of employable General Assistance recipients participate. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a(f). You indicate in your request for advice that because of the current economic climate, towns are experiencing increasing difficulty meeting the participation requirements of the statute. The difficulty of the towns is attributed, in part, to a provision in 17-281a(a) permitting the public welfare official to place these recipients in a municipal site only when "... such official is satisfied that such persons will not be used to replace, or to perform any work ordinarily performed by regular employees of any department or other unit of a town...."

You inform us that the towns traditionally place a large percentage of these clients at municipal sites. However, budget cutbacks have forced some towns to lay off regular employees, and that, "labor unions are objecting to the presence of Workfare participants in any municipal department which has experienced a reduction in staff". As a result of the difficulties currently experienced by some towns, you suggest that the "statutory provisions clash", and that there appears to be a "double standard imposed by the statute".

You indicate an intention to either amend your regulations or to request, "the General Assembly to clarify its preference when the statutory provisions clash". You propose to announce that, "... towns will not be sanctioned under D.I.M. regulations for their failure to place the required number of employables in work, education and/or training sites if they have made and can demonstrate a good faith effort to comply". You request our advice on whether you can lawfully proceed in the described manner.

I

It is appropriate to review the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions because you have only such authority as commissioner to expend state funds as is specifically authorized. As an officer of the state, your authority is defined "... by express constitutional and statutory provisions, or as may properly be implied from the nature of the particular duties imposed on (you)". 81A C.J.S. States 120 p. 542. "You are required to exercise your position in conformity with the statutory and constitutional source of the power conferred ... (and you) may not waive the terms of a statute affecting the substantive rights of the state". Id., at 543. In accord, State v. Metrusky, 140 Conn. 26, 30 (1953) ("The commissioner of welfare has no authority to waive an obligation so imposed by law...."); McGowan v. Administration Unemployment Compensation Act, 153 Conn. 691, 694 (1966) ("Regardless of the action of the administrator in accepting any payments made to him, he cannot waive the rights of the state, nor can he, by any act of his, stop the state from asserting its rights or prevent the performance of his statutory duties.")

As noted supra, Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-292(b) makes state reimbursement to the towns subject to the towns' compliance with the Workfare requirements of Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a. Specifically, 17-292(b) provides, in pertinent part, that:

The commissioner, if satisfied that the statements are substantially true and if the town has complied with the reporting requirements of this section, shall certify them to the comptroller, who shall pay, subject to subsequent audits, to the town for general assistance expenditures, subject to section 17-292g, ninety percent, except that one hundred per cent shall be paid to each town which maintains a work program or training or education program, pursuant to section 17-281a, for that portion of such town's employable recipients who participated in such program and one hundred per cent shall be paid in accordance with section 17-292a for the cost of medical assistance provided pursuant to said section. Reimbursement for general assistance payments to employable recipients not participating in such program shall be subject to the requirements of section 17-281a (emphasis added).

Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a requires each town to comply with Workfare requirements. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a(e) requires each town to submit a plan for the implementation of the Workfare requirement, whereupon "payments for support by the town to general assistance recipients participating in a work program or training or education program ... shall be includable as a relief expenditure under the provisions of section 17-292". (Emphasis added.) Section 17-281a(f) requires, "at least two-thirds of the employable general assistance recipients of each town shall become participants in the work program...." Section 17-281a(f) further requires the commissioner of Income Maintenance to develop positions for the placement of up to twenty-five percent of the employable participants from each town which has over 180 Workfare participants. Where, however, the commissioner fails to develop such positions "... and such town has the required number of participants minus twenty-five percent, the town shall not be denied reimbursement for such twenty-five percent...." Id., emphasis added.

Furthermore, both 1985 Conn.Pub.Acts No. 85-564, 5(b), and 1988 Conn.Pub.Acts No. 88-156, 17, mandated that Income Maintenance adopt regulations carrying out the Workfare program, including regulations concerning compliance with the placement ratio and eligibility for state reimbursement. Income Maintenance complied with the legislative mandate of the foregoing Public Acts by promulgating a regulation, in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, which provides that:

A town which fails to achieve its two-thirds goal compliance requirement will be denied reimbursement for the number of recipients which it failed to place. For example, if a town had 99 employable recipients listed on the Caseload Categorization List, it should have assigned 66 recipients in order to reach goal compliance. If it assigned only 60 recipients, reimbursement will be denied for six cases, i.e., the number or recipients by which it fell short of achieving the monthly quota.

Reg.Conn. Agencies (General Assistance Policy Manual)  17-3a-29K.4.

A regulation, promulgated within the scope of an agency's authority, has the force of statute. Roy v. Centennial Ins. Co., 171 Conn. 463, 473 (1976). The regulation constitutes the agency's own official interpretation of the statutes it is charged with administering. The interpretation of an administering agency is entitled to deference. Cedar Island Imp. Ass'n. v. Clinton Elec. Light & Power Co., 142 Conn. 359 (1955). Furthermore, the Legislative Regulation Review Committee's "ratification of a proposed regulation supports the position that the regulation is consistent with the general statutory scheme that the regulation was designed to implement". Texaco Refining & Marketing Co. v Commissioner, 202 Conn. 583, 600 (1987). In accord, Caldor, Inc. v. Heslin, 215 Conn. 590, 599 (1990); Connecticut Hospital Ass'n. Inc. v. Commission on Hospitals and Health Care, 200 Conn. 133, 144 (1986). Accordingly, the provision of full state reimbursement to towns that fail to meet the two-thirds Workfare participation requirements would violate Income Maintenance's own regulations, which regulation has the force of statute.

II

Contrary to the suggestion in your request for advice, the statutory provisions do not conflict merely because town compliance with a statutory requirement is more difficult as a result of current economic conditions. A well-established rule of construction provides that statutes, "which appear to be repugnant or allegedly inconsistent are to be accorded a concurrent effect if by a fair interpretation a reasonable field of operation for both can be found without destroying or perverting their evident meaning and intent". State v. White, 169 Conn. 223, 234 (1975). Furthermore, it is to be presumed that the legislature intended existing relevant statutes to be read so as to make one consistent body of law. Cicala v. Administrator, 161 Conn. 362, 365 (1971).

As noted supra, Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a, 17-292, and Income Maintenance Regulation 17-3a-29K.4., set conditions for the reimbursement of towns for General Assistance costs, including Workfare participation requirements, and Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a(a) forbids towns from placing General Assistance recipients in a municipal site that is "... used to replace, or to perform any work ordinarily performed by regular employees of any department...." The economic difficulties currently experienced by many towns may make it more likely that regular town employees will object to the placement of General Assistance recipients at municipal sites;1 however, financial hardship does not justify the failure to comply with state law. Crooks v. Harrelson, 282 U.S. 55 (1930); New Milford v. Litchfield County, 70 Conn. 435, 39 A. 796 (1898).

Applying the foregoing rules of construction, it is apparent that there is no conflict in the statutory provisions. One statutory provision limits the ability of the towns to place Workfare clients at municipal sites when the Workfare placement displaces regular town employees. The other statutory provisions set requirements for state reimbursement to the towns for General Assistance costs. Each provision has its own "field of operation" where it can operate without interfering with the meaning and intent of the other. Increased difficulty in compliance as a result of changing economic conditions does not constitute a conflict in the statutes.

Very truly yours,

Richard Blumenthal
Attorney General

Hugh Barber
Assistant Attorney General


1 In our opinion, there may be some misapprehension over the extent of the statutory impediment to placing Workfare recipients at municipal sites. Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a(a) only bars Workfare clients from performing work that is ordinarily performed by regular town employees. The statute does not support a union objection to the placement of any Workfare clients in any municipal department that has experienced cutbacks. Instead, an analysis is required to determine what tasks are ordinarily performed by regular town employees. Clearly, however, Workfare clients may not be assigned the same tasks that were formerly assigned to a discharged municipal employee.

It is the responsibility of the towns to comply with the municipal employee displacement obligation of 17-281a(a) and with the Workfare participation requirement of 17-281a(f) if state reimbursement is desired. State reimbursement for General Assistance costs may only be made to the extent authorized by Conn.Gen.Stat. 17-281a, 17-292, and Income Maintenance regulation 17-3a-29 K.4., notwithstanding any difficulties experienced by the towns in placing Workfare clients at municipal sites.


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