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AGO 1951 No. 477 - March 22, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

GENERAL ASSISTANCE ‑- STATE OR COUNTY RESPONSIBILITY.

The public assistance laws of this state provide that general assistance is a state program.  The responsibility for the administration and control of all general assistance is in the state Department of Social Security, and the counties' responsibility is limited to providing money from a two mill levy to help defray the costs of such general assistance.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                  March 22, 1951

Honorable Roderic Olzendam,Director
Department of Social Security
Olympia, Washington                                                                                               Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 477

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your request for an opinion from this office on the following question:

            Under the present public assistance laws of this state is general assistance primarily a county, as distinguished from a state, program?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            The public assistance laws of this state provide that general assistance is a state program.  The responsibility for the administration and control of all general assistance is in the state Department of Social Security, and the counties' responsibility is limited to providing money from a two mill levy to help defray the costs of such general assistance.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 5, chapter 216, Laws of 1939, (Rem. Supp. 10007-105a) sets forth the general provision relating to the responsibilities of various units of the government for public assistance as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "The care, support and relief of needy persons is hereby declared to be a joint Federal, state and county function.  The several counties of the state are hereby charged with the responsibility, by and through their respective Boards of County Commissioners, for the administration of public assistance to such persons; but they shall be subject to state supervision as in this act provided.

            "The state hereby undertakes to make available to the counties from state and Federal funds sufficient moneys to enable the counties to discharge their responsibility with respect to Federal-aid assistance; while the respective counties shall provide funds by means of the county tax, hereinafter required to be levied,to discharge their responsibility for general assistance."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Section 1, chapter 216, Laws of 1939, (Rem. Supp. 10007-101a) defines general assistance as:

            "Assistance and all service of any character provided to needy persons not otherwise provided for to the extent of their need and the availability of funds.  * * * "

            Section 10, chapter 216, Laws of 1939, as amended by section 2, chapter 172, Laws of 1943 (Rem. Supp. 1943, 10007-110a) reads as follows:

            "Each county in the state shall levy annually a tax upon the assessed valuation of its taxable property at a rate of not less than two (2) mills for public assistance purposes.  A sum equal to the amount so assessed, together with revenues accruing to the county from the administration of the public assistance program shall be deposited in the county current expense fund in an assistance account and shall be disbursed by warrant of the county auditor upon a prescribed form authenticated by the county administrator and approved  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] by the Board of County Commissioners.  Disbursements of moneys in such account shall be made primarily for general assistance purposesand shall conform to the uniform standards established as specified in this act.  General assistance within the meaning of this section shall include hospital, institutional and medical care, excluding tuberculosis hospitalization.

            "In the event that any county in the state does not for general assistance purposes require the sum assessed as provided in this section, taken in conjunction with revenues accruing to the county from the administration of public assistance programs, it shall be authorized, by resolution of its Board of County Commissioners, to release the amount of the overplus, or such portion thereof as may be deemed expedient by said Board of County Commissioners, from the assistance account to the current expense fund for general county purposes."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Section 7, chapter 216, Laws of 1939, as amended by chapter 172, Laws of 1943, provides that in order to make the supervision of the state department over county administration of public assistance funds effective, the county commissioners of each county are required to agree to submit an annual estimate showing the county's requirements and resources for the ensuing year, and to submit quarterly budgets thirty days in advance of each quarterly period.  In addition, the county commissioners agree:

            "* * * to make available for assistance purposes a sum equal to a two (2) mill tax levy upon the assessed valuation of its taxable property, together with such miscellaneous revenues as may accrue to the county through the operation of public assistance programs, and to apply such moneys in accordance with uniform standards prescribed by the department and submit quarterly reports of all expenditures for such assistance purposes within the county."  (Emphasis supplied)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Under section 6, chapter 216, Laws of 1939, (Rem. Supp. 10007-106a) the Department of Social Security is made the single state agency to supervise the administration of public assistance.  The department is authorized to make rules and regulations to insure compliance with the terms and conditions of public assistance grants and to take over the administration of public assistance programs in any county involved until compliance has been effected.

            Prior to 1937, the various counties of the state were legally responsible for providing poor relief to persons by virtue of the so-called "poor laws."  In 1937 the legislature created the state Department of Social Security, and in 1939 the basic public assistance law was enacted.  Cases which were decided by the Supreme Court prior to 1937 are not in point at the present time in determining where the legal responsibility for general assistance lies inasmuch as the statutes in effect at that time imposed upon the counties the responsibility for care of the poor.  After the creation of the state department, however, the Supreme Court held in the case ofState ex rel. Price v. Peterson, 198 Wash. 490, that all public assistance in the state was to be administered by the state department and that boards of county commissioners were state officers and agents of the director when acting pursuant to the terms of the act.  The court stated that:

            "It is impossible, after reading this act, to escape the conclusion that respondent commissioners, as agent of the director, and the administrator, as agent of the commissioners, are state officers, when acting pursuant to the terms of the act.  It is also apparent that the director has supervision and control of the entire administration of the act within the state, and may promulgate rules and regulations relating to such administration.  While the commissioners make up the budgets in their respective counties, they are certified to the director, to be approved by him. As evidence of the powers given the department, it is provided in the act that no person shall be eligible for appointment as administrator until he has presented a certificate of eligibility issued by the department.  Thus it will be seen that, while the commissioners are given authority to appoint, the department practically has the power to say who shall be appointed."

            InMaskule v. State, 3 Wn. (2d) 121, the court reaffirmed the rule of thePeterson case as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "By whatever name or term the county organization may have been designated on or after April 1, 1937, it was, with respect to the administration of public assistance, but a geographical subdivision of the state department of social security.  McDaniel v. Moore, 196 Ark. 201, 118 S. W. (2d) 272.

            "* * *

            "The fact that the administrator is appointed by, is responsible to, and holds office during the pleasure of, the board, and the fact that the respondents here may have been appointed by the administrator, are immaterial, because in the final analysis the state department has the power to say who shall be appointed.  State ex rel. Price v. Peterson, 198 Wash. 490, 88 P. (2d) 842.

            "Another reason that may be assigned for our conclusion that respondents were not county officers, is that their functions did not relate to purely local county concerns, but rather to the concern of the state at large or the general public, though exercised within definite territorial limits.  State ex rel. Lopas v. Shagren, 91 Wash. 48, 157 Pac. 31."

            This office in a long series of opinions has consistently ruled that all public assistance within the state is under the control and direction of the state Department of Social Security.  In an opinion on this question dated March 22, 1950, to the Department of Social Security, this office held that the counties are legally responsible for general assistance only to the extent of providing funds from the two mill levy.  The opinion stated further that the legal responsibility for general assistance was vested in the department but that in the event the state and county funds were depleted the counties could volunteer to finance a system of poor relief which would not be general assistance as defined in the public assistance laws of this state.

            The court clearly stated the proposition in King County v. Martin, 2 Wn. (2d) 504, 520 as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "The whole tenor of the social security act (Chapter 216, Laws of 1939) indicates a clear legislative intent to vest the discretion and control of all relief measures in the department of social security.  All funds are controlled by and expended under the discretion of the state agency and the social security committee."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Chapter 6, Laws of 1949, provided, for the first time, for the payment of general assistance on the same basis and under the same standards of assistance as the Federal-aid programs.  Chapter 1, Laws of 1951 (Initiative 178) makes no change in the administration or control of general assistance by the state Department of Social Security.  Section 5, chapter 6, Laws of 1949 (Rem. Supp. 1949, 9998-33e) as amended by section 6, chapter 1, Laws of 1951, provides as follows:

            "Section 5.  Grants shall be awarded on a uniform statewide basis in accordance with standards of assistance established by the department.  The department shall establish standards of assistance for old age assistance, aid to dependent children, aid to the blind, and general assistance to unemployable persons which shall be used to determine an applicant's or recipient's living requirements and which shall include reasonable allowances for shelter, fuel, food, clothing, household maintenance and operation, personal maintenance, and necessary incidentals.  * * *

            "For general assistance to unemployed employable persons, the department shall establish standards of assistance based upon annual living cost studies and compatible with a minimum necessary for decent and healthful subsistence.  Such standards shall permit the meeting of actual and emergent need on an individual basis."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Accordingly, all general assistance in this state is administered and controlled by the state Department of Social Security.  The only responsibility which remains with the counties is that of making a two mill levy each year for  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] public assistance and to deposit such funds in a public assistance account in the county treasury.  The expenditures of funds from the public assistance account are made by the county administrator acting under the control and supervision and the rules and regulations of the state Department of Social Security.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

JANE DOWDLE
Assistant Attorney General

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