Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1988 No. 6 -
Attorney General Ken Eikenberry


Chapter 74.21 RCW does not authorized the random assignment of new applicants for public assistance between the new family independence program and the existing assistance program.

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                                                                  March 10, 1988

Honorable Jule M. Sugarman
Secretary Department of Social and Health Services
Olympia, Washington 98504-0095 

Cite as:  AGO 1988 No. 6                                                                                                                  

 Dear Mr. Sugarman:

             By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested our opinion on the following question:

             Does chapter 74.21 RCW authorize the random assignment of new applicants for public assistance between the new family independence program and the existing assistance program?

             We answer the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.


             In 1987, the Washington Legislature enacted the family independence program.  Laws of 1987, ch. 434 (now codified as chapter 74.21 RCW).  The Legislature declared its intent as follows:

                         The legislature hereby establishes as state policy the goal of economic independence for employable adults receiving public assistance, through employment, training, and education  . . . .

                        Therefore, in order to break the cycle of poverty and dependence, a family independence program is established  . . . .

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2] ]

                         The objectives of this chapter are to assure that:  The maximum number of recipients of public assistance become independent and self-sufficient through employment, training, and education  . . .

 RCW 74.21.020.

             The family independence program seeks to provide job training and education which prepares participants for long term employment and economic independence.  The program is to be implemented after February 28, 1988.  It is anticipated that the program will be phased in on a geographic basis.  RCW 74.21.070(1)(s).

             RCW 74.21.050 provides for the creation of an executive committee.  This committee consists of the Secretary of Social and Health Services, the Commissioner of the Employment Security Department, the senior official from each of those agencies who is responsible for the family independence program, an official of the Office of Financial Management, and two nonvoting individuals who have received public assistance in the past.  RCW 74.21.050.  The executive committee has specific powers and duties, as set forth in RCW 74.21.070, 74.21.080, 74.21 100, 74.21.110, and 74.21.130.

             Congressional action and agreements with the federal government were required to implement the family independence program.  This federal legislation and any agreements must provide that the program is a demonstration project which remains within the federal aid to families with dependent children program under Title IV of the Social Security Act.  RCW 74.21.200.

             The necessary congressional action has occurred. 1/

              Section 9121(a) of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, Pub. L. No. 100-203, authorizes the State of Washington to conduct a demonstration project as an alternative to the aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) program.  Section 9121(c) provides that the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall waive compliance with any requirements contained in Title IV of  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the Social Security Act which would prevent the state from carrying out the project. 2/

            The answer to your question whether chapter 74.21 RCW authorizes the random assignment of new applicants may readily be found by reference to RCW 74.21.040(1), which provides in part:

             Upon implementation of the family independence program, all applicants for public assistance, except persons eligible for assistance under the general assistance ‑ unemployable program,shall be enrolled in the family independence program and shall be eligible to receive financial and medical benefits under the following criteria  . . . .

 (Emphasis added.) 3/

             Under the above quoted provision, all eligible applicants shall be enrolled in the family independence program.  The use of the word "shall" creates an imperative obligation unless a different legislative intent can be discerned.  State v. Q.D., 102 Wn.2d 19, 29, 685 P.2d 557 (1984).  There is no such contrary legislative intent discernible here.

             Further, where the language of a statute is clear, there is no room for construction, and we, like the courts, are bound by its plain meaning.  Griffin v. Department of Social & Health Servs., 91 Wn.2d 616, 624, 590, P.2d 816 (1979).  The provisions of RCW 74.21.040 clearly require that all eligible applicants for public assistance be enrolled in the family independence  [[Orig. Op. Page 4] ] program. 4/

             Thus, it appears that chapter 74.21 RCW prohibits the random assignment of new applicants for public assistance between the family independence program and the existing assistance programs.  We, therefore, answer your question in the negative.

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/In keeping with longstanding office policy, we address only the state law issues presented in your question and we will not undertake an analysis of the federal legislation.  The federal provisions will be cited for illustrative purposes only.

 2/Congress also amended the Food Stamp Act of 1977 so that the family independence program could be implemented.  Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, Pub. L. No. 100-203, § 1509.

  3/The following persons are eligible for family independent program benefits:  (1) a person who is a "dependent child" as defined in the caretaker relative with whom the dependent child resides, or a pregnant woman as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 606(b); (2) a person whose resources do not exceed those established at 45 C.F.R § 233.20(a)(3)(i)(B); and (3) a person whose income does not exceed the benchmark standard plus appropriate incentive benefit payments.  RCW 74.21.040(1)(a)-(c).

 4/We note that section 9121(b)(1) of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 states that every individual eligible for aid under the State plan approved under section 402(a) of the Social Security Actshall be eligible to enroll in the program.