(Alameda County Super. Ct. No. RG08415945)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kline, P.J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
This appeal is from the denial of a petition for writ of mandate challenging Alameda County's denial of General Assistance to minor Dajohn McCormick on the basis that he qualified for and received benefits, although not cash aid, from the CalWORKS program. Appellants contend Dajohn was entitled to support from General Assistance because his circumstances do not fall within any of the exceptions to the requirement that General Assistance "relieve and support" all otherwise unsupported indigent residents and he was not "relieved and supported" by CalWORKS or any other program. We conclude Dajohn was improperly denied eligibility for General Assistance and reverse.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE AND FACTS
Prior to January 2008, Dajohn's mother, Drusilla Zeno, received a monthly cash grant of $398 for her son Derrick under the CalWORKS program. The CalWORKS household consisted of Zeno, Derrick (then 13 years old), and Dajohn (then 7 years old). Dajohn was receiving food stamps and Medi-Cal but, under the statutorily defined Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule, was not entitled to cash aid because his family had been receiving aid for the 10 months prior to his birth.
When Derrick was removed from the household in January 2008, Zeno stopped receiving cash aid from CalWORKS. At this point, the family's only income was $870 per month which Zeno received from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on a permanent total disability, and $162 per month in food stamps. Zeno's monthly expenses for basic necessities were $1229.
On February 19, 2008, Zeno submitted an application for General Assistance (GA) for Dajohn. Her application was denied on May 14, 2008. She requested an administrative hearing. As the hearing officer summarized the testimony, "[t]he family often runs out of Food Stamps and cash. They often go hungry. She is unable to provide her son with school clothing and supplies. Most recently, she had to relocate from her home due to mold and mildew infestation. . . . [¶] . . . Ms. Zeno testified that her Eligibility Worker explained that if she gave up her child, then he would be eligible for cash benefits. She tearfully explained how she could never just give up her child because she cannot afford to care for him."
The hearing officer concluded the denial of GA was proper because Dajohn was considered a CalWORKS recipient even though he was not receiving a CalWORKS grant. The hearing officer stated, "According to CalWORKS state regulations, an MFG child is still considered eligible and a recipient of CalWORKS. The only difference in the treatment of this Assistance Unit (AU) is that the maximum aid payment is not increased to correspond with the number of persons in the AU. Dajohn McCormick is included in the Minimum Basic Standard of Adequate Care (MBSAC). Furthermore, the agency must continue to carry an open CalWORKS case when the only AU member is MFG. Dajohn (MFG child) is a CalWORKS recipient and eligible for all related benefits, such as special needs and child care benefits." The hearing officer's decision was adopted by the county on July 22, 2008.
On October 20, 2008, Dajohn, through Zeno as his Guardian ad Litem, filed a petition for writ of mandate against Alameda County, the Alameda County Social Services Agency, and the Agency's interim director, seeking reversal of the administrative decision (Civ. Proc., § 1094.5) and challenging the county's policy of denying General Assistance to MFG children (Civ. Proc., § 1085). An amended petition filed on December 18, 2008, added petitioner Lifetime, a nonprofit California corporation that assists low-income parents in completing education and training programs, and clarified that the challenge was to denial of GA to MFG children who are members of assistance units in which no one receives cash aid from CalWORKS.
The matter was heard on July 22, 2009, and on August 3, 2009, the court filed its order denying the petition. The court agreed there was a "factual basis" for the assertion that Zeno's SSI income was insufficient to meet her and Dajohn's basic monthly needs. It found, however, that although Dajohn qualified for GA in every other way, he was precluded by regulation § 9-2-0.1, which provides that " '[a]n individual meets the age requirement for General Assistance eligibility if he or she is . . . a minor who lacks a source of basic care and support but does not qualify for any federal or state assistance program.' " The court held that the assistance contemplated by the regulation was not limited to cash aid and that Dajohn was ineligible for GA because he qualified for and received benefits, albeit not cash, from CalWORKS. It further found the GA regulation consistent with "the disincentive provision of the CalWorks program" that " 'punishes' children like [Dajohn], whose mother knowingly bore additional children without the monetary means with which to support them." Judgment was filed on September 2, 2009.
Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal on October 27, 2009.
" ' "The standard of judicial review of agency interpretation of law is the independent judgment of the court, giving deference to the determination of the agency appropriate to the circumstances of the agency action." [Citation.]' (Yamaha Corp. of America v. State Bd. of Equalization (1998) 19 Cal.4th 1, 8.) '[T]he binding power of an agency's interpretation of a statute or regulation is contextual: Its power to persuade is both circumstantial and dependent on the presence or absence of factors that support the merit of the interpretation.' (Id. at p. 7.)" (Arenas v. San Diego County Bd. of Supervisors (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 210, 214-215 (Arenas); see, Sneed v. Saenz (2004) 120 Cal.App.4th 1220, 1235.) We review the trial court's decision de novo. (Sneed v. Saenz, supra, 120 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1234-1235; Arenas, supra, 93 Cal.App.4th at p. 215.)
Dajohn was denied GA under Alameda County General Assistance Regulations section 9-2-0.1, which, as worded at the time of these proceedings, provided that " '[a]n individual meets the age requirement for General Assistance eligibility if he or she is . . . a minor who lacks a source of basic care and support but does not qualify for any federal or state assistance program.' "*fn1 Dajohn was considered to be receiving support from a state program, CalWORKS, although he was not receiving actual cash assistance due to the MFG rule.*fn2 Through CalWORKS, Dajohn was receiving food stamps and was eligible for Medi-Cal; according to implementation instructions provided to the counties when the MFG rule was adopted,*fn3 he was also eligible for ...