EFFECTIVE DATE: 4/8/86
Whether the Secretary must, in his evaluation of the worker's "contributions to the support" of an illegitimate child, consider the worker's means and the income of the family in which the child resided.
Section 202(d)(3) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 402(d)(3)); Section 216(h)(3)(C)(ii) (42 U.S.C. 416(h)(3)(C)(ii)); 20 C.F.R. 404. 366(a)(2)
THIRD (PENNSYLVANIA, NEW JERSEY, DELAWARE AND THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS)
McNeal v. Schweiker, 711 F.2d 18 (3d Cir. 1983)
The worker, McKenzie Dunklin, Jr. died in 1971. In 1979, Nancy McNeal applied for benefits for herself and her daughter, Benita, born in 1963, on Dunklin's Social Security earnings record. Ms. McNeal alleged that she and Mr. Dunklin had entered into a common-law marriage in 1963 and that Mr. Dunklin was Benita's father. The couple lived together from 1963 until sometime in 1965. The worker's wage record revealed that his earnings from 1963 to 1971 were minimal: in every year he earned less than $3,000 and in four years he earned less than $1,000 per year. There was evidence that from time to time Dunklin gave Ms. McNeal money for Benita's benefit, e.g., payments of $30 three or four times a year, and that occasionally he bought groceries, clothing and toys. The ALJ determined that no common-law marriage had existed, and that although the deceased worker was Benita's father, he was not contributing to her support within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the Act) at the time of his death, since the Act requires regular and substantial contributions. Therefore, the applications for survivor's benefits were denied. The ALJ's decision became the Secretary's final determination when the Appeals Council found no basis for review. The determination was affirmed by the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Ms. McNeal appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that substantial evidence supported the finding that no common-law marriage existed, but reversed the district court on the issue of contributions to the child's support.
The Court of Appeals held that the proper test for contributions is whether the contributions were regular and substantial in relation to the worker's income and the child's need.
The "contributing to the support of the applicant" provision in section 216(h)(3)(C)(ii) (42 U.S.C. 416(h)(3)(C)(ii)) and similarly in section 202(d)(3) (42 U.S.C. 402(d)(3)) has been interpreted by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in regulation 20 C.F.R. 404.366(a)(2) to require contributions that are both regularly made and large enough to meet an important part of the applicant's ordinary living costs. When evaluating contribution to support, SSA attaches little relevance to the worker's financial circumstances; it assesses contributions to support in terms of the child's needs and the extent to which they were met by the worker's contributions.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit adopted the test and reasoning set by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Jones v. Harris, 629 F.2d 334 (1980): namely, that the levels of income of both the father and of the household in which the child resides are factors that must be considered in determining whether contributions meet the statutory requirement of support. The loss of small, regular contributions to a poor family would seem to cause the economic dislocation the Act seeks to prevent.
This ruling applies only to cases where the child resides in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, or the U.S. Virgin Islands at the time of determination or decision at any level of administrative review, i.e., initial, reconsideration, administrative law judge hearing or Appeals Council.
In a claim for surviving child's benefits under section 202(d)(3) and 216(h)(3)(C)(ii) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 402(d)(3) and 416(h)(3)(C)(ii)) where the worker's income had been irregular or insubstantial, the substantiality and regularity of the worker's contributions to the child's support must be evaluated in light of the financial resources of both the worker and the household in which the child resides.
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