final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Lower Tribunal No. 15F-6191
University of Miami School of Law Children & Youth Law
Clinic, and Kele Stewart, and Frank Florio, Certified Legal
Intern, for appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Jacqueline I. Kurland (Fort
Lauderdale), Assistant Attorney General, for appellee Florida
Department of Children and Families; Paula Herron, for
appellee Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc.
ROTHENBERG, EMAS, and FERNANDEZ, JJ.
Cormier ("Cormier") appeals from the Department of
Children and Families' ("DCF") final agency
decision sustaining the denial of her application for
Education and Training Voucher ("ETV") benefits and
argues that Florida's eligibility criteria for receiving
ETV benefits conflicts with the John H. Chafee Foster Care
Independence Program ("the Chafee Act"), 42 U.S.C
§ 677, which provides funding for state ETV programs.
Because we find that Cormier's ETV application was
properly denied under Florida law and that Florida's ETV
eligibility requirements do not conflict with the Chafee Act,
was born on November 11, 1995. She lived in the Bahamas with
her mother until she was fourteen years old and then moved to
Florida to live with her father. On October 2, 2013, DCF
removed Cormier from her father's care due to alleged
physical abuse and domestic violence, and thereafter, she
entered the dependency court system. Cormier was sheltered
briefly and then placed into the temporary custody of a
non-relative caregiver, where she remained for approximately
six weeks before turning eighteen. As the hearing on the
petition for dependency was scheduled for a date after
Cormier turned eighteen, the hearing was never conducted and
the dependency case was closed. After turning eighteen,
Cormier moved back to the Bahamas and lived with extended
family for approximately one year, she then returned to the
United States to continue her higher education.
2015, at age nineteen and a half, Cormier applied for ETV
benefits through DCF's contracted community based care
agency, Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc. ("Our
Kids"). Our Kids denied Cormier's application
because she did not meet Florida's ETV eligibility
requirements, and thereafter, she petitioned for a Fair
Hearing before DCF to appeal the denial of her application
for ETV benefits. On April 20, 2016, DCF's hearing
officer entered a final order denying Cormier's petition
for relief, concluding that Cormier did not meet
Florida's eligibility requirements for ETV benefits
because she was never adjudicated dependent and did not live
in foster care for six months prior to reaching her
eighteenth birthday. See Fla. Admin. Code R.
65C-31.002(9)(a).Cormier timely appealed.
does not contest that she does not meet the eligibility
requirements for Florida's ETV program. Rather, Cormier
contends that Florida's eligibility requirements conflict
with the federal ETV eligibility requirements allegedly found
in the Chafee Act. The textual basis for her argument is
located in the following general policy statement in the
Chafee Act: "The purpose of this section is to provide
States with flexible funding that will enable programs to be
designed and conducted . . . to make available vouchers for
education and training, including postsecondary training and
education, to youths who have aged out of foster care . . .
." 42 U.S.C § 677(a)(1). Because Cormier has aged
out of foster care, according to the federal definition of
"foster care, " she claims that she is eligible for ETV
benefits under federal law and that the more narrowly drawn
Florida eligibility requirements are invalid under the
Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
Townsend v. Swank, 404 U.S. 282, 286 (1971) (holding
that "a state eligibility standard that excludes persons
eligible for assistance, under federal AFDC standards
violates the Social Security Act and is therefore invalid
under the Supremacy Clause").
flaw in Cormier's argument is that she treats purposive
language in the Chafee Act as imposing mandatory eligibility
requirements on the states. In Quern v. Mandley, 436
U.S. 725, 733 (1978), the United States Supreme Court
considered, inter alia, whether a state that adopts
a program for Emergency Assistance to Needy Families with
Children ("EA") may limit eligibility to receive
funds under the program more narrowly than the federal EA
statute. The Court noted the general principles that each
state is free to set its own monetary standard of need and
level of benefits, but that the states are not free to narrow
the federal standards that define the categories of people
eligible for aid. Id. at 740. However, the Court
then analyzed the text of the federal statute authorizing EA
funding to states, and specifically looked for language that
made eligibility criteria in the federal act mandatory on
participating states. Id. at 743. The Court
concluded, with regard to the federal EA statute, that
"[t]here is no statutory language . . . that can
reasonably be understood as imposing uniform standards of
eligibility on every state EA program." Id. In
the absence of such mandatory language, the Court held that
states are permitted to implement the federal EA funds
through their own programs with eligibility requirements that
are narrower than the general federal definitions setting
forth the permissible scope of the federal EA program.
the Chafee Act does not impose mandatory ETV eligibility
requirements on states, but instead permits states to develop
their own eligibility criteria. The purpose of the Chafee Act
"is to provide States with flexible funding that will
enable programs to be designed and conducted" so as to
help foster children who have aged out of the foster care
system to make the transition to self-sufficiency. 42 U.S.C
§ 677(a). However, the Chafee Act explicitly provides
that a state's plan will only be approved if it uses
"objective criteria for determining eligibility for
benefits and services under the programs, and for ensuring
fair and equitable treatment of benefit recipients." 42
U.S.C. § 677(b)(2)(E). Thus, Congress expressly intended
for states, not the federal government, to design and develop
eligibility criteria. As an added safeguard, Congress
requires that in order to receive funding under the Chafee
Act, a state must submit a plan to and receive approval from
the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal
agency tasked with ensuring that a state's plan meets the
requirements and furthers the objectives of the Chafee Act.
See 42 U.S.C § 677(b)(1). Therefore, Florida is
free to craft its own eligibility criteria, with the approval
of the Department of Health and Human Services, that are
reasonably calculated to ...