In a 4 - 2 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division decision that the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Health Services (“DMAHS”) did not violate either the United States or the New Jersey Constitution when it altered residency requirements of NJ Family Care, a state-funded program providing subsidized Medicaid benefits to low-income residents.
At issue in the dispute is the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, adopted in 1996, to reduce the impact of “aliens applying for and receiving public benefits from federal, state and local governments at increasing rates.” The Act prevents legal immigrants from receiving any federal benefit for five years after entering the United States. While states are still permitted to voluntarily offer Medicaid to those immigrants with state monies (as opposed to the federal subsidy), New Jersey terminated that voluntary extension of benefits in 2010 in an effort to balance the 2010 state budget.
In 2011, a group of immigrants brought a class-action lawsuit contending that the state’s action violated equal protection guaranteed to them under both the United States and New Jersey constitutions. In a 2 - 1 decision in 2013, a panel of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled that DMAHS had not violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights because the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act expressly allowed a state to decide whether it could afford to provide additional state subsidies. Without a detailed opinion, the state Supreme Court affirmed and agreed with the panel’s reasoning.