Are Both Grant for Public Assistance As Well As the Condition for Its Repayment Constitutional ?

In Commonwealth v. Bell, 35 D & C 146 (C.P. Clearfield, 1939), a resident obtained a grant for public assistance but did not repay the amounts received. The county brought suit to obtain a lien. One of the defenses invoked the previously referenced provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution pertaining to appropriations for public assistance. The trial court rejected an argument similar to the one made here, that the grant was constitutional but the condition of repayment was not. In rejecting the argument, the trial court said, Id. at 152-53: The argument is made that this language does not contemplate a loan but assistance of the same nature as a pension or gratuity; that is, that the grant was an outright gift and could not be the subject of recovery. The argument loses sight of several things which render it completely unsound. ... the limitation is upon the power of the legislature to make the grant and not upon its power to place conditions or restrictions upon the acceptance or receipt of a grant. The position argued for amounts to this, that the recipient contends the grant itself is constitutional and he has accepted its benefits accordingly, but contends that the conditions which the legislature placed upon his receiving its benefits are unconstitutional. This would seem to be a complete distortion of the language of the constitutional restriction. Nowhere does it say that the legislature, in providing for assistance or even pensions and gratuities, may not prescribe conditions; nowhere is there any requirement that such assistance must be entirely in the nature of a gift rather than a loan or advance. The well-understood purpose of this section of the Constitution was to place a limitation upon the expenditure of public money. It is not contended here that the expenditure of public money in these grants of assistance was improper under these constitutional provisions. We are completely at a loss to see how the question whether the recipient is liable out of such private property as he may own to repay such assistance is affected by this limitation upon the expenditure of the public funds.