Welfare Benefits

Author:Dennis J. Mahoney

Page 2873

Nothing in the Constitution requires the United States or any state to provide public relief to those unable to earn adequate subsistence. Throughout most of history that relief has been the responsibility of private charity or local government. But several provisions of the Constitution impose an obligation on government officials, where such relief is provided, to refrain from imposing arbitrary standards or procedures. That obligation is generally recognized by legislative bodies and, since the late 1960s, has become a special concern of the federal courts.

The courts have treated questions concerning the extension or withdrawal of public welfare benefits under the PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES, EQUAL PROTECTION, and DUE PROCESS clauses of the Constitution. In SHAPIRO V. THOMPSON (1969) the Supreme Court held that a one-year RESIDENCE REQUIREMENT for welfare eligibility infringed the right of interstate migration, a privilege protected by Article IV and the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, and also denied equal protection of the laws to indigent interstate travelers. In GRAHAM V. RICHARDSON (1971) the Court held that denial of benefits to resident ALIENS was a denial of equal protection. However, in DANDRIDGE V. WILLIAMS (1970) the Court decisively rejected argument that WEALTH DISCRIMINATION was a SUSPECT CLASSIFICATION or that welfare subsistence was a FUNDAMENTAL INTEREST. And in Jefferson v. Hackney (1972), the Court declined to hold that the equal protection clause required a state to compute the need for...

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