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Smith v. Dept. of Public Aid





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County, the Hon. William J. Sunderman, Judge, presiding.


In September of 1974 the Vermilion County Department of Public Aid, acting pursuant to a provision of the Illinois Food Stamp Manual, increased the purchase price of food stamps for plaintiffs, Barbara Smith and Lois Briggs. Plaintiffs appealed to the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA), which affirmed the decisions of the county department. Plaintiffs then petitioned the circuit court of Vermilion County for the issuance of a common law writ of certiorari naming as defendants the IDPA and its director, the hearing officers of the IDPA who were involved in the cases, five employees of the Vermilion County Department of Public Aid, the United States Department of Agriculture, and its former Secretary, Earl Butz. The trial court dismissed the Federal defendants, but issued a writ of certiorari as to the remaining defendants. In response to the writ, the records made before the administrative body were filed. The court, after reviewing the proceedings below, entered an order declaring unconstitutional certain State and Federal statutes regulating the food stamp program, and ruled the policy of the IDPA which caused the increase in the plaintiffs' food stamp purchase price unconstitutional and illegal. The court then ordered the IDPA to reduce the monthly charge for plaintiffs' food stamps until the plaintiffs were refunded the amount which they had been overcharged. The defendants appealed directly to this court pursuant to our Rule 302(a)(1) (58 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(1)). Plaintiffs cross-appealed against the Federal defendants, asserting error in the dismissal of their petition as to those defendants.

Barbara Smith and Lois Briggs both reside in Vermilion County, the former with her four children and one grandchild, the latter with her three children. Each plaintiff participates in both the aid to families with dependent children program (AFDC) and the food stamp program. The AFDC program created by 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. (1970) is a Federal-State program which provides financial assistance to families who are able to meet certain requirements of dependency and need. In deciding whether a family satisfies the need requirement, the State agency which administers the program is instructed by 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(7) (1970) to consider the income and resources of any child or relative claiming AFDC aid and of any household member whose needs are relevant to the need of the child or relative requesting aid. So as not to discourage employment by members of AFDC families, however, section 602(a)(8)(ii) exempts from this consideration $30 of the monthly earned income of such individual plus one-third of the remainder of monthly income. Smith earned $297.95 per month, so $119.50 of this income was disregarded for the purpose of determining her family's eligibility for AFDC aid. Briggs earned $500.93 per month, so she had, for AFDC purposes, an earned income exemption of $186.97.

The food stamp program was created by 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq. (1970) and, like the AFDC program, is administered in Illinois by the IDPA. Eligibility for food stamps is based upon a household's net income and resources, but AFDC families are automatically eligible. (7 C.F.R. sec. 271.3(b) (1977).) The price which an eligible household must pay for stamps is determined by the household's size and its net income and resources. Illinois Food Stamp Manual Release No. 73.1 expresses that IDPA is to consider, for purposes of computing food stamp price, that amount of earned income which is exempt for AFDC purposes. This policy is implemented by chapter 3000, topic 3350, of the Illinois Food Stamp Manual, which codifies the Federal government's table of additions to price and which, at the time, required an increase in monthly purchase price of $6 for each full $20 of exempt income under AFDC for households of three or more. Consequently, Smith's food stamp purchase price was increased by $30 monthly and Briggs' by $54 monthly.

In their petition for a writ of certiorari the plaintiffs argued that (1) AFDC exempt income should be disregarded when computing the cost of food stamps because to do otherwise would contravene the intent of 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(8) to encourage welfare recipients to seek employment; (2) the rise in food stamp prices has the effect of decreasing AFDC aid and therefore violates section 10(d) of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. sec. 2019(d) (1970)), which provides:

"Participating States or participating political subdivisions thereof shall not decrease welfare grants or other similar aid extended to any person or persons as a consequence of such person's or persons' participation in benefits made available under the provisions of this chapter or the regulations issued pursuant to this chapter";

and (3) the law does not provide for appeal or review of IDPA food stamp decisions and so a petitioner is deprived of due process, equal protection, and the right to a remedy.

The trial court granted the motion for dismissal of the Federal defendants based upon the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The writ of certiorari was issued as to the State defendants and after hearing arguments the court found that topic 3350 violates 7 U.S.C. § 2019(d) (1970) and that Release No. 73.1 is illegal and unconstitutional. Since the former is merely the implementation of the latter we take these holdings to mean that the IDPA's policy of increasing food stamp price by considering as income amounts which are exempt for AFDC purposes is illegal (violates 7 U.S.C. § 2019(d)) and unconstitutional. The court further held that section 11-8.7 of the Illinois Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, par. 11-8.7) and 7 U.S.C. section 2022 (1970) "fail to provide an orderly means of Judicial Review of Respondents' decisions regarding eligibility for, termination, suspension, reduction or modification of Food Stamp benefits" and so violate the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution and sections 2 and 12 of article I of the Illinois Constitution. The court then fashioned an order which would, over a period of time, compensate plaintiffs for the amount they were overcharged by a reduction in the amount plaintiffs pay for food stamps.

Of primary importance are the questions raised about the IDPA policy of including in its calculations of food stamp price earned income which is AFDC exempt. Plaintiffs argue, first of all, that this policy violates 7 U.S.C. § 2019(d) (1970). That section provides that States which take part in the food stamp program should not decrease welfare grants or other similar aid to a food stamp recipient merely because of the recipient's participation in the food stamp program. Plaintiffs argue that both their welfare grant and "other similar aid" are decreased by the IDPA and Department of Agriculture policy.

Plaintiffs' position is that, when the decision was made to consider all their earned income for food stamp purposes, this decreased the "aid" which they were provided by virtue of the earned-income AFDC exemption of the first "$30 and one-third of the remainder." Further, as the price of food stamps was thus increased, the benefit which they received from their AFDC grant was necessarily "decreased." We disagree with plaintiffs on both counts, and we refuse to give to the words "aid" and "decrease" the strained interpretations suggested by plaintiffs.

We cannot agree with plaintiffs' characterization of their earned-income exemption under AFDC as "other similar aid." The exemption is not "aid" in the sense contemplated by the statute. It does not provide to an individual any monetary aid. The reason for granting the exemption was not to extend "aid" to the recipient but to encourage the recipient and those in the household to seek employment or at least not to discourage them from seeking employment.

Plaintiffs argue further that defendants' actions violated 7 U.S.C. § 2019(d) (1970) in that the increase in food stamp price "indirectly decreased the actual [AFDC] welfare grant." To paraphrase, as the price of food stamps increases, so does the amount of AFDC money which a welfare recipient must expend to purchase those stamps. This, in effect, decreases the net benefit of the welfare grant because it decreases the amount of AFDC money available for non-food-stamp purposes.

A recent Supreme Court decision considered the food stamp program as it relates to other welfare programs. In Knebel v. Hein (1977), 429 U.S. 288, 50 L.Ed.2d 485, 97 S.Ct. 549, appellee was the recipient of a transportation allowance which the State granted her to help defray the cost of commuting to a nurses' training program. She also received food stamps, and the price to her of these stamps was increased because the transportation allowance increased her "income" as defined by applicable Federal and State regulations. The Supreme Court upheld the inclusion in income of the transportation allowance because "the grant does give a household more food purchasing power than another household which receives no grant but incurs similar nondeductible expenses relating to training or employment." 429 U.S. 288, 295-96, 50 L.Ed.2d 485, 492, 97 S.Ct. 549, 554.) This increment in food-purchasing power was considered controlling; the court did not address itself to the provisions of section 2019(d), although it was no less true there than in the instant case that ...

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