397 U.S. 471 (1970), 131, Dandridge v. Williams

Docket Nº:No. 131
Citation:397 U.S. 471, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 25 L.Ed.2d 491
Party Name:Dandridge v. Williams
Case Date:April 06, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 471

397 U.S. 471 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1153, 25 L.Ed.2d 491




No. 131

United States Supreme Court

April 6, 1970

Argued December 9, 1969




Appellees, large-family recipients of benefits under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, brought this suit to enjoin the application of Maryland's maximum grant regulation as contravening the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under the program, which is jointly financed by the Federal and State Governments, a State computes the "standard of need" of eligible family units. Under the Maryland regulation, though most families are provided aid in accordance with the standard of need, a ceiling of about $250 per month is imposed on an AFDC grant regardless of the size of the family and its actual need. The District Court held the regulation "invalid on its face for overreaching," and thus violative of the Equal Protection Clause.


1. The Maryland regulation is not prohibited by the Social Security Act. Pp. 476-483.

(a) A State has great latitude in dispensing its available funds, King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 318-319, and, given Maryland's finite resources available for public welfare demands, it is not prevented by the Act from sustaining as many families as it can and providing the largest families with somewhat less than their ascertained per capita standard of need. Pp. 478-480.

(b) The statutory standard in § 402(a)(10) of the Act that aid "shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible indiiduals," is not violated by the regulation, which does not deprive children of the largest families of aid, but reduces the family grant as a whole, and the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare has approved the Maryland scheme. Pp. 480-482.

(c) In its Social Security Amendments of 1967, Congress fully recognized that maximum grant regulations are permissible. Pp. 482-483.

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2. The regulation does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 483-487.

(a) The concept of overbreadth, though relevant where First Amendment considerations are involved, is not pertinent to state regulation in the social and economic field. Pp. 484-485.

(b) The regulation is rationally supportable and free from invidious discrimination, since it furthers the State's legitimate interest in encouraging employment and in maintaining an equitable balance between welfare families and the families of the working poor. Pp. 486-487.

297 F.Supp. 450, reversed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the validity of a method used by Maryland, in the administration of an aspect of its public welfare program, to reconcile the demands of its needy citizens with the finite resources available to meet those demands. Like every other State in the Union, Maryland participates in the Federal Aid to Families

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With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. (1964 ed. and Supp. IV), which originated with the Social Security Act of 1935.1 Under this jointly financed program, a State computes the so-called "standard of need" of each eligible family unit within its borders. See generally Rosado v. Wyman, ante, p. 397. Some States provide that every family shall receive grants sufficient to meet fully the determined standard of need. Other States provide that each family unit shall receive a percentage of the determined need. Still others provide grants to most families in full accord with the ascertained standard of need, but impose an upper limit on the total amount of money any one family unit may receive. Maryland, through administrative adoption of a "maximum grant regulation," has followed this last course. This suit was brought by several AFDC recipients to enjoin the application of the Maryland maximum grant regulation on the ground that it is in conflict with the Social Security Act of 1935 and with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge District Court, convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281, held that the Maryland regulation violates the Equal Protection Clause. 297 F.Supp. 450. This direct appeal followed, 28 U.S.C. § 1253, and we noted probable jurisdiction, 396 U.S. 811.

The operation of the Maryland welfare system is not complex. By statute,2 the State participates in the AFDC program. It computes the standard of need for each eligible family based on the number of children in the family and the circumstances under which the family lives. In general, the standard of need increases with each additional person in the household, but the increments

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become proportionately smaller.3 The regulation here in issue imposes upon the grant that any single family may receive an upper limit of $250 per month in certain counties and Baltimore City, and of $240 per month elsewhere in the State.4 The appellees all

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have large families, so that their standards of need, as computed by the State, substantially exceed the maximum grants that they actually receive under the regulation. The appellees urged in the District Court that the maximum grant limitation operates to discriminate against them merely because of the size of their families, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They claimed further that the regulation is incompatible with the purpose of the Social Security Act of 1935, as well as in conflict with its explicit provisions.

In its original opinion, the District Court held that the Maryland regulation does conflict with the federal statute, and also concluded that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection guarantee. After reconsideration on motion, the court issued a new opinion resting its determination of the regulation's invalidity entirely on the constitutional ground.5 Both the statutory and constitutional issues have been fully briefed and argued here, and the judgment of the District Court must, of course, be affirmed if the Maryland regulation is in conflict with either the federal statute or the Constitution.6 We [90 S.Ct. 1157] consider the statutory question first, because,

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if the appellees' position on this question is correct, there is no occasion to reach the constitutional issues. Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 346-347 (Brandeis, J., concurring); Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449.


The appellees contend that the maximum grant system is contrary to § 402(a)(10) of the Social Security Act, as amended,7 which requires that a state plan shall

provide . . . that all individuals wishing to make application for aid to families with dependent children shall have opportunity to do so, and that aid to families with dependent children shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals.

The argument is that the state regulation denies benefits to the younger children in a large family. Thus, the appellees say, the regulation is in patent violation of the Act, since those younger children are just as "dependent"

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as their older siblings under the definition of "dependent child" fixed by federal law.8 See King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309. Moreover, it is argued that the regulation, in limiting the amount of money any single household may receive, contravenes a basic purpose of the federal law by encouraging the parents of large families to "farm out" their children to relatives [90 S.Ct. 1158] whose grants are not yet subject to the maximum limitation.

It cannot be gainsaid that the effect of the Maryland maximum grant provision is to reduce the per capita benefits to the children in the largest families. Although the appellees argue that the younger and more recently arrived children in such families are totally deprived of aid, a more realistic view is that the lot of the entire family is diminished because of the presence of additional children without any increase in payments. Cf. King v. Smith, supra, at 335 n. 4 (DOUGLAS, J., concurring). It is no more accurate to say that the last child's grant is wholly taken away than to say that the grant of the first child is totally rescinded. In fact, it is the family grant

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that is affected. Whether this per capita diminution is compatible with the statute is the question here. For the reasons that follow, we have concluded that the Maryland regulation is permissible under the federal law.

In King v. Smith, supra, we stressed the States' "undisputed power," under these provisions of the Social Security Act, "to set the level of benefits and the standard of need." Id. at 334. We described the AFDC enterprise as "a scheme of cooperative federalism," id. at 316, and noted carefully that

[t]here is no question that States have considerable latitude in allocating their AFDC resources, since each State is free to set its own standard of need and to determine the level of benefits by the amount of funds it devotes to the program.

Id. at 318-319.

Congress was itself cognizant of the limitations on state resources from the very outset of the federal welfare program. The first section of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 601 (1964 ed., Supp. IV), provides that the Act is

For the purpose of encouraging the care of dependent children in their own homes or in the homes of relatives by enabling each State to furnish financial assistance and rehabilitation and other services, as far as practicable under the conditions in such State, to needy dependent children and the parents or relatives with whom they are living to help maintain and strengthen family life and to help such parents or relatives to attain or retain capability for the maximum self-support and personal independence consistent with the maintenance of continuing parental care and protection. . . .

(Emphasis added.) Thus,...

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