43 N.Y.2d 453, Lee v. Smith

Citation43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351
Party NameLee v. Smith
Case DateDecember 21, 1977
CourtNew York Court of Appeals

Page 453

43 N.Y.2d 453

402 N.Y.S.2d 351

In the Matter of Annie LEE et al., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Respondents,

v.

J. Henry SMITH, as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services, Respondent, and Philip L. Toia, as Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, Appellant.

New York Court of Appeals

December 21, 1977.

[402 N.Y.S.2d 352] Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen. (Amy Juviler, Samuel A. Hirshowitz, Herbert Wallenstein and Gilbert L. Offenhartz, New York City, of counsel), for appellant.

Ralph Murphy, Carolyn A. Kubitschek, Nancy E. Le Blanc, Michael D. Hampden, Ian F. Feldman and Mary March Zulack, New York City, for respondents.

Leonard M. Marks and Charles B. Ortner, New York City, for The American Jewish Committee and another, amici curiae.

Gerald Schwartz, Judith L. Carlin and Jonathan A. Weiss, New York City, for the Jewish Family Service and another, amici curiae.

WACHTLER, Judge.

On this appeal we are asked to consider the constitutionality of section 2 of chapter 1080 of the Laws of 1974 (now part of Social Services Law, § 158, subd. (a)) which effectively provides, in many cases, that the aged, disabled and blind are entitled to less public assistance than other needy persons. The Supreme Court, New York County, and the Appellate Division, First Department, [402 N.Y.S.2d 353] have held that the statute violates the petitioners' rights to equal protection as well as section 1 of article XVII of the State constitution which requires the State to provide for the "aid, care and support of the needy." The Commissioner of the State Department of Social Services has appealed to this court by leave of the Appellate Division.

Section 2 of chapter 1080 of the Laws of 1974 (Social Services Law, § 158, subd. (a)) states that a "person who is receiving federal supplementary security income payments and/or additional state payments shall not be eligible for home relief." 1

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal program, which went into effect in January, 1974 (see U.S.Code, tit. 42, § 1381 et seq.), and is designed to aid all aged, disabled and blind persons who, because of their physical condition, are unable to support themselves. It provides for a flat grant of Federal funds and an optional State supplement (U.S.Code, tit. 42, § 1382, subd. (b); § 1382f; § 1382e, subd. (a)). New York had previously furnished public assistance to these persons under a program entitled "Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled" (AABD) (see former title 6 of the Social Services Law). However in 1974 the Legislature discontinued the AABD program and adopted a system for supplementing the Federal SSI plan (see Social Services Law, tit. 6, entitled "Additional State Payments for Eligible Aged, Blind and Disabled Persons"). At the present time SSI is administered entirely by the Federal Government which also pays all costs of administration (U.S.Code, tit. 42, §§ 1383b, 1382e).

Home relief is a State public assistance category, established by the Social Services Law which, together with veterans' assistance and aid to dependent children (ADC) provides for the needs of those who are unable to support themselves (Social Services Law, § 131-a). Home relief is actually a residual category which is intended to furnish aid to any person "who is not receiving needed assistance or care under other provisions of this chapter, or from other sources" (Social Services Law, § 158, subd. (a)). Like all State public assistance programs, home relief is administered by the State and local social service offices (Social Services Law, § 131-a, subd. 1).

The amount of public assistance a person actually receives under any of these programs depends upon his "standard of monthly need." There are in fact two distinct standards of monthly need: one for the aged, disabled and blind (Social Services Law, § 209, subd. 2), and the other for all other classes of needy persons (Social Services Law, § 131-a, subd. 2). Subdivision 2 of section 209, insofar as it is applicable to this appeal, establishes the monthly needs of the aged, blind and disabled as follows: "(a) For an eligible individual living alone, $218.55; and for an eligible couple living alone, $312.54." The difference between the monthly need and the Federal grant is satisfied by the State supplement (Social Services Law, §§ 207, 209, subd. 1, par. (a)). With respect to all other needy persons subdivision 2 of section 131-a of the Social Services Law establishes the standard monthly need according to the following schedule:

[402 N.Y.S.2d 354] "In an addition to the above, the standard of need shall include amounts for shelter and fuel for heating " (emphasis added; see, also, Social Services Law, § 131-a, subd. 3).

Thus all needy persons, except the aged, blind and disabled receive a fixed amount, depending on the number of persons in the household, and an additional amount for actual shelter costs which, according to regulation, is fixed at a maximum of $152 a month (18 NYCRR 352.3(a)(2)). The State claims, and it is conceded, that in most cases the SSI payment exceeds the amount an individual would receive if he were dependent on home relief or any other category of public assistance. But, in many cases, the effect of the statutory scheme is that those who are unable to support themselves because of age, or disability or blindness receive less public assistance than other needy persons who do not suffer from these disabilities. The cases now before us illustrate the point.

The petitioner Annie Lee, for instance, is blind in one eye, partially blind in the other and suffers from diabetes. When this proceeding was commenced in June of 1976 she was 62 years old and lived alone in an apartment in New York City. She received $218.55 a month in Supplemental Security Income. This was her only source of income. After paying her rent of $180 a month she was left with $38.55 to meet her other monthly needs. In 1975 she applied for home relief. Under that program her needs would include a flat grant of $94 (for a person living alone), and $152, the maximum allowed for actual shelter costs for a person living alone in New York City (Social Services Law, § 131-a, subd. 2; 18 NYCRR 352.3(a)). She sought assistance in the amount of $27.45 a month the difference between her needs established pursuant to subdivision 2 of section 131-a of the Social Services Law ($246) and her actual income from the Federal program ($218.55). The application however was denied solely because of her status as an SSI recipient (L.1974, ch. 1080, § 2; Social Services Law, § 158, subd. (a)).

The other petitioners are also residents of New York City who are unable to work because of physical disability 2 and are recipien of SSI in an amount less than they could receive under the home relief program. Their applications for home relief, in varied amounts, were also denied because they were disabled and derived their income from SSI.

On this appeal the State urges that subdivision (a) of section 158 of the Social Services Law is constitutional insofar as it bars SSI recipients from access to home relief. Although this often means that the aged, disabled and blind will receive less public assistance than other needy persons the State claims that there is no denial of equal protection because the recipients in both categories are treated alike in that they are all granted amounts which satisfy their "standard of monthly need" as established by the Legislature. It is urged that the Legislature acted reasonably in recognizing the aged, blind and disabled as a distinct category of needy persons and in separately computing their "standard of monthly need" in a manner different from that used in determining the needs of other recipients of public assistance. It is noted that if the State contributions to SSI did not follow the Federal pattern that is a flat grant rather than a flexible one reflecting the [402 N.Y.S.2d 355] actual shelter costs the Federal Government would not administer the program or pay for the costs of administration. The State also argues that the "substantial advantages of administration of SSI by HEW would be lost if SSI recipients who had undertaken high shelter costs were permitted to receive state administered assistance (i. e., home relief) as well. Since separate eligibility determinations would have to be made in each instance the advantage of reduced administrative caseload would be lost."

As indicated at the outset, the State is constitutionally charged with providing "aid, care and support of the needy" (N.Y.Const. art. XVII). This we have recently held "imposes upon the State an affirmative duty to aid the needy" (Tucker v. Toia, 43 N.Y.2d 1, 8, 400 N.Y.S.2d 728, 731, 371 N.E.2d 449, 452). The Constitution also authorizes the Legislature to create categories of public assistance and to determine the needs of individuals in those categories (Tucker v. Toia, supra ). But under the equal protection requirements of the State and Federal Constitutions (N.Y.Const., art. I, § 11; U.S.Const. 5th, 14th Amdts.) any classification which denies to one class of needy persons public assistance which is available to all others, cannot be justified unless it is rationally related to a legitimate State interest (see, e. g., United States Dept. of Agric. v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 93 S.Ct. 2821, 37 L.Ed.2d 782; cf. Matter of Padilla v. Wyman, 34 N.Y.2d 36, 356 N.Y.S.2d 3, 312 N.E.2d 149; see, also, Matter of Bernstein v. Toia, 43 N.Y.2d 437, 402 N.Y.S.2d 342, --- N.E.2d ---- (decided herewith)).

Classification of the aged, disabled and blind into a separate public assistance category with needs different from other needy persons is not unusual, nor is it usually considered discriminatory. Generally however the classification inures to their benefit and is sustained on the theory that it is...

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47 practice notes
  • 98 Misc.2d 373, City of New York v. Blum
    • United States
    • February 27, 1979
    ...statutes but on occasion have been asked to determine whether the statutes themselves are invalid, see e. g., Matter of Lee v. Smith, 43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 247 (1977) (declaring Social Services Law § 158 (subd. (a)) unconstitutional as violative of the equal protection......
  • 165 Misc.2d 77, Darns v. Sabol
    • United States
    • March 29, 1995
    ...legislative classification which denies to one class of needy persons public assistance which is available to all others (Lee v. Smith, 43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 247). But what the courts cannot do, with a proper deference for and recognition of the doctrine of separation ......
  • 67 Cal.App.4th 328, G018839, County of Orange v. Ivansco
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • October 16, 1998
    ...state may not 'invidiously discriminate' between persons similarly situated." (22 Cal.App.3d at p. 573; see also Lee v. Smith (1977) 43 N.Y.2d 453 [402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 247].) Page 337 We are mindful of other cases, decided by California and out-of-state courts, upholding the c......
  • 82 A.D.2d 559, Rosenfeld v. Blum
    • United States
    • New York New York Supreme Court Appelate Division Second Department
    • August 24, 1981
    ...in those instances in which the Federal benefits fail to equal or exceed the public assistance living standard (Matter of Lee v. Smith, 43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 243). The issue, therefore, is whether the Commissioner's deduction from home relief on account of SSI "in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
47 cases
  • 98 Misc.2d 373, City of New York v. Blum
    • United States
    • February 27, 1979
    ...statutes but on occasion have been asked to determine whether the statutes themselves are invalid, see e. g., Matter of Lee v. Smith, 43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 247 (1977) (declaring Social Services Law § 158 (subd. (a)) unconstitutional as violative of the equal protection......
  • 165 Misc.2d 77, Darns v. Sabol
    • United States
    • March 29, 1995
    ...legislative classification which denies to one class of needy persons public assistance which is available to all others (Lee v. Smith, 43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 247). But what the courts cannot do, with a proper deference for and recognition of the doctrine of separation ......
  • 67 Cal.App.4th 328, G018839, County of Orange v. Ivansco
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • October 16, 1998
    ...state may not 'invidiously discriminate' between persons similarly situated." (22 Cal.App.3d at p. 573; see also Lee v. Smith (1977) 43 N.Y.2d 453 [402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 247].) Page 337 We are mindful of other cases, decided by California and out-of-state courts, upholding the c......
  • 82 A.D.2d 559, Rosenfeld v. Blum
    • United States
    • New York New York Supreme Court Appelate Division Second Department
    • August 24, 1981
    ...in those instances in which the Federal benefits fail to equal or exceed the public assistance living standard (Matter of Lee v. Smith, 43 N.Y.2d 453, 402 N.Y.S.2d 351, 373 N.E.2d 243). The issue, therefore, is whether the Commissioner's deduction from home relief on account of SSI "in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results