Department of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973)

The government cannot exclude households from receiving food stamps based on whether they include a person who is unrelated to any other member of the household.

Citation: 413 U.S. 528 (1973)
Date decided: Jun 25, 1973
Longer case name: Department of Agriculture v. Moreno
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: District of Columbia
Topic(s):Due process, Public assistance, and Unrelated persons
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Ronald F. Pollack (Food Research & Action Center) argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Roger A. Schwartz.
Others involved:
More info:

Case Importance

The majority finds the provision of the Food Stamp Act to violate the Due Process clause, while the concurrence finds a constitutional violation based upon freedom of association.

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



Section 3(e) of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, as amended in 1971, generally excludes from participation in the food stamp program any household containing an individual who is unrelated to any other household member. The Secretary of Agriculture issued regulations thereunder rendering ineligible for participation in the program any “household” whose members are not “all related to each other.” Congress stated that the purposes of the Act were

“to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the Nation’s population and raise levels of nutrition among low income households . . . [and] that increased utilization of food in establishing and maintaining adequate national levels of nutrition will promote the distribution . . . of our agricultural abundance and will strengthen cur agricultural economy. . . HP

The District Court held that the “unrelated person” provision of § 3(e) creates an irrational classification in violation of the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Held: The legislative classification here involved cannot be sustained, the classification being clearly irrelevant to the stated purposes of the Act and not rationally furthering any other legitimate governmental interest. In practical operation, the Act excludes not those who are “likely to abuse the program,” but, rather, only those who so desperately need aid that they cannot even afford to alter their living arrangements so as to retain their eligibility. Pp. 533-538. 345 F. Supp. 310, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 413 U. S. 538. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 413 U. S. 545.

From the opinion

This case requires us to consider the constitutionality of § 3(e) of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 2012(e), as amended in 1971, 84 Stat. 2048, which, with certain exceptions, excludes from participation in the food stamp program any household containing an individual who is unrelated to any other member of the household. In practical effect, § 3(e) creates two classes of persons for food stamp purposes: one class is composed of those individuals who live in households all of whose members are related to one another, and the other class consists of those individuals who live in households containing one or more members who are unrelated to the rest. The latter class of persons is denied federal food assistance. A three-judge District Court for the District of Columbia held this classification invalid as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. 345 F. Supp. 310 (1972). We noted probable jurisdiction. 409 U.S. 1036 (1972). We affirm.

Appellees in this case consist of several groups of individuals who allege that, although they satisfy the income eligibility requirements for federal food assistance, they have nevertheless been excluded from the program solely because the persons in each group are not “all related to each other.” Appellee Jacinta Moreno, for example, is a 56-year-old diabetic who lives with Ermina Sanchez and the latter’s three children. They share common living expenses, and Mrs. Sanchez helps to care for appellee. Appellee’s monthly income, derived from public assistance, is $75; Mrs. Sanchez receives $133 per month from public assistance. The household pays $135 per month for rent, gas, and electricity, of which appellee pays $50. Appellee spends $10 per month for transportation to a hospital for regular visits, and $5 per month for laundry. That leaves her $10 per month for food and other necessities. Despite her poverty, appellee has been denied federal food assistance solely because she is unrelated to the other members of her household. Moreover, although Mrs. Sanchez and her three children were permitted to purchase $108 worth of food stamps per month for $18, their participation in the program will be terminated if appellee Moreno continues to live with them.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:45
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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