Shea v. Vialpando (1974)

In reducing AFDC benefits to the working poor, a State may not set a maximum on work-related expenses deducted from income because such limit discourages them from working, in violation of the Social Security Act.

Citation: 416 U.S. 251 (1974)
Date decided: Apr 23, 1974
Longer case name: Shea, Executive-Director, Department of Social Services of Colorado, et al. v. Vialpando
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Colorado
Topic(s):Public assistance
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Tom W. Armour (Denver Legal Aid) argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were James W. Kin, Steven J. Cole, and Henry A. Freedman. (Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law)
Others involved:
More info:

Case Importance

Increases AFDC benefits available to the working poor, and maximizes incentives for the poor to work, as intended by Congress.

Case Details

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



Section 402 (a) (7) of the Social Security Act requires state agencies in administering the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program to “take into consideration . . . any expenses reasonably attributable to the earning of . . . income.” Such expenses are deducted from an AFDC applicant’s income in determining eligibility for assistance. Colorado’s AFDC regulations, which previously had permitted the deduction from income of all expenses reasonably attributable to employment, including transportation expenses, were amended in 1970 to subject work-related expenses (with certain exceptions) to a uniform allowance of $30 per month. This substantially reduced respondent’s monthly deductions for work-related transportation expenses and the corresponding increase in her monthly net income made her ineligible for continued AFDC assistance. She then brought this action for injunctive and declaratory relief, claiming, inter alia, that Colorado’s standardized work-expense allowance violated 402(a)(7). The District Court granted summary judgment for respondent, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The Colorado regulation conflicts with 402(a)(7) and is therefore invalid. Pp. 258-266.

(a) In light of the statute’s legislative history and the normal meaning of the term “any,” the language of 402(a)(7) requiring the consideration of “any” reasonable work expenses in determining eligibility for AFDC assistance is to be interpreted as a congressional directive that no limitation, apart from that of reasonableness, may be placed upon recognition of work-related expenses, and hence a fixed work-expense allowance that does not permit deductions for expenses exceeding that standard directly contravenes the language of the statute. P. 260.

(b) Standardized treatment of work-related expenses without provision for showing actual and reasonable expenses exceeding the standard amount threatens to defeat the purpose of the [416 U.S. 251, 252] mandatory work-expense recognition provision of 402 (a) (7) of encouraging AFDC recipients to secure and retain employment, since by limiting work expenses to $30 per month the Colorado regulation results in a disincentive to seek or retain employment for all recipients whose reasonable work-related expenses exceed or would exceed that amount. Pp. 263-265.

(c) It is not the adoption of a standardized work-expense allowance per se that violates 402 (a) (7), but the fact that the standard is in effect a maximum or absolute limitation upon the recognition of such expenses. P. 265.

475 F.2d 731, affirmed.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:57
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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