Brief Fact Summary.
The appellee challenged the State’s practice of terminating public assistance payments to a particular recipient without affording him the opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to termination.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The extent to which procedural due process must be afforded the recipient is influenced by the extent to which he may be condemned to suffer grievous loss, and depends upon whether the recipient’s interest in avoiding that loss outweighs the government interest.
It is a categorical assistance program supported by federal grants-in-aid but administered by the States according to regulations of the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.View Full Point of Law
John Kelly challenged the constitutionality of procedures for notice and termination of public assistance payments program without affording him the opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to termination. Appellant does not contend the procedural due process is not applicable to the termination of welfare benefits. Such benefits are a matter of statutory entitlement for persons qualified to receive them. Their termination involves state action that adjudicates important rights.
Does a State that terminates public assistance payments to a particular recipient without affording him the opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to termination denies him procedural due process?
Yes, the city’s procedures presently do not permit recipients to appear personally with or without counsel before the official who finally determines continued eligibility. Thus, the recipient is not permitted to present evidence to that official orally, or to confront or cross-examine adverse witnesses. These omissions are fatal to the constitutional adequacy of the procedures and thus violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
There is no provision in our Constitution that should paralyze the government’s efforts to protect itself against making payments to people who are not entitled to them. It strains credulity to say that the government’s promise of charity to an individual is property belonging to that individual when the government denies that the individual is honestly entitled to receive such a payment. While today’s decision requires only an administrative, evidentiary hearing, the inevitable logic of the approach taken will lead to time-consuming delays of a full adversary process of administrative and judicial review.
The opportunity to be heard must be tailored to the capacities and circumstances of those who are to be heard. It is not enough that a welfare recipient may present his position to the decision maker in writing. A recipient must be allowed to state his position orally. Informal procedures will suffice. Moreover, the government interests in conserving fiscal and administrative resources are not overriding in the welfare context. The requirement of a prior hearing involves some greater expense, and the benefits paid to ineligible recipients pending decision at the hearing probably cannot be recouped since these recipients are likely to be judgment-proof. However, the State is not without weapons to minimize these increased costs. Much of the drain on fiscal and administrative resources, for instance, can be reduced by developing procedures for prompt pre-termination hearings.