United States Department of Agriculture v. Moreno

PETITIONER: U.S. Department of Agriculture et al.
RESPONDENT: Jacinta Moreno et al.
LOCATION: United States Department of Agriculture

DOCKET NO.: 72-534
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 413 US 528 (1973)
ARGUED: Apr 23, 1973
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1973

A. Raymond Randolph, Jr. - argued the cause for the appellants
Ronald F. Pollack - argued the cause for appellees

Facts of the case

Jacinta Moreno lived with Ermina Sanchez, who was not related, and Sanchez's three children. Sanchez provided care to Moreno, who contributed to household living expenses. Moreno satisfied the income requirements for the federal food stamp program, but was denied under Section 3 of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, amended in 1971, which prohibited households with unrelated members from receiving food stamp benefits. Sanchez's food stamp benefits were also to be terminated. Moreno and other households who were denied benefits under Section 3 challenged the statute in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The District Court held that Section 3 violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The United States appealed.


Does Section 3 of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Media for United States Department of Agriculture v. Moreno

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 1973 in United States Department of Agriculture v. Moreno

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in 72-534.

Mr. Randolph.

A. Raymond Randolph, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is an appeal from the judgment of the three judge Federal District Court in District of Columbia, holding Section 3 of the Food Stamp Act unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment insofar as it limits eligibility for food stamps to related households.

The court enjoined the Secretary of Agriculture from denying eligibility to households containing one or more unrelated individuals.

The issue in this case is whether Section 3 of the Food Stamp Act is so unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.

I will first give a brief description of the Food Stamp Act, then deal with the particular facts of this case and then discuss our position.

The Food Stamp Program was enacted in 1964 to raise the nutritional level of low income households and to strengthen the agricultural economy.

Eligibility to participate in the program is on a household basis, rather than on an individual, although an individual can comprise a household if living alone.

An eligible household exchanges an amount of money for what is termed an allotment of food stamps or coupons of a higher monetary value.

The difference between what the household actually pays for the coupons and their actual value is the federal contributions to the household's increased purchasing power.

The household uses these coupons to purchase food at the prevailing price in participating retails stores.

The retailer redeems the coupons through the commercial banking system.

The amount of allotment to a household is determined by the household size.

For example, at present, a household of four persons is alloted a $112 a month; a household of five, a $132 and so forth and new allotment levels coming to effect each year and I am told that 38 federal register, 8287; the new allotment levels effective July 1, 1973 are printed.

The amount of money a household must exchange for it is coupon allotment depends on the household's monthly net income.

For example, a household of four, with $250 monthly net income must pay $71 for this, $112 allotment of coupons.

If the net income to the household is $330, the household pays $86 for a $112 coupons and so forth.

The Food Stamp Program is not a mandatory program, it is a joint federal, state and local government undertaking.

Counties and independent cities as well as states have the option whether or not to participate in the program.

At present, all but about one-third of the counties and cities in the country have Food Stamp Programs, that is 2,204 out of 3,129 have Food Stamp Programs.

Three states, Nevada, Delaware and New Hampshire have no Food Stamp Program whatsoever.

While the Federal government pays for the increased food purchasing power of the household and sets uniform national standards of eligibility, the day-to-day administration of the program is handled largely by state agencies to certify households as eligible, investigate applications, issue the stamps and so forth.

A substantial percentage of the administrative costs are paid for by the state out of it is own pocket.

Section 3 of the Act, the statue at issue in this case, defines the term household for eligibility purposes as “A group of related individuals or non-related individuals over age 60, who are living as one economic unit, sharing common cooking facilities and for whom home food is customarily purchased in common.

Appellees who live with unrelated persons claim that because Section 3(e) limits eligibility to groups of related individuals, a provision that resorted from 1971 amendments to the Act, Congress has deprived them of food stamps in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

It brought this class action seeking a declaration that Section 3(e) is unconstitutional and an injunction -- and seeking also an injunction against its operation.

A three-judge court was convened.

Each of the five individual appellees or groups of appellees representing a class alleges that they were denied food stamps because they did not live in related households.

Appellee, Mrs. Moreno resides in Florida.