Rule Limiting Food Stamp Use by Families Is Upheld
The Supreme Court upheld Friday a federal food stamp rule enacted to cut down on fraud, turning aside claims that it discriminates against poor families who live together.
The justices, on a 6-3 vote, reversed a lower court ruling that struck down the rule, which allows the Department of Agriculture to determine eligibility by household rather than by individual income.
The rule at issue, passed by Congress in 1981 and amended a year later, says that parents, children and siblings who live together make up a single household for food stamp purposes unless one of the parents is at least 60 years old or disabled.
Expected $300-Million Cut
When the rule was adopted, officials said it could save more than $300 million a year by preventing household members from falsely claiming to be separate households although they live and eat together.
The food stamp program costs about $12 billion a year and provides roughly 20 million Americans with government coupons to buy groceries.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court, said: “Congress could reasonably determine that close relatives sharing a home--almost by definition--tend to purchase and prepare meals together while distant relatives and unrelated individuals might not be so inclined.”
The court overruled a claim by the Texas Rural Legal Aid Society that the rule penalized poor families by treating them differently from unrelated people who live together but are allowed to file separate food stamp claims. The majority said: “It is exceedingly unlikely that close relatives would choose to live apart simply to increase their allotment of food stamps.” (Block vs. Natividad Castillo, 85-250)
Three Justices Dissent
Justices William J. Brennan Jr., Byron R. White and Thurgood Marshall dissented, with Marshall claiming the government has “chosen to intrude into the family dining room--a place where I would have thought the right to privacy exists in its strongest form.”