Cal Law Trends and Developments


Peter E. Sitkin


In California, over 1,500,000 people are dependent on public assistance for all or part of their means of subsistence. To provide aid to these individuals, a large and complex bureaucracy has developed over the years that expends more than a billion dollars a year, and is governed by an evergrowing set of federal, state, and local rules and regulations. Notwithstanding the size of the bureaucracy and the complexity of the laws governing the system, until recently there had been few instances of judicial review of welfare practices or laws. With a few exceptions,4 the court decisions relating to welfare prior to 1968 dealt with situations where conflicts between county and state welfare agencies were resolved, or where appeals were taken from convictions in welfare fraud prosecutions. It was unusual to have a recipient seek affirmative judicial redress on the grounds that welfare aid was illegally or unconstitutionally denied. Despite the substantial efforts of a few scholars - most notably Dr. Jacobus ten Broek - little serious discussion of the legal issues raised by the welfare system was undertaken.

Much of the welfare litigation in California in 1969 has been directed to the enforcement of existing law as well as to the challenge, on constitutional grounds, of welfare laws, regulations, and practices. Some of these court actions have resulted in increasing the cost of public assistance programs. For the most part, however, these added costs have resulted from judicially ordered compliance with existing law; the implication is that for years welfare administrators have been, and still are, illegally depriving thousands of persons of welfare aid to which they are legally entitled.