The Constitutional Minimum for the Termination of Welfare Benefits: The Need for and Requirements of a Prior Hearing

Recently state welfare officials in New York terminated the benefits of a welfare recipient on the basis of an erroneous tip from her landlady that her husband visited her every night. She requested a posttermination hearing which was provided under New York law. During the four-month delay between the termination of benefits and the hearing, the recipient and her four small children were evicted from their apartment for nonpayment of rent. They were forced to move in with the woman’s sister, who had nine children of her own, and who was also on relief. The recipient’s children lost weight and became ill because of lack of money to buy food. The welfare recipient joined a class action, Kelly v. Wyman, which challenged the constitutionality of the New York procedure, alleging that termination of welfare benefits without a prior hearing violates the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. Plaintiffs in at least seventeen other states have similarly challenged welfare programs which provide for the termination of benefits without a prior hearing.