with questions." According to a survey conducted by defendant in
1994, approximately 8,100 claimants per day visited defendant's
field offices to request clarification of a notice. (Ex. 24 at
In the same year, claimants placed 109 million telephone calls
to defendant's teleservice number at a rate of approximately
25,000 calls per day. (Ex. 24 at 5, 82.)
Defendant has estimated in its report, "Social Security
Administration Business Plan Fiscal Years 1997-2001," that
$100,000 can be saved for every one percent reduction in
notice-related inquiries. (Ex. 24 at 120.) According to Goon,
"any time you have a clearer notice, . . . you . . . cut down on
calls [and] actually reduce the work load." (Tr. at 313, 319.)
In addition to fiscal and human resources, Goon also testified
that "there [are also] other benefits you can't measure in
dollars, but you can measure in terms of beneficial satisfaction,
the reputation of the agency, [and] public good will toward the
agency." (Tr. at 314.)
As another court has noted, "[i]n fact, [by] providing more
complete information [on] benefits, the Government [acts] as the
representative of the `public interest.'" Ellender, 575 F. Supp.
at 602. Accordingly, defendant serves the public interest by
implementing the proposed notice improvements while the "denial
of [adequate] notice serves no such important and beneficial
purpose." Bliek, 916 F. Supp. at 1492. On the basis of the
record before the Court, the relief plaintiffs seek is not
unreasonably burdensome. In all events, the balance the factors
relevant to due process inquiry set forth by the Goldberg court
decidedly supports plaintiffs' claim that defendant's SSI notices
are constitutionally defective. Accordingly, I find for plaintiff
on the first claim for relief.
Equal Protection Claim
Plaintiffs' second cause of action alleges violations of their
constitutional right to equal protection because of the disparity
in the quality and quantity of information that SSI claimants
receive compared with that furnished TANF and AABD claimants.
Compare 20 C.F.R. § 416.1336 (notice of intended action
affecting SSI recipient's payment status) and 416.1404(b)
(contents of initial notice of SSI eligibility) with
45 C.F.R. § 205.10 (regulation promulgated by the Secretary of HHS) listing
the information required to be contained in notices sent by state
or local agencies regarding eligibility for TANF and AABD.
However, courts have held that there is no "constitutional
theory mandating general equality of opportunity," Reichenthal
v. Harris, 492 F. Supp. 637, 643 (E.D.N.Y. 1980), or that
separate regulatory programs "utilize the same eligibility
requirements and limitations," Frederick v. Shalala,
862 F. Supp. 38, 43 (W.D.N.Y. 1994). The Supreme Court "has
consistently upheld the constitutionality of [social welfare]
classifications . . . where a rational basis existed for" the
difference Califano v. Aznavorian, 439 U.S. 170, 174, 99 S.Ct.
471, 58 L.Ed.2d 435 (1978).
Plaintiffs are not a suspect class and have no fundamental
constitutional right to SSI benefits. See Weinberger v. Salfi,
422 U.S. 749, 771-72, 95 S.Ct. 2457, 45 L.Ed.2d 522 (1975) ("a
noncontractual claim to receive funds for the public treasury
enjoys no constitutionally protected status"); Soberal-Perez v.
Heckler, 717 F.2d 36, 41 (2d Cir. 1983).
In assessing whether there is a denial of equal protection
where a suspect class or fundamental right is not implicated, the
challenged action need only be rationally related to a legitimate
government purpose to survive judicial review. See id. (citing
Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 312,
96 S.Ct. 2562, 49 L.Ed.2d 520 (1976)). Thus, the question is
whether there is a reasonable basis for the difference in the
regulatory requirements with respect to the content of notices
between the two sets of federal benefit programs referred to in
complaint. A reasonable basis is one that is "`not arbitrary'"
and that is based "`upon some ground of difference having a fair
and substantial relation to the object of the [regulation], so
that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated
alike.'" Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 76, 92 S.Ct. 251, 30
L.Ed.2d 225 (1971) (quoting Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia,
253 U.S. 412, 415, 40 S.Ct. 560, 64 L.Ed. 989 (1920)). To succeed on
an equal protection challenge, plaintiffs must do more than show
that the agency's stated assumptions are irrational, they must
discredit any conceivable basis that could be advanced to support
the challenged provision, regardless of whether that basis has a
foundation in the record, Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 320-21,
113 S.Ct. 2637, 125 L.Ed.2d 257 (1993), or whether such thinking
actually motivated the agency, Federal Communications Comm'n v.
Beach Communications, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 315, 113 S.Ct. 2096,
124 L.Ed.2d 211 (1993). Otherwise stated, once the government's
action has been shown to have some plausible rationale, a court's
inquiry is at an end. See United States R.R. Retirement Bd. v.
Fritz, 449 U.S. 166, 179, 101 S.Ct. 453, 66 L.Ed.2d 368 (1980).
The regulations cited by the plaintiffs as requiring that more
detailed information be furnished claimants, 45 C.F.R. § 205.10,
state the requirements for notices issued by states making
eligibility determinations for the AFDC and AABD programs in
accordance with an approved state plan. See 42 U.S.C. § 601,
603(a). The regulation was promulgated by the Secretary of HHS.
The Administration for Children and Families, a component of HHS,
is the federal agency responsible for overseeing state
administration of the two programs. States that accept federal
money to provide cash welfare payments must abide by the federal
regulations in disbursing those funds to needy state residents.
Part of those regulations include provisions mandating the
content of notices sent by states to AFDC and AABD claimants.
Those notice provisions require the inclusion of more detailed
information regarding the government's determination of benefits
than are required by the regulations specifying the content of
In contrast to the AFDC and AABD programs which are
administered by the states, the SSI program is administered by
SSA, an independent federal agency. SSA does not delegate
financial eligibility determinations to a state agency. Nor does
SSA impose on itself the same requirements that other federal
agencies impose on state agencies administering federal programs.
There is no constitutional requirement that a federal agency must
impose on itself the same requirements as those which it imposes
on a state agency. See Frederick v. Shalala, 862 F. Supp. at 43.
Defendant argues that the delegation of the administration of
federal programs to a variety of states participating in the
programs mandates greater supervision and regulation of the state
agencies by HHS and that this need for greater supervision and
regulation explains the heightened notice requirements in the
AFDC and AABD programs. Plaintiffs have not responded to that
At trial, plaintiffs provided no evidence to rebut defendant's
rational basis much less show that no conceivable rational basis
exists to support the difference in notice requirements. Indeed,
plaintiffs failed to address the differences between SSI's purely
federal administration and involvement of the states in the
administration of AFDC and AABD programs. Since the rational
basis articulated for the distinctions between the regulations
with respect to notice has not been rebutted, plaintiffs' equal
protection claim must fail.
For the reasons set forth above, I find that defendant's
notices to SSI claimants violate the due process clause of the
Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs'
claim of a violation of equal protection fails because defendant
demonstrated a rational basis for the difference in notices sent
to SSI claimants and AFDC and TANF claimants. The second claim is
accordingly dismissed. Defendant is ordered to modify the notice
sent to claimants in accordance with this opinion. The time frame
for implementation of this order and the precise content of the
notices shall be the subject of immediate discussions between the
parties. In the event the parties are unable to reach agreement,
plaintiffs are directed submit a proposed judgment on notice
within thirty days of the date receipt of this Memorandum
Decision and Order.