The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III
This class action challenges the constitutional validity of a Pennsylvania statutory provision which requires applicants for public welfare to have resided in the State for a period of one year immediately preceding the date of application for assistance. The members of the class are citizens of the United States and bona fide residents of Pennsylvania who would otherwise be qualified for public assistance but for the fact that they have not resided in Pennsylvania for a period of one year. We hold that the residence requirement, as presently administered, constitutes a denial of "equal protection of the laws" to members of the class, and that accordingly, Section 432(6) of the "Public Welfare Code," Act of June 13, 1967 P.L. -- (Act No. 21)
is void and may no longer be enforced.
We are aided in our conclusion by full evidentiary hearings. Plaintiffs' evidence showed that the requirement of one year's residence as a condition to the receipt of public assistance has no logical basis and is wholly arbitrary in its application to needy residents of the Commonwealth. The Attorney General of Pennsylvania, far from disputing this evidence, openly embraced plaintiffs' proofs, adopting the testimony of the expert witnesses who were produced, while introducing no evidence of his own.
Thus, the uncontradicted evidence is to the effect that:
(1) The one-year residence requirement does not necessarily prevent migration to the State of impoverished individuals, nor would the abolition of the requirement enhance the attractiveness of the Commonwealth to such persons. Thus, there would be no noticeable increase in the influx of newcomers, poor and otherwise, if the requirement were deleted.
(2) Those persons who do come to Pennsylvania and find themselves in need of public assistance within the first year of their arrival do not, to any significant extent, emigrate to the State for the purpose of obtaining such aid. Although the fact that they may not at present obtain welfare benefits may tend to deter or discourage migration to the State, there is concededly no competent evidence that it does so in fact, nor is there evidence that newcomers, once arrived, depart once they discover their subordinate status. Those who come into the State (and later find themselves in need of public assistance) do so for reasons wholly unrelated to the incidental benefits of public welfare which might be available to them. In most instances, they come to accept or seek employment in the State, to rejoin or join family relations, or for health reasons. Seeking new opportunities or established contacts, they find themselves temporarily in need of public assistance; they apply for such help, and it is denied to them.
(4) Administrative costs and budgetary problems would actually be significantly decreased if the residence requirement were abolished; the necessity of screening and investigating applicants in this respect would be eliminated and the savings to the Department of Public Welfare in time and money would be substantial.
(5) The Commonwealth can ascribe no purpose at all to the distinction made by the Statute between residents who have lived in the State for over one year and residents who have not. The Attorney General's position is simply that the Legislature may allocate the State's resources in any way it wishes, and that it may discriminate freely among residents in the matter of public welfare benefits except with respect to the applicant's race, religion, or sex. Any other distinction or classification is permissible, argues the Attorney General, since the Legislature has the uncontrolled discretion to spend its money on whichever of its residents it chooses to favor.
It is elementary constitutional doctrine that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a State or instrumentalities of the State from invidious discrimination among its citizenry. Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369, 87 S. Ct. 1627, 18 L. Ed. 2d 830. There is, of course, no constitutional right to receive public welfare any more than there is a constitutional right to public education or even public police protection. However, if the State chooses to provide such public benefits, privileges, and prerogatives, it cannot arbitrarily exclude a segment of the resident population from their enjoyment. It is for this reason that classification in State statutes which purport to exclude from coverage one or more classes of individuals who would otherwise qualify for the advantages and opportunities conferred by the Legislature must be examined in order to determine whether there is any legitimate purpose for the distinction; whether an important and constitutionally cognizable State interest inheres in the classification, or whether on the other hand, the exclusion is purely arbitrary. Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010 (1967); Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 93, 85 S. Ct. 775, 13 L. Ed. 2d 675 (1965); McLaughlin v. State of Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 196, 85 S. Ct. 283, 13 L. Ed. 2d 222 (1964). If the distinction is arbitrary, then the statute deprives the citizens so excluded of equal protection of the State's laws and of the benefits which those laws may impart. A discrimination without rational basis and without legitimate purpose or function is inherently invidious, and hence constitutionally interdicted.
In the context of the present case, we are totally at a loss to discern what purpose, if any, the Pennsylvania Legislature has ascribed to the one year residence requirement. To require a period of one year's residence as a condition to the receipt of public assistance results in the division of Pennsylvania residents into two classes: those who have lived in the State for one year and those who have lived in the State for less than one year. Such a distinction has no apparent purpose. See Green v. Department of Public Welfare, 270 F. Supp. 173 (Del.1967).
The Attorney General does not, of course, contend that its purpose is to erect a barrier against the movement of indigent persons into the State or to effect their prompt departure after they have gotten there and begun to realize the disadvantages of second-class citizenship. Such a purpose would be patently improper and its implementation plainly impermissible. The right to travel freely without deterrence is inherent in the notion of a unified nation, and no State may exclude citizens migrating from other States, whatever the reason for the migration. Edwards v. People of State of California, 314 U.S. 160, 62 S. Ct. 164, 86 L. Ed. 119 (1941); United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 86 S. Ct. 1170, 16 L. Ed. 2d 239 (1966). In any event, the proof mutually accepted by both sides in this case is that deletion of the residence requirement would not result in an influx of destitute relief-seekers.
Nor is there any contention that the residence condition enhances the administrative effectiveness of the Public Assistance Act. To the contrary, all of the evidence is to the effect that many of the burdensome budgetary and administrative problems which are currently encountered by welfare officials in the conduct of the public assistance program would be substantially alleviated by the removal of this bottleneck in the processing of applicants. Moreover, the added cost to the Commonwealth of helping the now excluded class would be relatively insignificant. Needless to say, there would be some increase in cost. It is axiomatic that Pennsylvania does save some money now by excluding residents of less than one year. But the constitutional test of equal protection is not satisfied by considerations of minimal financial expediency alone. To be sure, the State may reduce or even eliminate entirely welfare payments if it chooses to conserve resources in this fashion; it may turn all beggars from its doors. But it may not arbitrarily turn away some who are in need while bestowing its charitable favors on others. There must be some otherwise legitimate purpose for excluding members of the class who are in fact deprived of the protection and privileges of existing laws. It is not enough to say that the class is excluded because money is saved.
Needy newcomers are no less needy because they are newly arrived. They are no less residents of the State because they have only lately begun to reside there. And they are no less entitled to enjoy the public welfare benefits of which every needy resident of Pennsylvania may partake simply because they ...