The Matter of Tina Leggio v. Sharon Devine

State of New York OPINION Court of Appeals This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports. No. 9 In the Matter of Tina Leggio, Appellant, v. Sharon Devine, &c. et al., Respondents. Beth C. Zweig, for appellant Tina Leggio. Andrew W. Amend, for respondent Devine. Empire Justice Center, amicus curiae. WILSON, J.: In this CPLR article 78 proceeding, a parent challenges the determination of a local social services agency, confirmed by a state agency, that child support payments she receives, made for the benefit of five of her children living at home, including two college -1- -2- No. 9 students between the ages of 18 and 22, are included as “household” income when deciding whether and to what extent the household is eligible for benefits under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” She contends that because her two children in college are ineligible for SNAP, their pro rata share of the support funds should be excluded, lowering the household’s income such that it would qualify to receive SNAP benefits. We confirm the agency’s determination based on deference to its policy choice in administering a federal assistance program. I. Congress created SNAP to provide food for people in need. SNAP is administered by the states, in compliance with rules and regulations set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). SNAP benefits are disbursed to “household” units based on a formula that considers a household’s income and size. At the relevant time, petitioner Tina Leggio was a single parent raising five children under the age of 22. 1 The two eldest children were full-time college students who lived at home. Because they did not satisfy any of the conditions for a student enrolled in higher education at least half-time to be eligible for SNAP, as enumerated in 7 CFR 273.5(b), and were not otherwise eligible for a federal exemption under the law, they were ineligible for the program. The children’s father paid $593.75 per week to support all five children. The 1 Ms. Leggio’s sixth child was older than 22 at the relevant time and is not at issue in this appeal. -2- -3- No. 9 household had been receiving SNAP benefits because Ms. Leggio’s income, including the child support, had been below the applicable income limit. In October 2014, upon Ms. Leggio’s application to recertify under SNAP, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (DSS) discontinued the household’s benefits because its income exceeded the upper limit for a household of four (Ms. Leggio plus her three younger children, excluding the two in college). Because the two older children were ineligible for SNAP, DSS did not count them as household members. Nevertheless, DSS included the full amount of child support in its calculation of household income. Ms. Leggio challenged that determination, contending that because her two children in college were excluded from SNAP benefits, their pro rata share of the child support payment (two-fifths of $593.75, or $237.50 ...

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