The New York Provision for Assistance to the Needy

In Tucker v. Toia (43 NY2d 1, 7 [1977]), the Court of Appeals explained the rationale behind the provision for assistance to the needy, and the commitment it represents to all persons residing in New York State: "the provision for assistance to the needy is not a matter of legislative grace; rather, it is specifically mandated by our Constitution ... The provision to provide for the needy was adopted ... in the aftermath of the great depression, and was intended to serve two functions: First, it was felt to be necessary to sustain from constitutional attack the social welfare programs first created by the State during that period ... and, second, it was intended as an expression of the existence of a positive duty upon the State to aid the needy." This constitutional provision requires the State to come to the aid of all needy residents without regard to, inter alia, race, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status. Far from being an empty promise, the Court of Appeals has repeatedly reenforced this mandate. (Matter of Lee v. Smith, 43 NY2d 453 [1977]; Matter of Jones v. Berman, 37 NY2d 42 [1975].) In Tucker v. Toia (supra, at 9), the Court of Appeals stated: "May the Legislature deny all aid to certain individuals who are admittedly needy, solely on the basis of criteria having nothing to do with need? Today, we hold that it may not." Further, the State must provide assistance to destitute persons even if the cost of providing such assistance ultimately becomes a cost that the State or its subdivisions must bear without Federal reimbursement. (Matter of Jones v. Berman, supra, at 54 ["The counties of this State ... may not shirk their (State constitutional) responsibility to provide assistance to (the poor) merely because the higher levels of government refuse to share the cost"].)