As part of the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, 42 U. S. C. § 601 et seq., the State of Illinois provides federally subsidized foster care (AFDC-FC) payments of $105 per month for a dependent child placed with unrelated foster parents. Under Illinois' administration of the program no foster care payments are made to foster parents who are related to the foster child. Related foster parents are eligible, however, to receive payments under the State's regular AFDC program for the support of dependent children in the amount of $63 per month. These payments are made without regard to the financial circumstances of the family caring for the child. In addition, as an exception to the State's regular policy, related foster parents, upon an adequate showing of financial need, may receive supplemental payments for child care which bring the payments in connection with the related foster child to approximately $105 per month.
Appellants are Linda Youakim and her husband, Marcel, and Linda's four minor brothers and sisters, Timothy, Mary Lou, Larry, and Sherry Robertson. Since 1972, the Youakims have been foster parents of Timothy and Mary Lou. Larry and Sherry have been living in separate, unrelated foster care facilities since 1969. Because Linda is related to Timothy and Mary Lou, the Youakims were ineligible for AFDC-FC foster care payments. They did apply for and receive the smaller AFDC payments for both children. Alleging injury resulting from financial inability to provide adequate care for Timothy and Mary Lou and to bring Larry and Sherry into their foster family, appellants filed suit in the District Court against the state officials on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly situated. Their complaint described the suit as an action to enjoin
The three-judge court "approved" the Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23 (b) (2) class, granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, and ultimately held that the "Illinois scheme does not deny plaintiffs equal protection of the laws." 374 F.Supp. 1204, 1210 (ND Ill. 1974). The jurisdictional statement filed here expressly challenged the Illinois scheme both on equal protection grounds and on the ground of conflict with the Social Security Act. We noted probable jurisdiction. 420 U.S. 970 (1975).
Although the jurisdictional statement as to which we noted probable jurisdiction presented the question of conflict between the Illinois law and the Social Security Act, it appears that the Supremacy Clause claim was not presented to the District Court as an independent ground for invalidating the state law. The complaint described the suit as one seeking an injunction on equal protection grounds. The sole ground for relief expressly claimed in each of the three causes of action which the complaint purported to allege, as well as in the prayer for relief, was that the Illinois program denied appellants equal protection of the laws. It does not appear from the record in the District Court that as the case developed appellants rested on the Supremacy Clause as a separate basis for their injunction claim. Nor did the District Court address the relationship between state and federal law independently of the equal protection issue.
Initially, it should be noted that the statutory issue is not foreign to the subject matter of the complaint. Attacks on state welfare statutes often combine Equal Protection Clause and Supremacy Clause issues. The latter question could surely have been pursued under the complaint filed in this case, which, as part of the "facts" incorporated by reference in each of the three causes of action, alleged that the Illinois program was in conflict with the policy of the United States expressed in sub-chapter IV of the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 627, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 601 et seq., specifically with the federal policy of encouraging the care of children in their own homes or in the homes of relatives wherever possible.
It is also apparent that the District Court was of the view that under Townsend v. Swank, 404 U.S. 282 (1971), "serious equal protection problems" might arise if "a state attempts to rely on the concept of fiscal
Beyond these considerations, on October 25, 1974, after the filing of the jurisdictional statement but before we noted probable jurisdiction, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued Program Instruction APA-PI-75-9 stating that under the controlling federal law, "[w]hen a child has been removed from his home by judicial determination and is placed in foster care under the various conditions specified . . . , the foster care rate of payment prevails regardless of whether or not the foster home is operated by a relative." Also, in response to appellants' jurisdictional statement, the Solicitor General filed a statement in this Court urging that the Illinois foster care program was inconsistent with the Social Security Act insofar as it provided higher payments to unrelated foster parents than to those who were related. Neither the appellants nor the District Court had the benefit of either of these developments when the case was in the lower court. The interpretation of a statute by an agency charged with its enforcement is a substantial factor to be considered in construing the statute, New York Dept. of Social Services v. Dublino,
The judgment of the District Court is vacated, and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.