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AGO 1956 No. 352 - December 17, 1956
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES; PUBLIC ASSISTANCE; PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, EXPENDITURES FOR; SURPLUS COMMODITIES

County funds may not be obligated or expended, in conjunction with the State Department of Public Assistance, to provide facilities for or distribute surplus commodities donated by the United States Government through the Department of Agriculture.

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                                                               December 17, 1956

Honorable Don J. Clark
Prosecuting Attorney
Yakima County Court House
Yakima, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 352

Dear Sir:

            In your letter previously acknowledged, you have requested our answer to the following question:

            "May a county presently obligate and expend county funds, in conjunction with the State Department of Public Assistance, to give assistance to needy resident families, including needy Indians, by agreeing to distribute and provide facilities for such distribution for surplus commodities donated by the United States Government through the Department of Agriculture."

            In our opinion, your question must be answered in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It is elementary that counties have only those powers as are conferred upon them expressly or by necessary implication by the constitution and statutes of the state.  State ex rel. King County v. Superior Court, 33 Wn. (2d) 76.  They are but instrumentalities of the state and may exercise such functions of local government and perform such duties as are imposed upon them by the sovereign‑-and no others.  Carpenter v. Okanogan County, 163 Wash. 18.  Although Article VIII, § 7 of our state constitution, while prohibiting counties from giving any money, or property, or loaning its money, or credit to or in aid of any individual, excepts therefrom the necessary support of the poor and infirm, it is clear that this provision  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] constitutes a limitation of power rather than conferring a right or power which may not be controlled by the legislature.

            The legislature did, however, vest the boards of county commissioners of the several counties with entire and exclusive superintendence of the poor (RRS 9981 et seq.) and this duty remained with the counties until 1937.  Chapter 180 of the Laws of 1937, declared that public assistance in any form then being administered and in such form as may thereafter be defined as a public charge, was the joint and several responsibility of the state and the counties.  This act repealed most of the old county poor laws.

            Thereafter and until 1953, public assistance in this state was administered by a single state agency and the counties' responsibility was limited to duties as agents of the state (Maskule v. State, 3 Wn. (2d) 121) and the levy of a tax primarily for general assistance purposes.  Section 17, chapter 180, Laws of 1937 and subsequent amendments.  In 1953, the legislature further removed from the counties their remaining duties in the field of public assistance and abolished the county levy of a tax for general assistance purposes.  Chapters 74.04 through 74.16 RCW, chapter 174, Laws of 1953.

            The 1953 act defined "public assistance" as public aid to persons in need thereof for any cause, including services, assistance grants, disbursing orders, work relief, general assistance and federal aid assistance.  RCW 74.04.010.  This act further provided for the department of public assistance to serve as thesingle state agency to administer the programs of public assistance authorized by chapter 174, Laws of 1953.  Chapters 74.04 through 74.16 RCW.  The 1953 legislation defines the programs of public assistance, provides eligibility requirements therefor, and the methods to be followed by the state agency in determining the grants to be awarded recipients of public assistance.

            It therefore appears, that although the counties are still expressly charged with certain duties relating to the disposition of the remains of deceased indigent persons.  (RCW 36.39.030) and certain detention costs of indigent mentally ill persons (RCW 71.02.230), public assistance to the needy is otherwise and exclusively a state function at the present time.  A county may, therefore, neither obligate nor expend funds to give assistance to needy resident families, including needy Indians, by agreeing to distribute and provide facilities for the distribution of surplus commodities donated by the United States Government through the Department of Agriculture.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            We recognize that this conclusion is neither a complete nor satisfactory solution to the overall problem.  We are presently exploring the possibility of the state undertaking the distribution of surplus commodities to the needy and the necessity for remedial legislation.

            We hope the foregoing comments will prove helpful.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


MOKSHA W. SMITH
Assistant Attorney General

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