County Keeps General Assistance Program, Hoping Federal Government Will Help Out

Friday July 02, 2004

Alameda County’s almost 1,500 General Assistance welfare recipients were issued a temporary reprieve, at least for this year, after the County Board of Supervisors voted last Friday to maintain the program even in the face of severe budget cuts.  

The decision will ensure that General Assistance recipients will receive their monthly stipend year-round instead of having it cut off after nine months. The decision, say advocates, is extremely important for many on the GA rolls who are teetering on homelessness but able to stay housed and fed because of the small monthly stipend. 

However, the decision by the board and the Alameda County Social Services Agency, which administers the money, puts the county in a difficult position because it is now betting on future money to pay for the still existing $5.2 million deficit that was to be filled by the cuts. 

According to Sylvia Myles, the public information officer for the Alameda County Social Services Agency, the county is hoping to receive waivers pending on the federal level that will provide savings in other program areas and in turn allow the county to divert that money to GA. 

“We have taken quite a risk,” said Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, adding that “I don’t think there was any disagreement that it was the right thing to do.” 

Advocates and recipients alike said they were relieved but still concerned that they could be facing similar cuts next year. So in the meantime they have agreed to convene a task force along with the Social Services Agency to evaluate GA. 

“I’m relieved, deeply relieved,” said Patricia Wall, executive director of the Homeless Action Center, a Berkeley-based advocacy law firm. “I don’t think anybody honestly wanted to make the cuts, I’m glad we came to the right conclusion.”