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General Assistance Recipients to Ask County Supervisors to Rescind Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 25, 2010 - 08:42:00 AM

General Assistance recipients once again gathered outside Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza Tuesday to ask the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to rescind severe cuts to their funding.  

The rally, “Homes Not Streets II,” was organized by homeless advocacy groups such as Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, the East Bay Community Law Center and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project.  

Although the group braved the rain and waited for the supervisors to come out of their almost five-hour-long closed-session meeting, they did not get the news they were expecting. 

The board did not take any action on changing their decision. 

The protesters met for the second time since December to object to a new policy, which went into effect Jan. 1. It will reduce the length of GA funding for employable economically disadvantaged people in the county from twelve months to three.  

Those dependent on GA—sometimes as their only source of funding—include the disabled, veterans, seniors, victims of domestic violence, transition-age youth, and women. Prior to Nov. 2009, the most anyone could receive from GA per month was $336.  

New rules allow the county to slash GA payments by as much as $84 for recipients with roommates and by up to $40 unless they receive Medi-Cal.  

Supervisors Keith Carson, who is responsible for Berkeley, and Nate Miley, whose constituency includes East Oakland, voted against the cuts. Supervisors Alice Lai Bitker, Scott Haggerty and Gail Steele all voted in favor of the cuts, which will affect more than 7,000 poor people countywide.  

“This was their one opportunity to change their minds before the three-month time limit goes into effect for the first wave of people,” said Luan Huynh, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center. “Come April 1, thousands will be strapped for cash. We want at least one of them to change their minds.”  

Huynh said that EBCLC had been encouraged by recent talks with Haggerty. “He has an open mind, but we don’t know which way he will turn,” she said.  

Haggerty and Carson did not return calls for comment. 

Homeless advocates and GA recipients spoke to the board after a report presented by the Social Service Agency on the GA cuts at the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting.  

The cuts will save the agency $2.5 million.  

“The SSA might save money, but the county will pay more in increased costs to Medi-Cal, shelters and policing,” said Huynh, who feared the cuts would cause rampant homelessness.  

John Engstrom of EBCLC pointed to studies carried out in Los Angeles County which showed that local governments end up spending much more taking care of homeless individuals than aiding those who had housing.  

In one of the studies, “Where We Sleep,” the county tracked the cost of services used by over 10,000 homeless residents. It showed that the average cost to the county was $2,897 per month for each homeless individual.  

For the roughly 1,000 residents the county was able to place in supportive housing, the cost dropped 79 percent (an average of $605 per month).  

A pilot program started by LA County to provide 900 people with rental assistance saved the county more than $11 million over a two-year period.  

“The county can actually save large amounts of money by implementing targeted services,” Engstrom said. “Saving GA is not only the correct moral decision but also the fiscally responsible decision.”  

Michael Diehl, a mental health worker in Berkeley, said everyone at the rally had been really disappointed by the outcome of the supervisors’ meeting. 

“Some of my clients are in great anguish; some of them are suicidal right now,” he said. Diehl said that the cuts would result in more homelessness in Berkeley, at a time when the city was making some progress in curbing its homeless population. 

A report released last year showed that Berkeley’s chronic homeless count dropped by 50 percent after the city invested time and money toward providing services. 

“What the county doesn’t understand is that an increase in the city’s homeless population would burden its criminal justice system and hospitals,” he said. “It’s a shame.” 

For more information on the General Assistance cuts, contact Luan Huynh at the East Bay Community Law Center, 548-4040, ext. 371.