Alameda Co. GA program in jeopardy

June 8, 2009 9:01:16 PM PDT
Drastic cuts could be coming to those who can least afford them in the East Bay. Welfare payments to Alameda County's poorest residents are on the line as the county struggles with its $178 million deficit.

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In a sign of just how tough times are in Alameda County right now, in 2002 about 3,000 people received general assistance checks. Today, the number is triple that amount, and county officials realize cuts to this general assistance money would hit the most vulnerable. But they say they're out of options.

The uncertainty of what the future holds is the talk among residents at a Berkeley homeless shelter, and it's what terrifies Marcie Costello most. She lives on the $336 she gets every month in Alameda County General Assistance, and a third of it pays for her shelter rent.

Any cut could mean the worst.

"Honestly, I don't know what I'll do. If I have nowhere to stay while I'm looking for work, that's a set up to be out on the streets homeless. I consider myself to be homeless now, but I'm homeless in a shelter," said Costello.

Alameda County's 9,000 general assistance recipients are some of the poorest of the poor. They are single adults with no other source of income and many are homeless.

But facing a $178 million budget deficit, county officials say they have no choice but to make drastic cuts to the program.

On Tuesday, supervisors will decide whether to reduce the assistance checks by 25 percent for people who share housing and whether to put a time limit on the money by capping it at three monthly checks a year.

"Typically our GA population is those who are living marginally. And these are cuts where we know it will cause pain throughout the county, so that's why it's not something that we take lightly," said Sylvia Soublet from the Alameda County Social Services Agency.

On Monday, advocates and GA recipients tried to convince a supervisor's committee not to impose the cuts. For Costello, it goes beyond cruel.

"I'm utterly nervous. Like I said, the word that comes up for me is travesty," said Costello.

The county has tried to impose a time cap on these GA payments before, but they were sued by a group of recipients. On Tuesday, county officials will try again when they vote on these proposed cuts.

If they are passed, some of them at least, could take effect as early as this summer.

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