General Assistance planned to get cut

June 9, 2008 6:57:43 PM PDT
A group of lawyers representing some of the neediest people in the Bay Area, are suing the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The issue is the board's plan to cut general assistance benefits after six months. The Board says that's on par with other Bay Area counties, but advocates say the cuts are too severe for those in need.

Ronnie Watkins is 61 years old, unemployed and too young for social security. He depends on food stamps and a monthly general assistance check of $300 for rent and $36 left over to buy BART tickets and toiletries.

With the county threatening to cut off the checks come July 1st, he fears the worst.

"I will become homeless. There's no doubt about it. It's a given," said Watkins, who depends on general assistance.

The Public Interest Law Project is representing some 3,000 general assistance recipients who stand to lose payments. The state budget crisis has resulted in local social service cuts like restricting the G.A. payments to six months in a year.

"What we're trying to do is figure out a better way to help these people either get employment or get into programs that quite frankly will get them more money," said Scott Haggerty, President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

"We're saying to these people, 'We're going to cut you off. You go out and find a job. But at the same time in Alameda County there are these numbers of layoffs,'" said Boona Cheema, from the Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency.

These G.A. advocates filed a lawsuit against Alameda County on Monday.

"The cost of cutting benefits actually results in a greater cost to the county than it's saving, almost double that amount. That happens because when people become homeless, they end up in county emergency rooms and become burdens to other public agencies," said Stephen Ronfeldt, from the Public Interest Law Project.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, attorneys will ask a Superior Court Judge to block Alameda County from implementing the cuts July 1st. And they hope to persuade county supervisors to change their minds by their meeting next week.

"It's something we're still struggling with. Is it a done deal? Maybe not. I think we're going to make sure we've done everything we can not to make this happen," said Haggerty.

"Americans as a whole need to learn to do more with less," said Watkins. "It's just the times that demand it."