Residents protest general assistance cuts

February 23, 2010 7:17:26 PM PST
Thousands of welfare recipients in the East Bay are facing a difficult deadline; more than 7,000 people who receive general assistance support in Alameda County have a little more than a month until their last check arrives.

The little money Tatiana Shelby earns selling her artwork helps pay the family bills.

"We're struggling now, it's hard for my mom, she has to go through a lot of stuff just to get food in our house," she said.

Only 18, Shelby is one of the 10,000 East Bay residents relying on monthly welfare checks from the county.

But now the clock is ticking for many of them. New rules imposed last summer cut off general assistance benefits after three months for people the county deems employable.

The cutoff, for more than 7,000 of them, is March 31.

"Even though you know that deadline, there's only so much you can do," general assistance recipient Yvette Griffin said. "I get up, look through Craigslist, do what I gotta do and just get out there."

"It's overwhelming to me right now, it could happen to anybody," general assistance recipient Steve Divine said.

Hundreds of people packed a supervisors meeting in protest Tuesday, but in a county forced to balance a $178 million budget deficit lawmakers say they have few options.

"We don't say this to be fearful, we don't say this to cause alarm, but reality is reality," Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson said.

Alameda County has already cut its general assistance by 60 percent and advocates for the poor say even deeper cuts are going to force people already living on the edge.

"It's everybody; moms, dads, people who had good jobs and lost jobs, it's everybody," Brian Thomas, a case manager at the Berkeley Men's Shelter, said.

For many, the future seems bleak.

"I have to support my family too; I have to put my head in the books and at the same time I have to work," Shelby said. "I'm not even doing that well in school because I have to work to support my family."