Maximum monthly payments to the poorest of Orange County's poor can increase to $311 as a result of a judge's order Friday.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan issued a preliminary injunction ordering a $600,000 annual increase in county payments to general relief recipients. The order was part of a deal struck between county supervisors and Legal Aid Society lawyers, who had sued the county two months ago challenging aid levels as being too low.
"It will mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people," said Melinda Bird, one of a group of lawyers who filed the suit. "I want to emphasize there's more that the county could do, but this seemed to be a fair settlement."
The judge ordered the county Social Services Agency to pay $22 more a month for qualifying recipients beginning July 1.
About 2,000 needy county residents who do not qualify for other forms of government aid--such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children and disability payments from Social Security--are eligible for general relief.
Unlike other programs, the county pays the entire cost. The current program costs $5 million a year.
Persons collecting relief generally are refugees who are considered to be unemployable; able-bodied workers who are temporarily without work, and persons whose applications for federal disability benefits have not yet been processed.
A key part of the settlement was the county's decision to peg local relief payments to state AFDC payments, which are made to about 24,000 persons in Orange County. AFDC aid levels are tied to inflation rates and, therefore, undergo automatic adjustments.
Local relief rates have not been changed by the county in two years. Under terms of the injunction, there will be an anticipated 3.6% cost-of-living increase, similar to one the Legislature is expected to approve for AFDC recipients, said Larry M. Leaman, director of the county Social Services Agency.
In Line With Inflation
Leaman said that a rate increase had been anticipated and that his office had been planning a study of the adequacy of existing rates about the time the lawsuit was filed.
The lump sum increase effective July 1 is "probably in line with inflation," according to Deputy County Counsel David G. Epstein.
"It was the efficient way to do it," Epstein said. "The board made a policy decision based on our assessment of the legal situation. They didn't want to dig in and fight a war on the backs of the poorest people of Orange County."
The increase provides "barely enough to live on," said Bird, on the staff of Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles.
"The stories of deprivation that we hear in the course of preparing the litigation were very distressing," Bird said. "There's no question that more could be done."