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No One Makes It on $212 a Month : Welfare: What happens to people who drop off General Relief rolls? They're on the streets.

March 22, 1994|JAMIE COURT | Jamie Court is associate director of the Harbor Interfaith Shelter in San Pedro and a member of the City of Los Angeles Homeless Steering Committee. and

With its reductions in the stipends paid to the most destitute unemployed among us, Los Angeles County is saving large sums at an enormous human cost.

A report this month from Los Angeles County's Chief Administrative Officer, Sally Reed, to the Board of Supervisors projects a $56.9-million savings in the General Relief program. In the past, the program supported more than 100,000 unemployed Angelenos who, if able, had to work for the county in exchange for a small monthly grant. Little more than a year ago, the general-relief grant paid a maximum of $341 per month to these single individuals. But due to county cuts last fall, general-relief payments now cannot total more than $212 per month--well under the minimum rent for a single room in Los Angeles. Some 10,000 recipients have faded out of the system and into the encamped streets, alleyways and hillsides of L.A.

Reed claims that she is "unable at this time to determine the root cause of the caseload reduction" that produced the huge county savings. This may be because Reed does not have to sleep on a street corner when her county check is not enough to provide her shelter for an entire month, much less bus fare.

Reed does not have to bring a shopping cart or milk carton of belongings along to work. Or choose between carrying or surrendering all her worldly belongings each time she pushes a lawn mower or wields a hoe for the county in order to receive her $212 check.

This may explain why Reed recommends not spending a dime of the additional $57 million "savings" to help put roofs over the heads of general relief recipients. Last fall's Draconian cuts had already produced $70 million in "savings" for the county. Meanwhile other department heads continue to spend beyond their means and the Board of Supervisors continues to allocate surplus dollars to them. These departments will continue to feed on the bones of general relief recipients unless something is done now.

Reed may scratch her head at why so many people have left the system but general relief recipients can tell you why: They're homeless. The Supervisors, our elected officials, should move immediately to use the $57 million in excess general relief "savings" to help raise payments to a level that is at least adequate to provide recipients with housing for a month. The County should not hoard money made on the suffering of so many unemployed, sometimes mentally and physically impaired Angelenos who are currently left out in the cold.

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