Los Angeles County Overhauls Cash Assistance Program For Poor Adults

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today approved an ambitious plan to dramatically restructure the General Relief (GR) program. Since 1901, Los Angeles County has administered this program to provide temporary cash aid to indigent adults. All 58 counties across California are legally mandated by the State to provide assistance of this kind.

Approximately 89,000 County residents receive cash assistance through the GR program each month: up from 71,000 last year. Direct costs currently are looming near the $200 million mark in local taxpayer dollars: up from $161 million last year. A number of GR participants have been on the program for over 20 years, and 60% of the caseload is homeless. In addition, experts estimate that the County spends almost four times the cost, above and beyond providing GR cash assistance on other services to this population, mostly related to repeated incarcerations in County Jail and recurring visits to emergency rooms and clinics. These additional costs push the price tag closer to $1 billion per year.

"This is a bold step, but we saw a clear opportunity to both control costs, reduce the caseload and better serve this high-need population, many of whom are homeless," said Supervisor Knabe, who introduced the original motion in April 2009 that called for this restructuring.

The program will be restructured to ensure that everyone on the caseload is working towards ways of transitioning off of GR, via employment or pursuit of other benefit programs they would more appropriately qualify for. A large part of the proposal focuses mainly on the County better aligning the GR program to move people off of GR onto Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is federally funded. Many of the GR recipients that are homeless have disabilities that would likely qualify them for SSI. Federal funding would also be available to fund most of the cost of housing them while they pursue SSI eligibility.

"I think we have a genuine chance to help many of these individuals overcome serious challenges and transition to a better life," the Supervisor added.