Fixing the System for Those Most in Need

During these challenging economic times, governments across the U.S. are facing unprecedented challenges to their ability to deliver services.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in the nation’s largest county – Los Angeles County.  As the ultimate safety net for those most in need, we must examine our largest expenditures and determine how we can maximize scarce taxpayer resources.

Without question, the single largest growth in County expenditures is the General Relief (GR) program.  This is a state-mandated program that requires counties to provide assistance to indigent adults who do not qualify for other benefits.  As of December 2010, the County’s GR caseload consisted of 70 percent of the total statewide population receiving General Relief, making it more than 80 times larger than the GR caseload for Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties, combined.

On top of these already sizeable demands on our system, the economic crisis has increased the number of people needing our services, due to a foreclosure or job loss.  Many families are using County services for the first time, desperate for help.  We have seen our caseload soar: up 73 percent over the past three years, from 63,000 to 109,000, with a dramatic increase in costs to the County from $148 million to $219 million.

Behind these numbers lies another troubling statistic: nearly one-third of the entire GR caseload is not pursuing either employment or disability benefits, the two routes off of General Relief.  This cannot continue.

Currently, individuals on GR receive about $221 in cash and about $120 in food stamps per month.  For those seeking employment or disability benefits, nothing would change.  For those not pursuing either option and just receiving cash, we would substitute a $297 housing voucher. This motion is not meant to punish those who are currently on General Relief, but to put a stop to endless cash assistance for those who are not playing by the rules of the program.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles County also has an affordable housing issue. With some of the savings and reduced costs from the GR program that we expect to see given the experiences of other jurisdictions, we can help alleviate this housing problem.  The County would direct 50 percent of the cost savings into a newly established General Relief Anti-Homelessness Account, while the additional 50 percent would go into the County’s General Fund.

The County has historically worked proactively to get out in front of fiscal problems.  By restructuring the General Relief program, we have an opportunity to do just that.  The time to act is now, before further challenges brought forth by the state and the federal budget situation force decisions that would not benefit anyone, let alone the people most in need.