Advocates warn state welfare cuts would increase homelessness in LA county

Gov. Jerry Brown

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California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference on May 14, 2012 in Los Angeles. Brown proposes $8.3 billion in cuts in California to help close a projected $16 billion budget shortfall.

Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers are trying to beat a Friday deadline to pass a balanced budget. But while the governor is pushing for deeper cuts in welfare, legislature Democrats won’t go along.

They say the cuts will push the poor deeper into poverty — and they say that’s especially true in Los Angeles County.

At a sidewalk cafe across the street from the Capitol, Mike Herald with the Western Center on Law and Poverty took a break in between committees to say why he’s lobbying harder than ever this year to stop cuts to welfare.

“We know exactly what’s going to happen,” Herald said. “We’re going to see huge numbers of people particularly in Los Angeles County fall into homelessness, lose their housing and get destabilized and get further away from getting off welfare than they ever have before.”

Herald says he knows that because Los Angeles County has tracked the results of state welfare cuts worth billions of dollars over the last five years. During that time, county officials saw a 110 percent increase in the number of homeless families enrolled in the Cal Works program.

Applications for work-to-welfare grants went up by 17 percent.

“You can see these little spikes in homelessness in their chart every time the state cuts the grant level," summed up Herald.

Gov. Brown wants to cut Cal Works grants for families after two years, not four. He also wants to cut back child-only grants that cover basic necessities for 500,000 children once their parents exhaust Cal Works benefits. Cutting those grants by 27 percent slices a little more than $100 a month from family budgets.

“It can make the difference between being able to stay housed and being on the streets” says Yolanda Arias with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “They may not be able to cover their rent if their benefits are reduced a hundred dollars.”

Arias, who heads up the East L.A. office for Legal Aid, say L.A. County doesn’t have much assistance left to give.

“There are already a lot of homeless families," she says, "and so the resources here in Los Angeles are already stretched. Any more pressure on that is just going to be a nightmare.”

Democratic leaders in the legislature say the state can save on welfare without hurting families. If the state suspends work requirements for parents with small children until the economy recovers, they’d save $300 million. It costs more to provide those parents with job training and childcare than it does to pay them cash grants.

Assembly Speaker John Perez says that right now, that’s the better option.

"It absolutely makes sense to train people for work when work is available," Perez said on Wednesday. “We have 2 million people out of work in California. We don’t have 2 million jobs.”

Democrats have come up with other cuts and changes to reach the same budget savings Gov. Brown wanted from his welfare cuts. But this week, the governor said he’ll only be satisfied if Democrats change welfare in a way that cuts costs and focuses “on getting people back to work.”

Homeless Families Table

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