The California Supreme Court gave a green light today for Alameda County to restrict general assistance welfare payments to able-bodied adults to only three months within each year.

The court, in an order issued in San Francisco, declined to hear six welfare recipients’ appeal of a September ruling by the Court of Appeal upholding the county’s right to impose the limits.

Only one of the court’s seven justices, Carlos Moreno, voted in favor of hearing the appeal.
The high court action means the Court of Appeal ruling is the final decision in the case.

Alameda County Social Services Agency Director Yolanda Baldovinos said the county is set to begin imposing the limit on Jan. 1 and that the first cut-offs will occur three months later on April 1.

Baldovinos said the cuts are “very, very difficult to do” but said, “The financial situation of the county is getting worse.”

General assistance payments in Alameda County are currently a maximum of $336 per month for a single individual.

Baldovinos said about 10,000 people in the county are currently receiving the assistance and that the three-month limit will apply to about 70 to 75 percent of them.

Stephen Ronfeldt, a lawyer for the recipients who sued the county, said, “These people truly have no other recourse. I think this will mean homelessness for a large percentage of them, or they will be a burden on other people.”

General assistance, considered the safety net of last resort, is given to indigent adults who have no other support and do not qualify for any other welfare programs. The assistance is required by the state and paid for by counties.

The limit was made possible by a state welfare law amendment passed by the Legislature in the 1990s that allows counties to restrict payments to an “employable individual” to as little as three months within any 12-month period.

The dispute in the case was how to define “employable.” The county’s definition includes anyone under the age of 64 who is mentally and physically healthy.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that the definition should include only people who have a real chance of finding a job and who do not face barriers such as lack of skills or lack of language fluency.

Ronfeldt said the plaintiffs also disputed the county’s decision to classify as employable people with a limited disability who can work if given accommodations. He said many in that category do not have a realistic chance of finding work.

At the time the lawsuit was filed in 2008, the county was planning to limit payments to any one individual to six months per year, but the restriction was put on hold while the lawsuit proceeded.

Baldovinos said the Board of Supervisors decided this year to change the limit beginning on Jan. 1 to three months, the shortest time period allowed by the law, because of the county’s budget problems.

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