A state appeals court in San Francisco has overturned an Alameda County welfare rule that cut off housing funds to recipients whose landlords failed to fill out forms.
A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that the policy reducing general assistance payments from $336 to $105 per month was illegal and inhumane.
“The conditions it imposes for obtaining housing assistance are unreasonable, if not intolerable,” Justice Paul Haerle wrote.
The policy was slated to go into effect in 2009, but was blocked that year by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, acting on a lawsuit filed by two general assistance recipients.
Thursday’s decision upholds the trial judge’s ruling.
General assistance is a last-resort, state-mandated welfare program for indigent adults who are not covered by any other program and have no other support. It is paid for by counties.
In Alameda County, the maximum payment to a single individual is $336 per month, including a $191 allowance for housing. In most cases, the county pays the housing allowance directly to landlords.
Under the now-overturned policy, landlords were required to fill out forms giving their taxpayer identification number or Social Security number. The recipients’ lawsuit contended that many landlords are unable or unwilling to provide the personal information.
If a landlord failed to complete the forms, the county would not pay the rent and would also deduct $191 from the recipient’s welfare check.
Including another $40 deduction for county medical care, that reduction would leave recipients with $105 per month to live on. Those who lost their housing could then apply for homeless shelter beds or, if no beds were available, for housing assistance payments.
But the result is that a recipient “must become homeless before he can obtain any housing assistance at all,” the court said.
The appeals panel said the policy violated a state law that requires general assistance programs to provide appropriate aid “promptly and humanely” and in a way that encourages self-respect.
Deputy Alameda County Counsel Jannie Wong said the county is considering a further appeal to the California Supreme Court, but has not yet decided whether to do so.
Steven Weiss, a Bay Area Legal Aid attorney who represented the plaintiffs, said, “We’re happy with the ruling. It will be a big help to a lot of low-income people in Alameda County.”
The policy “made it harder for people who already have a hard time to get housing,” Weiss said.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News