The Income Support practice provides legal and legislative advocacy to families facing problems with their CalWORKs or General Assistance. Income Support provides a holistic and comprehensive approach to their situation and uses its experience with individual families to identify systematic solutions. Staff attorneys, volunteer attorneys, and law students interview and assess, gather relevant documents, data, and facts, research applicable law, prepare for hearings and appeals, negotiate with the county agency, and appear at administrative hearings and Superior Court.
CalWORKS is California’s welfare program that provides monthly grants to needy families. However, some program features entirely deny people benefits, often erroneously. Three such features are employment sanctions, time limits, and child exclusion.
Employment Sanctions: If a county welfare agency feels that an adult does not fulfill these requirements, the family is “sanctioned”, and the adults are removed from the grant, lowering the benefits to the family. Sanctions are often erroneously imposed on adults who are disabled, who do not speak English, who did not receive information from the agency, or whose educational activities should have satisfied work requirements. During the calendar quarter from January through March of 2008, the period for which statistics are most recently available, there were 1,367 families in Alameda County on sanction status.
Time Limits: CalWORKs limits adults to five years of assistance, after which time the adults are removed from the grant, lowering the benefits to the family. The welfare agency frequently miscounts the five years, or erroneously applies the limit to adults that are disabled. In July 2007, the most recent month for which statistics are available, 2,049 families had “timed out” in Alameda County.
Child Exclusion:, children who are born after their families go on assistance are denied aid under CalWORKs’ “Maximum Family Grant Rule.” In some cases, as older children leave the household, all the children in the household are excluded. There are many exceptions to this rule that are frequently missed. The rule is supposed to discourage poor people from having additional children, but studies have failed to prove its effectiveness. In June of 2005, the Alameda County Social Services Agency estimated that there were 3,370 excluded children in the County.
The imposition of employment sanctions, time limits, and child exclusion is extremely serious: they deny aid entirely. The imposition of these penalties can cause an immediate financial crisis that destabilizes families’ employability, housing, and basic living circumstances. It contributes to illness, hunger, failure in school, and homelessness.
General Assistance is the last line of defense against destitution. Income Support provides legal assistance to people who are not eligible for any other welfare program, most of whom are single individuals or couples without children. Income Support represents individuals that the Alameda County Social Services Agency has considered “employable,” many of whom are incorrectly classified, and are in fact unable to work. It advocates for effective employment services for such people, and against erroneous discontinuance of assistance. In January 2008, Alameda County proposed to limit benefits to six months out of the year for people the County deemed “employable,” which would have cut 6,000 poor people off aid. People who can work may need more than six months to train for and locate jobs. The last time a time limit was attempted in Alameda County, it led to an increase in hunger, homeless, and crime. Through legislative and legal advocacy, Income Support led a coalition of advocates to successfully block the proposed six-month time limit. It is now one of the members of a County-convened task force looking at redesigning the General Assistance program.