POWER protests welfare cuts SF officials proposed FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 17 Apr 1998 11:18:11 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.sfgate.com:80/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=3D/chronicle/archive/1998/=
04/16/
MN62681.DTL
=46WD  San Francisco Chronicle  Page A17 Thursday, April 16, 1998

     "It just doesn't make sense to cut people's aid
     and push them into homelessness." -- Ilana Berger of
     People Organized to Win Employment Rights


S.F. SUPERVISORS PANEL PROPOSES WELFARE CUT

By Jason B. Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer


       As an enraged crowd of protesters hurled insults and thinly veiled
threats, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Finance Committee approved
a plan yesterday that for the first time would cut General Assistance
benefits to some city recipients.

       More than 50 people carrying signs and wearing orange road crew
vests brought the two-hour hearing on welfare reform to a halt several
times as they shouted at officials, sang and chanted slogans.

       Half a dozen uniformed police officers were stationed outside the
tense hearing room at the Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Avenue.

       ``You better beef up security around here,'' one man said, staring
at committee chairwoman Mabel Teng.
       ``You better prepare to spend the rest of your lives behind secured
gates.''

       Protest organizers distanced themselves from the threats, saying
they in no way advocate violence. But angry emotions erupted from all those
who addressed the committee.

       ``There are enough homeless people on the streets of San Francisco
already!'' shouted welfare advocate Steve Williams.

       But members of the committee, who were at first flustered by the
commotion, said threats would not prevent them from making much-needed
changes to the city's general assistance program.

       ``I don't make public policy decisions based on intimidation,''
Supervisor Barbara Kaufman said, glaring at the audience. Last February,
the committee postponed voting on the changes in the face of similar
opposition.

       ``That (outburst) reflects the mentality and the anger of the people
we're dealing with,'' Teng said after the hearing. ``This is a good
package. This is the first time that we're providing job training,
treatment on demand, housing assistance and transportation to people who
are on General Assistance.''

       Officials said the new programs are designed to move more of the
city's 13,000 aid recipients into jobs or into job-training programs.

       The county spent $46.4 million in General Assistance payments in the
1997-98 fiscal year. The proposal for the next fiscal year calls for
spending $45.8 million, with $6 million more earmarked for the new job
training and support programs.

       The proposal that drew the greatest outrage from protesters
yesterday is a move to cut the monthly grant from $345 to $279 for a single
adult who is fit to work --if that person refuses to take part in various
job-training programs.

       Welfare advocates say such a cut penalizes people who are already
going to workfare jobs in order to qualify for the assistance.

       The committee approved 16 amendments designed to allay concerns
voiced by the protesters, but they were not enough.

       ``There's been no change. There's been no dialogue,'' said Ilana
Berger of People Organized to Win Employment Rights. ``It just doesn't make
sense to cut people's aid and push them into homelessness.''

       Another speaker, Adrien Lamothe, 37, a software engineer, said he
has been unable to find a job even though he is highly skilled.

       ``I have been unemployed about 10 months. I'm on G.A. as kind of a
last resort,'' Lamothe said. ``I need to get retraining. It's a very
competitive market.''

       But Will Lightbourne, executive director of the Department of Human
Services, said the new program would not penalize those like Lamothe who
are unable to find work.

       ``If people cooperate fully with the program, they don't get
disadvantaged,'' Lightbourne said.

       That statement drew howls of laughter from the crowd.

       Protesters promised to continue fighting the changes, which will be
put before the full Board of Supervisors on Monday.

       If approved, the new assistance program could be in place as early
as mid- to late July, Human Services officials said.

       ``There are still a lot of details to be worked out,'' said
Supervisor Gavin Newsom, who has met previously with several advocates for
general assistance. ``I'm confidant that we can make this work.''

       =A91998 San Francisco Chronicle  Page A17

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