SF cuts GA welfare checks $66 for some as protesters howl FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 25 Apr 1998 22:28:50 -0700 (PDT)

FWD San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday, April 21, 1998 - PAGE ONE


    Jason B. Johnson, Edward Epstein, Chronicle Staff Writers
    Tuesday, April 21, 1998 - San Francisco Chronicle

       Amid howls from protesters, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors
yesterday approved sweeping changes to the city's general assistance
program that for the first time would cut benefits to some recipients.

       The changes, which represent a fundamental shift in the way the city
deals with its poor, have met with loud but limited opposition, showing
that even in liberal San Francisco, opinions about welfare are changing.

       The new system reflects the views of Mayor Willie Brown, who by hard
work rose to prominence from the segregated South. Brown says he is willing
to help those who want to work, but doesn't see why the county should pay
those who view general assistance as a way of life.

       The most controversial aspect of the reform plan 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
like the Personal Assisted Employment Program.

       Supporters say the new programs will move more of the city's 12,920
aid recipients into jobs or job-training programs.

       But welfare advocates argue that such a cut unfairly penalizes
people who are already going to workfare jobs in order to qualify for the

       About 50 protesters held signs and loudly chanted slogans,
disrupting the supervisors' regular weekly meeting.

       But the lawmakers brushed aside their objections, approving the cut
in aid by a 6-to-4 vote. Supervisors Jose Medina, Leland Yee, Tom Ammiano
and Sue Bierman voted against the reduction.

       ``We will not continue to support a status quo where people
participate in an endless cycle of failure,'' said Supervisor Mabel Teng
above a chorus of boos and hisses. As chairwoman of the Finance Committee,
Teng had strongly recommended passage of the measure.

       ``You can talk all you want, but I'm not changing my mind!''
Supervisor Michael Yaki shouted, pointing at the noisy crowd as a dozen
police officers stood by.

       ``Then we'll come to your house, sleep in your bed, eat your food!''
one angry woman screamed back at Yaki.

       While opposition to the plan has been vocal, many advocacy groups
for the poor and homeless have been unusually silent on the issue ever
since Mayor Willie Brown first proposed the GA changes last October.

       ``All the calls are from GA people,'' said Yaki, as if implying that
their protest didn't count.

       But some supervisors echoed the protesters, calling the plan too harsh.

       ``I am concerned that we are embarking on a race to the bottom,''
said Medina. ``San Francisco is preparing to jump on the welfare
slash-and-burn bandwagon.''

       Before the vote, Brown predicted that some supervisors would oppose
his reform plan.

       ``There will be members of the Board of Supervisors who won't vote
for that,'' Brown said. ``They have neither the courage nor the willingness
to make the hard decisions.''

       Brown has grown increasingly impatient with GA advocates. He met
with GA leaders a few times, but in recent months has shut them out.

       ``He won't meet with us, and he won't return our calls,'' said Steve
Williams of People Organized to Win Employment Rights, the main group
lobbying for GA recipients.

       ``The only way you're ever going to rid yourself of poverty is to
empower people to do for themselves,'' Brown said. ``For able-bodied
persons, their option should not be to perpetuate themselves on the dole.''

       Voters either don't seem to care about the changes, are convinced
that there are plenty of jobs for GA recipients, or want the city to crack
down on welfare.

       Some also believe that the city's higher GA benefit serves as a
magnet for the very poor.

       ``San Francisco touts itself as a city where people can come from
all over the world for HIV or AIDS treatment. But when a few people cross
the Bay Bridge to get benefits, we slam the door,'' said Williams.

       ``We should not allow other cities or counties to set our social
policy,'' he said.

       But Will Lightbourne, executive director of the Department of Human
Services, said the new program is still better than that of any other Bay
Area county.

       Compared with Los Angeles, Sacramento and neighboring counties, San
Francisco's aid program still is the most generous both in cash payments
and in the length of time a recipient is eligible for them.

       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.

       ``Our goal is to treat everyone involved in the program with
dignity,'' Lightbourne said.

       Under the new policy, the county's GA population would be divided
into three aid programs:

       -- PAES will provide employment-related services to its
participants. Those taking part in the program will continue to receive a
monthly grant of $345.

       -- CALM (Cash Assistance Linked to Medi-Cal) is only available to
indigent adults who receive Medi-Cal benefits.


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