welfare not jail, says LA church group as GR is cut FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 28 May 1998 20:23:55 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  May 27, 1998 - Antelope Valley Press, Palmdale, California, USA


     By Michael Bitton - Valley Press Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - Needy people whose welfare benefits dry up at the end of this
year may land in the Twin Towers Jail, asserted representatives from
several church groups that gathered Tuesday at the entrance to the downtown

"July will begin the last five months of people on General Relief," said
Rev. William Monroe Campbell, an outreach coordinator for Clergy and Laity
United for Economic Justice.

"There was no money in the sheriff's budget to open this jail after it was
built," he said, speaking louder as he continued. "This jail was opened
with general fund money. When it came to funding General Relief (welfare
for single adults) the Board of Supervisors cut it to five out of 12
months!" he shouted. "That's a shame! That's a sin! And it's morally

Campbell said he worked at an apartment building on Skid Row in downtown
Los Angeles, where most if not all the residents were on General Relief. An
estimated 48,000 people countywide are on General Relief, he said.

"They get $212 a month plus food stamps," Campbell said. Residents in the
building paid about $60 a month for their rooms.

"If they don't have the $212, how are they going to pay rent?" he asked.
"It will cause them to end up here," he said, motioning to the jail towers
behind him. "We are here to tell the Board of Supervisors it can not do
that. They must rescind their decision."

Other leaders openly questioned the morality of the decision to reduce
welfare benefits for the needy.

"The moral test of a government is how it treats those living in the shadow
of life," said George Regas of Mobilization for the Human Family. "The
issue of poor people will not be marginalized. We want to be a voice for
the voiceless."

To that end, a group of religious organizations has drawn up a call to
action for the Board of Supervisors.

The pagelong document states churches will help take care of the needy but
stresses that the county is in no way off the hook.

"Our government leaders must be guided by a sense of morality and ethics,"
the statement reads. "When policies are based solely on economics, such as
the elimination of benefits, the ensuing reality of poverty can lead to
desperate, sometimes criminal actions."

The statement further asks that the General Relief program be reinstated as
a 12-month-per-year program until support services for those on assistance
are in place to help them become self sufficient.

It also criticizes the county's "piecemeal implementation" of CalWorks, the
state's new welfare program, saying it is creating chaos for recipients as
well as for workers in the Department of Public Social Services, which
oversees the program.

The statement is also critical of the county's plan to parcel out portions
of the work involved in welfare reform. Experience in other states shows
such subcontracting results in a decline in service for recipients, and in
loss of jobs for experienced welfare workers, according to the document.

"At every level of government are people who would turn over to the private
sector responsibility for the poorest of the poor," said Rev. Kathy
Cooper-Ledesma, Southern California director for the California Council of
Churches. "We will continue to be part of the solution."

Father Pedro Villarroya of the St. Vincent De Paul Society represented
Catholic congregations at Tuesday's meeting.

"Government is one of the worst offenders of creating poverty," Villarroya
said. "Churches will do their part. But the poor are poor because of the
rich. We created the poor by creating more rich.

"In the name of faith we ask the government: Don't even dare to be unjust
to our poor people."

Organizers of the meeting said the proclamation will be delivered to the
Board of Supervisors, but they did not know when.

If the board does not rescind its General Relief decision and restore
funds, they can expect to see starvation, death and incarceration, said
Pete White of the Los Angeles Commission to end Hunger and Homelessness.

"Alameda County did this, and that's exactly what they saw," White said.
"They cut benefits from 12 months in any given year to three months in any
given year."

Rev. Campbell said he will attend a Thursday meeting sponsored by the Board
of Supervisors at the county arboretum, where Supervisor Michael D.
Antonovich is expected to speak. The 5th District supervisor plans to ask
churches to adopt needy people from their neighborhoods as part of welfare

"We are committed to doing our share," Campbell said, "but not to let
government abdicate its responsibility. We will be there to hear what they
have to say, but these are complex issues that can not be left to the
churches alone."


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