Bay Area Legal Aid Sues to Keep Employable Adults on the Dole

Alameda County, California is currently in court fighting a lawsuit filed by Bay Area Legal Aid, a grantee of the federally-funded Legal Services Corporation, that challenges the county’s decision to impose a six-month limit on General Assistance benefits for adults that are deemed employable.

General Assistance is a county program that provides a monthly stipend of $336 to indigent, non-homeless adults. The county adopted the time limit in January 2008 as part of an attempt to cut $10 million from the budget. Approximately 8,500 people receive the stipend. The time limit would have cut about 3,000 people from the program.

Bay Area Legal Aid, along with the Public Interest Law Project, filed suit in June to halt the cutbacks. They argue that the county incorrectly classified as employable recipients who could not realistically get a job because the county did not consider factors such as a person’s lack of education, job skills, literacy, or ability to speak English. An Alameda County Superior Judge issued a temporary restraining order that stopped the county from implementing the time-limit. In July, Judge David Hunter declared the program unlawful. Hunter ruled that while the General Assistance time limit was legal, the county needed to come up with a better definition for “employable.” Accepting Bay Area Legal Aid’s arguments, Hunter said that people who are physically and mentally fit for work are not necessarily “employable” if they do not have the requisite job or language skills.

In September, Alameda County filed an appeal of Judge Hunter’s decision. (See, “County Appeals Judge’s Ruling on GA Program,” Oakland Tribune, September 24, 2008)