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Supervisor makes a stand on CalWorks

Posted: June 4, 2009 11:00 p.m.
Updated: June 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Los Angeles County would rather the federal government treat it like a separate state than risk losing $160 million in federal stimulus money, according to a county official.

L.A. County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe made an impassioned plea to state and federal lawmakers from the steps of Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday.

"If you continue the threatened cut of CalWorks, you will jeopardize these 10,000 jobs," he said. "If Sacramento wants to be part of the solution, then work with us and with Washington to get us a waiver."

The waiver Knabe is asking for would allow federal money to bypass the state and go directly to the county's welfare to work program, which is currently funded through the state's CalWorks program. CalWorks is a federal- and state-funded program that includes a welfare-to-work component and employs 10,000 of Los Angeles County's poorest residents, he said.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating CalWorks, which would result in L.A. County forfeiting $160 million in stimulus dollars. Currently, the state acts as a conduit to deliver federal funds for social programs to the county, said David Sommers, spokesman for Knabe.

Knabe's proposed waiver would allow federal funds to bypass the state and flow directly to Los Angeles County. In other words, it would allow Los Angeles County to act like its own state, said Sommers.

"We need the federal government to treat us like our own state," he said. "Treat us like the largest county in the country."

But the waiver Knabe is asking for doesn't exist, said Helen Berberian, Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich's public social services deputy.

"There is no waiver," Berberian said. "If the governor cuts CalWorks, we won't receive the federal stimulus money."

In his speech, Knabe took aim at Sacramento legislators and implored them to not cut off money vital to L.A. County.

"The problem is that Sacramento is once again about to screw up a good thing. Frankly, we need Sacramento to get the hell out of our way," Knabe said.

If the money is cut off, more than CalWorks is threatened, Sommers said. "Those 10,000 people will end up on general relief aid," he said.

Placing another 10,000 general-aid welfare recipients in an already taxed system would mean more cuts to other departments like libraries, Sommers said. It also removes 10,000 productive people from the workforce where they can contribute to the economy.

"These people earn paychecks that they spend in our communities," he said.

CalWorks benefits provides aid to 154,000 families in L.A. County, with the bulk of the aid going to pay rent, said Phil Ansell, director of program and policy for L.A. County Public and Social Services.

Currently 7,000 families receiving CalWorks are homeless. Eliminating the program would cause the number of homeless families in Los Angeles County to mushroom to more than 100,000, Ansell said.

Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell suggested other areas for the county to make cuts. "We need to curtail benefits to illegal immigrants," he said.

Bell said the county spends $425 million on food stamp and CalWorks benefits to illegal aliens and their children. He doesn't suggest cutting the CalWorks program outright, just eliminating benefits to illegal aliens.


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