Petitioners Alfredo Garcia and Lee Artrice Lee, with their Bay Area Legal Aid Attorney, Kristen Washburn.
Court Settlement Brings Big Changes to Marin County’s GA Program: Improved Access and Fairness
Two low-income Marin county residents, represented by Bay Area Legal Aid and the Public Interest Law Project, have reached a final settlement on the merits of the General Assistance (GA) case it brought against Marin County, Versis et al., v. County of Marin, et al., (Marin Superior Court, CIV 1100553).
Marin County will be making major improvements to its GA program, including:
- Anyone who goes to the County and asks for GA benefits is guaranteed a scheduled intake appointment within 7 business days (when this case was filed 2 ½ years ago, the wait was sometimes 5 months!)
- If a person is applying for Food Stamps (now CalFresh) and GA at the same time, they can have one combined eligibility screening for both programs. For eligible people, cash aid will be paid back to the date the person first appeared at the welfare office and spoke with a screener.
- GA applicants will start receiving benefits once they show they meet the very low income and resource limits, and are county residents – they will not have to jump through more hoops, such as obtaining doctors’ notes or doing 25 job searches. (Such activities may still be required to keep receiving benefits.)
- The County will follow California law when sanctioning GA recipients: people will only lose their benefits if the county establishes that the failure to follow program rules was either willful, or the third negligent failure.
- A GA recipient who is sanctioned will get a clear and specific notice of the reasons for the sanction and the right to appeal.
- GA applicants and recipients who appeal will have a timely hearing with due process protections, including the right to: see the evidence against them; question the worker making the decision; an interpreter, if needed; a decision based on the law and the evidence produced at hearing; and a tape-recorded hearing to create a record.
- The County will take into consideration – and accommodate – disabilities that affect a person’s ability to comply with program rules.
- PILP and Bay Legal will be able to get copies and provide input into any new forms, worker guidelines, and other documents the County creates to implement these changes.
- The Board of Supervisors will formally adopt revisions to the current GA rules implementing these changes, with notice given to PILP and Bay Legal.
- The court will retain jurisdiction for three years in case there are any problems with implementing the settlement agreement that cannot be resolved informally.
One of the petitioners, Lee Artrice Lee, described the old GA application process, “I’ve seen the way people suffer from having to wait just to get a chance to apply for GA. They had to camp out in front of the door. They had to be there in the early morning hours, just for the possibility of being seen. This new system will be much better for people who need to get help quickly.”
According to Kristen Washburn, co-counsel from Bay Area Legal Aid, “we are pleased that the County has agreed to make these significant improvements to its GA application process and eligibility procedures. They will result in a more streamlined and efficient program.” Judy Gold of the Public Interest Law Project explained, “Numerous studies show that providing this last resort aid promptly is both humane, and saves the county money by avoiding increased public health, emergency shelter and other expenditures associated with homelessness.”