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Demand for welfare services soars

Welfare benefits in California could be cut to levels of seven or eight years ago, under at least one state budget proposal.

Agencies that serve some of society's most vulnerable people are slashing staff and canceling services in anticipation of state budget cuts to welfare programs.

"It's like we're turning back the clock on 10 years of effective social policy," said Cathy Senderling, senior legislative advocate for the California Welfare Directors Association.

In the face of a woeful economy, soaring caseloads and state budget cuts that could total billions of dollars, administrators of programs that include CalWORKs, Medi-Cal and food stamps are on the verge of panic.

"Everyone is extremely concerned," said Bruce Wagstaff, director of the Department of Human Assistance in Sacramento County. "At the same time we're talking about these cuts, we're seeing a huge demand. It's going up every day. So any further cuts are going to seriously affect our ability to help these people. The prospect is pretty disturbing."

If the proposed cuts pass, welfare recipients could see their benefits drop by 10 percent. A family of three would see their monthly check reduced to about $620 – as much as they would have received in 2000 or 2001 – plus about $250 in food stamps. Social Security benefits for needy elderly and disabled people would be cut. Benefits would be cut to virtually all other welfare programs, as well.

Perhaps the most tangible effect of the cuts would be staffing reductions that could erode the ability to help welfare recipients find jobs and delay applications being processed for food stamps and other aid, officials said.

"We're not talking about paper clips and furniture," said Wagstaff. "We're talking about the ability to respond to clients who are in crisis."

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.

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