Prohibition of General Relief Eligibility for Convicted Drug Felons

DATE: March 23, 1999 
TO: Board of Supervisors 
SUBJECT: Legislative Policy: Prohibition of General Relief Eligibility for Convicted Drug Felons

SUMMARY: 
General Relief is a state mandated, 100% County funded cash assistance program primarily for able-bodied indigent adults. On February 17, 1998 (36), the Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance prohibiting the issuance of General Relief payments to individuals convicted of drug-related felonies committed after August 22, 1996. The Board's action was consistent with changes in federal and state law prohibiting eligibility for adults in federal and state programs for needy families with children as well as the federal Food Stamp program.

Recently, advocates for convicted drug felons who have been denied General Relief have argued that the language contained in state law does not permit the County to deny eligibility to convicted drug felons.

Although the state law affords the County broad discretion in setting the standards of aid for the General Relief Program, approval of the following recommendation will assure that state policy clearly expresses the intent to deny General Relief payments to all convicted drug felons.

RECOMMENDATION: 
Chairwoman Slater and Vice Chairwoman Jacob:

Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to pursue legislation to clarify existing law and remove any doubt that convicted drug felons are not eligible for General Relief payments.

BACKGROUND: 
In 1996, the federal welfare reform law (Public Law 104-193) denied eligibility for certain federal welfare programs for felons committing crimes which involve the possession, use or distribution of a controlled substance, after August 22, 1996. In 1997, California adopted similar restrictions in the CalWORKs and General Relief programs (AB 1542, AB 1008). On February 17, 1998(36), the Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance prohibiting the issuance of General Relief payments to individuals convicted of drug-related felonies committed after August 22, 1996.

Recently, persons who are convicted drug felons and have been denied General Relief payments have filed County Administrative Appeals questioning the County's decision to deny payments to convicted drug felons. Advocates for denied drug felons argue that the state law restriction applies only to General Relief applicants who have been denied CalWORKs eligibility.

Carried to its logical end, this argument would mean that convicted drug felons who have children to support cannot receive CalWORKs benefits but single able-bodied convicted drug felons could receive General Relief benefits. Surely, this could not have been the intent of the Legislature. Clarifying legislation is therefore needed to remove any ambiguity in the statutory language and to clearly express the state policy of prohibiting all convicted drug felons from receiving General Relief payments.

We urge your support for this legislation.

Respectfully submitted,

DIANNE JACOB
Vice Chairwoman, Second District

PAM SLATER
Chairwoman, Third District