(CN) – Alameda County can cut off general assistance welfare payments after six months for unemployed people who are capable of working, a California appeals court ruled.
The case hinges on a statutory amendment allowing counties to curb certain welfare benefits in order to lighten the financial burden of the state-mandated program.
One of these restrictions allows a county to set a time limit on benefits for “employable individuals.”
Alameda County interpreted “employable” as anyone under 65 who has no physical, mental or emotional impairment that keeps him or her from working.
When a number of welfare recipients challenged the county’s time limit, the trial court asked the county to adopt a narrower view of “employable individual.” It told the county to consider “practical employability factors,” such as education, skills, experience and the current labor market.
But the law does not support such a “restrictive view” of employable people, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled.
“Neither the state of the economy nor discomfort with the statute’s consequences permits us to eviscerate [the law] by defining ’employable individual’ so narrowly that few … recipients would actually have their benefits discontinued as a result of the time limitation,” Presiding Justice McGuiness wrote.
The court said the county “acted within its discretion” in setting a six-month time limit on benefits for “able-bodied and mentally competent recipients, without regard to whether they may face practical barriers to employment.”
Justice Pollak disagreed in a 19-page dissent.
“In upholding the county’s artificial definition of employability, defensible only as a means of reducing the county’s welfare costs, the majority approves a definition that is at odds with the entire scheme of [general assistance] and with innumerable decisions of the courts of this state,” Pollak wrote.