County Hit for Big Bite by Soaring Relief Costs

Times Staff Writer

Citing unexpected cost increases in caring for the homeless and other poor, Los Angeles County's chief administrative officer said Monday that the supervisors should cut $37.5 million--and eliminate as many as 600 county jobs--from the $6.2-billion budget he has suggested they adopt.

Revising his earlier, slightly more optimistic financial forecast, James C. Hankla, who also functions as the county's chief budget officer, proposed reductions equal to about a 4% cut for most county departments.

He said these could result in as many as 600 county employees being laid off. But he added that he does not know precisely how many current employees might lose their jobs because many of the 600 positions, while previously authorized, have not been filled.

Calls for Firm Action

Hankla told the supervisors, on the first day of their budget deliberations, that firm action is necessary. He said the county's fiscal situation will worsen next year because he expects that it will lose $60 million in federal revenue-sharing funds.

The supervisors responded by repeating past criticisms of the state for not funding many of the programs for the poor that it orders the county to implement.

Hankla said that other alternatives are available to raising the $37.5 million to meet this year's projected red ink, but that the choices would provide only temporary solutions to the county's budget crunch.

Hankla said one alternative would use $37.7 million now earmarked for construction projects and upkeep of county-owned Marina del Rey. The other involves waiting for legislative action on a bill that could channel $42.4 million to the county in vehicle license fees.

Urges Rejection

Hankla urged rejection of the latter course because he said the bill's passage is uncertain. Even if it passes, he said, that money should be used to provide employee salary increases not included in his current budget plan. Using the construction and Marina del Rey funds, meanwhile, will merely postpone future reductions, he added.

Hankla told the supervisors that 60% of the projected $37.5-million deficit, or $21.7 million, can be blamed on an unexpected jump in welfare assistance, particularly for health and other benefit assistance to the homeless. In May, alone, Hankla said, general relief assistance to the poor hit a monthly record of $9 million.

The county currently has no choice under state law but to provide what is known as general relief to the county's poor, although there is little provided by either the state or federal government for such programs.

Hankla's first budget recommendation had included $83.2 million for welfare assistance based on caseload figures from last December. The budget forecast that the numbers would gradually drop because of an improving economy.

But figures showed that in April the number of people seeking welfare assistance was 36,543, up from 32,817 in December--an 11.4% increase.

Hankla said the unanticipated rise in assistance to the county's poor is only one of several factors leading to his cutback proposals.

Others include Gov. George Deukmejian's recent veto of $3.2 million for additional child-abuse services, which Hankla is recommending be restored by cutting other county programs; a $12.1-million drop in interest earnings due to lower interest rates, and a rise in assistance to families with dependent children.

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