Welfare rights activists filed a lawsuit Thursday contending that San Diego County is illegally cutting off poor people’s general relief benefits without regard for their efforts to comply with welfare rules.

The suit, filed on behalf of the Welfare Rights Organization and a Chula Vista man who lost his benefits early this year, alleges that the county’s hearing and appeals process is unfair and that desperate people are being denied assistance on the basis of merely technical rules violations.

“From the initial decision to sanction you, through the hearing, you stand little chance under the current system of continuing to receive your benefits, because the rules are so unfair,” said Peter Liss, one of the Legal Aid Society attorneys who filed the suit in San Diego County Superior Court.

County welfare officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The suit says Blas Reyes, a 54-year-old unemployed dock worker from Chula Vista, lost his benefits for three months beginning in late January for failing to meet the job search requirements. Though his caseworker was able to confirm that he made the required job contacts, she said he had violated the rules by not leaving written applications with two employers, according to the suit.


Reyes later brought in statements from the employers indicating that he had applied, but the caseworker refused to reverse her decision, the suit says.

Legal Aid contends that the county Department of Social Services has cut off many recipients of general relief--the last-ditch program for people ineligible for other forms of public assistance--on similar technicalities. The suit says a recent appellate court decision involving Santa Clara County’s welfare program held that such penalties are unfair.