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Emergency Funds Let Families Make Themselves at Home

Times Staff Writer

Michelle Prange, 24, who has lived with her two sons in a Tustin motel room since March, went to the county Social Services office last week for the check that would get them into a studio apartment.

Prange said she had found a woman in Orange who agreed to rent the one-room, upstairs apartment to her for $500 a month--more than she could afford without county help.

“I found a lot of one-bedroom apartments that I could afford,” Prange said, “but they would only take one child.”

The state-mandated housing assistance program that will put Prange and her boys in a real apartment began Feb. 1 and already has been swamped with applications.

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To qualify, the applicant must be homeless or in immediate danger of becoming homeless, have at least one child and qualify for the county’s Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, said Robert A. Griffith, deputy director of the Social Services Agency.

A one-child, one-parent family receives $210 weekly for temporary shelter for a maximum of three weeks plus security and other deposits required for permanent housing, he said.

In its first three months, the emergency housing program paid a total of $633,000, to 2,500 families, according to the Orange County Social Service Agency.

About half the money comes from the federal government, about 48% from the state, and the rest from the county.

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The county must soon begin operating a second emergency aid program that requires it to give $100 to parents who say they are destitute.

The new “immediate needs” program was mandated last month by the state Supreme Court, which decided against the state Department of Social Services in an appeal of a lower court ruling requiring it to ease the eligibility rules for its emergency assistance program.

The program will probably go into effect next month throughout California and is intended to aid families that don’t have money for food or clothing, Griffiths said.

In Orange County, the program will further burden a caseload processing system that is already overburdened by the emergency housing program, Griffiths said. And like the housing program, he said, it will increase the potential for welfare fraud.

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“In both of programs the money must be issued the same day it is requested,” he said. “There is not the time to do more checking for incomplete data or suspicious data.”

It is too early to tell the exact extent of fraud in the housing program, Griffiths said, but he contends it is occurring.

“The intent is to provide shelter quickly to those who need it,” he said. “In reality, there is no way to monitor or check if the money is being used for shelter.”

The increased workload caused by the housing program and the additional work the immediate-needs program is expected to create has prompted Orange County and several other counties to seek more money from the state to hire more staff, Griffiths said.

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The state expects to spend $17.7 million on the housing program statewide through June, and $42.6 million in the 1988-89 fiscal year, said Ron Merrill of the state Department of Social Services.

Department officials project that the immediate-needs program will pay out at least $40 million annually.

For Patricia Vega, at least, the housing money is a godsend. Last week, the 31-year-old mother of five waited at the Social Services Agency in Santa Ana for the $1,450 check that will change her family’s life. Vega, who has lived in a one-room motel room in Santa Ana with thechildren, plans to rent a two-bedroom house.

Living in the tiny motel room, she said, was especially hard on her children, who range in age from 1 to 13.

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“They think I only had three children,” Vega said of the motel operators. “I had to sneak the two older ones in after school and I couldn’t let them go out.”


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