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Governor’s Proposal Gets Negative Reaction : Aid: Welfare recipients and advocacy groups predict that cuts in benefits would increase hunger, homelessness.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reacting with anger and despair, welfare recipients and advocacy groups predicted Monday that Gov. Pete Wilson’s proposed initiative to cut aid payments to families with children would only serve to increase hunger and homelessness among California’s poor.

With housing costs already taking most of each month’s welfare payment, the groups said, even the 10% cut proposed for all recipients would force more families onto the streets. The proposal also calls for an additional 15% cut for the able-bodied after six months.

“I wouldn’t be able to live anywhere. We’re barely living on what we get now,” said Sendre James, a disabled Vietnam veteran who supports his son and two foster children in Los Angeles on $535 a month. James has been unable to receive any aid for the foster children.

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Monica Valease Hamilton, a Los Angeles mother of three who has been living on welfare since a son was born three years ago with heart problems, said that if payments are reduced many families will cut back on food to try to keep their homes. Hungry children, she warned, often resort to desperate acts.

“If you’ve got a child whose mother can’t feed him, that child’s going to be stealing somebody’s purse because that child’s got to eat. The whole situation is just frightening. I pray to God it’s not my child who has to resort to stealing,” she said.

Advocacy groups said Wilson’s proposals seemed to be based on his belief in the old myths that welfare recipients are basically lazy, able-bodied adults who have chosen existence on the public dole as a lifetime occupation. Casey McKeever, directing attorney for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the state’s own statistics dispute those contentions, showing that most recipients have one or two children and stay on welfare less than two years.

“(Wilson) seems to blame poverty on welfare, and I think the reality is that welfare is the reflection of poverty,” he said.

Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Assn., said Wilson’s attack on welfare recipients has served to mask what he considers the real cause of many of government’s fiscal woes--namely, tax loopholes that have been granted large corporations and the wealthy.

Because of the way government is structured, he said, special interests can be granted a tax loophole through a simple majority vote of the Legislature, but tax reformers who want to close those loopholes need a two-thirds vote.

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“It seems that from a fiscal standpoint, (Wilson) is trying to lay the burden of balancing the state budget on the backs of the very poor, and that’s not really where it belongs,” Goldberg said.

Hamilton, who acknowledged that the welfare system needs reform, said Wilson seems to be accepting a stereotypical view of poor people rather than trying to understand their plight.

“Poverty is 10 degrees below hell,” said Hamilton, who supports her family on a $788 monthly welfare payment. “If he’s been there, he can relate. But if he hasn’t been there, how can he dictate? He wants to sit up there and cut my check again, and I’m not even surviving on what I’ve got.”

Callie Hutchison, executive director of the California Homeless and Housing Coalition, criticized the governor’s proposal to limit the amount of welfare new residents can receive, noting that there is no “concrete evidence” that large numbers of people were moving to California because of the welfare benefits.

“People come for jobs and the much-touted California lifestyle,” she said. “They are attracted by their dreams for a better life, not how to live better in poverty.”

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