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Judge Bars State’s Planned Welfare Cut : Budget: Ruling is expected to delay for months a move aimed at easing California’s financial woes. Wilson says he will appeal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a decision that state officials say will worsen the state’s financial condition, a San Francisco Superior Court on Friday barred Gov. Pete Wilson from making a 2.3% welfare reduction due to take place Sept. 1.

The decision by Judge Stuart Pollak affects 2.7 million poor Californians, who would have had their maximum monthly benefit for a family of three cut from $607 to $593, the fourth such reduction in four years.

Wilson lashed out at advocates for the poor, saying he would immediately appeal Pollak’s decision.

“Once again, these self-proclaimed, unelected welfare advocates are attempting to govern California from the courtroom,” Wilson said in a statement. “This constant, senseless litigation threatens important strides to end welfare as we know it.”

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Pollak, acting on a petition filed by the Western Center for Law & Poverty Inc., ruled that it was not legal for the state to cut benefits provided by the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program without proper federal authorization. The program is financed by the federal and state governments.

He noted that the Bush Administration had granted approval for the cuts, but that last month the authorization was invalidated by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate panel found that the federal government had failed to consider the impact the reductions would have on poor families.

Pollak said his preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the cuts Sept. 1 would remain in effect until the state is able to obtain new approval for the reductions from the Clinton Administration.

Pollak’s ruling is expected to delay at least for several months a reduction that was intended by the Legislature and Wilson to help the state’s budget.

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The cuts were expected to save the state about $67 million a year, or $5.6 million a month.

“These cuts would have been devastating for poor families,” said Claire Pastore, a Western Center lawyer. “We’ve got people who are already having to choose between food and medicine because of earlier cuts. For clients who have been cut and cut and cut this is a lot of money.”

Citing last month’s federal appellate court decision, Pastore filed the lawsuit against the state on behalf of Georgette and John Welch--both of whom are disabled as a result of job injuries--and their two young daughters.

She said the Welchs typify the kind of welfare families that would have been hurt by the reductions.

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The state, which has cut benefits for three years in a row and was attempting to reduce them for a fourth year, was required in 1992 to seek federal authorization for the reductions because they brought California welfare benefits below a federally established level.

The Bush Administration gave its approval not only for a 1.3% reduction that went into effect that year but for future cuts totaling 5%. In 1993, the state reduced benefits an additional 2.7%.

The appellate court held that the Bush Administration had violated federal law in granting the authorization because it had failed to consider the hardship the cuts would impose on some families.

It said families with disabled adults or the so-called child-only cases, in which only the children are eligible for aid, would be hit particularly hard because they could not work to make up for the loss.

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As a result, the court said they were “at increased risk of homelessness, inadequate nutrition and a variety of emotional and physical problems.”

The court did not order benefits restored and left room for the state to reapply for federal authorization. It made it clear, however, that the federal government would have to take the appellate court’s findings into consideration.

Wilson has said the state will reapply for the federal authorization, and in doing so, it will exempt families with disabled adults--about 10% of the welfare caseload--and certain child-only cases.

Pastore argued that the state could not legally impose new cuts until the federal government acts on Wilson’s application.

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