Press ReleasesApril 08, 2014
Los Angeles County Settles Class Action Lawsuit and Agrees to Comprehensive Reforms to General Relief Program
LOS ANGELES -- A coalition of advocates for Los Angeles’s most vulnerable communities announced a settlement agreement with the County of Los Angeles that will lead to major changes to the General Relief program, pending court approval.
On April 8, 2014, Public Counsel, Inner City Law Center, and Gary Blasi, Professor Emeritus at UCLA School of Law, together with pro bono counsel Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed the complaint and announced the settlement of the class action lawsuit titled Guillory, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, to resolve claims involving tens of thousands of people who were deprived of General Relief benefits in violation of state law and Constitutional guarantees of due process. The settlement agreement follows 15 months of intensive negotiations with Los Angeles County and has been approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Click here to view the complaint in Guillory et al. v. Los Angeles County (pdf).
General Relief is a county-administered program mandated by state law. A critical program for people in extreme need, General Relief provides up to $221 a month in cash aid—an amount that has not increased in thirty years—to help individuals secure resources for basic survival. A majority of General Relief recipients are homeless and the aid pays for things they desperately need such as food, medicine or resources for at least a few nights of shelter during the month. Approximately 100,000 people in Los Angeles County participate in the program.
If approved by the court, the settlement agreement will:
• Establish a $7.9 million settlement fund to make payments to people whose General Relief benefits were improperly limited or cut off after January 1, 2010. Eligible individuals will receive payments on a sliding scale based on the type of sanction received and the number of times he or she was improperly sanctioned or terminated from the program.
• Modernize how participants receive notices about the status of their benefits. Homeless residents repeatedly reported that they were sanctioned when they had not received notices alerting them of program requirements or why their benefits were being terminated.
• As required by law, ensure that applicants are not sanctioned, and participants are not terminated or sanctioned within the first three months of receiving benefits, based on employment-related requirements.
• Eliminate the so-called “shared housing deduction,” which currently reduces the incentive to seek stable housing in overcrowded Los Angeles because it reduces the amount of aid to participants who share “housing with one or more unrelated persons.”
• Create safeguards to ensure fair and neutral administrative hearings when a participant is charged with having failed to meet program requirements relating to job training or searching for employment.
“Without the basic level of security provided by General Relief cash aid, extremely vulnerable Angelenos lose the opportunity to get back on their feet. General Relief recipients deserve a chance to fully participate in a program that promises help towards obtaining employment and self-sufficiency,” said Public Counsel Staff Attorney Erin Darling.
“This settlement addresses systemic problems with the General Relief Program and represents the first significant and impactful reform of the program in decades,” said Professor Blasi, a long-time advocate of General Relief reform.
Lead counsel Daniel Grunfeld, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, commended the County for its willingness to engage in settlement discussions before litigation was filed. “Both sides negotiated with the goal of making the system better and ensuring that General Relief benefits are available to those who need them. We accomplished that objective and are hopeful that the Los Angeles Superior Court will approve the settlement, so that the reforms can be implemented right away.”
Amos Hartston, Chief Counsel and Director of Legal Services at Inner City Law Center, a legal services organization located on Skid Row, notes “the elimination of the ‘shared housing deduction’ is critical: It will help combat homelessness because people will be more likely to pool their resources to get a roof over their heads.”
Aleah Guillory, a 24-year-old woman who had been homeless since she was kicked out of her home at age 16 when her parents separated, states that she lost her General Relief benefits several times because she did not receive notices. “When I wasn’t on General Relief, I was homeless, living on the streets, sometimes staying with people, and panhandling by the freeway,” she said.
Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Public Counsel delivers justice, hope and opportunity to children, families, immigrants, veterans, nonprofits and small businesses through one-on-one legal help, policy and legislation, and impact litigation in nine legal practice areas.
Morgan Lewis attorneys are dedicated to committing their time and resources to a diverse and innovative pro bono practice. During the most recent fiscal year, Morgan Lewis attorneys contributed more than 71,000 hours to pro bono representations. Morgan Lewis is a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. For more information about Morgan Lewis’s pro bono practice, please contact Amanda D. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inner City Law Center (ICLC) is a nonprofit law firm focused on housing, homelessness, and veterans issues. As the only full-time provider of legal services on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, ICLC's staff of 42, including 22 attorneys, provides high-quality legal representation for people who have nowhere else to turn. ICLC fights for justice for low-income individuals, working poor families, immigrants, people who are homeless or disabled, and veterans.