SLC homeless in dire straits

By By John Hannon and By John Hannon

By John Hannon

The Utah Legislature has cut $1 million from the General Assistance fund, which is designed to help disabled homeless people with small monthly checks while they are waiting to be approved for Social Security benefits. The Legislature ensured that the fund will remain intact through 2009. In 2010, if lawmakers are unable to find another source to sustain the program, general assistance could undergo a huge overhaul to save money.

One of the proposed modifications entails shortening the length of time recipients are allowed to collect from the fund from 24 months to 10 months. Although it saves money, this change would also immediately end general assistance payments for anyone who has been receiving checks for more than 10 months. This would be disastrous for many who depend on the money for medications.

The general assistance payments are by no means large handouts. Single adults, for example, only get $261 a month. That money doesn’t go far, and many of the recipients use the money to put a dent in their payments for “transitional housing,” which many of them utilize.

Helen Thatcher, director of the program, said the funds are a lot of recipients’ only source of income because of numerous health issues and disabilities. If these types of modifications were made, there would undoubtedly be increased homelessness and a lack of stability among disabled citizens in low-income brackets. Even scarier, many of the people on general assistance only have these checks to help pay for their medications. These cuts will directly affect the health of those individuals.

There are 1,345 people receiving general assistance. Thatcher said if the length of time to collect was shortened, he fears that her staff will have a difficult time helping all of them get approved for disability before their time runs out. Right now, she said, she’s just happy they’re going to be able to make it through the winter with the fund intact.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” she said.

There’s no doubt we have to seriously scale back our budget. But in an area that so significantly affects the quality of life of Utahns, we cannot afford to penny pinch. We certainly can’t make everyone happy with our handling of the budget, but we can help save lives by cutting carefully.

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John Hannon