County, city losing out on aid for some homeless

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first_imgLos Angeles city and county are losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to aid the region’s mentally ill homeless, officials said Friday. The money involves federal disability payments homeless people aren’t receiving, as well as a tax on millionaires for mental health services that generates about $600 million a year statewide but only $89 million for the county. Councilman Bill Rosendahl said the city and county should be getting double to triple the $38 million designated for mentally ill homeless people provided annually by the Mental Health Services Act, or Proposition 63, which voters approved in 2004. “For the first time we’re hearing about hundreds of millions of dollars in SSI benefits that are sitting on the table in Washington that could be used for supportive, assisted therapeutic housing for people who have mental illnesses,” Rosendahl said. The steps to find additional funds for the homeless come as Southard’s department is facing a $50 million shortfall next fiscal year, which officials say will probably require some cuts in mental health services. Under Prop. 63 rules, funds from the tax can be spent only on services to help the mentally ill, and cannot be used to backfill budget shortfalls in county mental health agencies. At the hearing, Victor Geminiani, executive director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said he’d like to see the county set up a partnership with nonprofit organizations to help increase the rate of successful applications or appeals of homeless people eligible for federal disability benefits. The county currently provides 65,000 disabled and homeless people with a monthly general relief check of $221. In the last three years, an average of 4,199 of these people applied for SSI benefits while only 2,170 were approved on an application and 795 were approved at the hearing stage. By paying nonprofit organizations a contingency fee to help more people qualify for SSI benefits, Geminiani said thousands of homeless people could obtain at least $812 a month, which they could use for affordable housing. This would save the county $2,652 annually for each general relief recipient converted to SSI, freeing up additional funds to help the homeless. “This is a no-brainer,” Rosendahl said. “We are looking at hundreds of millions of additional dollars to deal with the homeless problem in a dramatic way. Everybody wins in a situation like this and the federal government will finally have to give L.A. its fair share of its tax dollars.” troy.anderson@dailynews.com (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinals“And out of Sacramento … if we can get that formula changed to truly reflect our needs we will have a huge victory and frankly be able to set up a real program that shows how we can eliminate homelessness.” County Department of Mental Health Director Marvin Southar said the 1 percent tax on incomes of more than $1 million has in the last two years generated $1 billion more than originally expected, further boosting the amount of funds the city and county could be getting. The Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness directed staff to explore what could be done to change the statewide formula on Friday. The panel also agreed to work with Southard and legal aid groups to help homeless people apply for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Supplemental Insurance Income benefits they qualify for but are not receiving. The moves to seek ways to obtain more funds to help the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people follow the release of a landmark three-year study in April that found the cost of solving the county’s homeless problem could cost $12 billion or more. In addition to the availability of some Proposition 63 funds for mentally ill homeless, Southard said some of the $2.8 billion targeted for housing in a $37 billion state bond package set to appear on the November ballot could be used for homeless housing. last_img read more