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LA Poor Sue Over Hurdles to Meager Benefits

Disabled and homeless groups sued Los Angeles County claiming it denies $221 a month in financial assistance to its most vulnerable residents and makes the application process too difficult for those with mental illnesses.

This week, the groups Housing Works, Los Angeles Catholic Worker and Independent Living Center of California filed a federal complaint against the county and the Department of Public Social Services for unlawful discrimination against people with mental disabilities.

Timothy Laraway, 57, is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit and says he knows firsthand how difficult it can be to obtain the assistance.
He says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder and completed the application process for GR benefits with assistance from the Legal Aid Foundation of LA.
He was approved for benefits in August 2014, 16 months after he first applied, but says he was not compensated for that period.
“I had to go to DPSS [Department of Public Social Services] three times to get GR,” Laraway said in a statement.

“I even told the person at the window that I needed help, but they just wouldn’t give it to me.”

The groups say the county places an unnecessary burden on mentally disabled applicants by making them show up in person to apply.
The $221 a month in assistance is a “last resort” for many applicants who do not qualify for other cash-aid programs, the groups say. But almost half the people who receive the financial assistance are homeless, and a large proportion have mental or developmental disabilities.
“Applicants typically must complete a long application packet and spend long hours, if not several days, in loud, crowded, and chaotic DPSS offices. For persons with serious mental disabilities such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, the application process is a daunting and insurmountable barrier to securing GR benefits,” the Nov. 18 lawsuit states.

In addition to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Disability Rights Legal Center, and the law firm Morrison & Foerster are representing the plaintiffs.

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