The California Supreme Court has given the green light for Alameda County to restrict general assistance welfare payments to able-bodied adults to only three months within each year.
The court, in an order issued in San Francisco, declined to hear six welfare recipients' appeal of a September ruling by the Court of Appeal upholding the county's right to impose the limits.
Only one of the court's seven justices, Carlos Moreno, voted in favor of hearing the appeal.
The high court action means the Court of Appeal ruling is the final decision in the case.
Alameda County Social Services Agency Director Yolanda Baldovinos said the county is set to begin imposing the limit on Jan. 1 and that the first cut-offs will occur three months later on April 1.
Baldovinos said the cuts are "very, very difficult to do" but said, "The financial situation of the county is getting worse."
General assistance payments in Alameda County are currently a maximum of $336 per month for a single individual.
Baldovinos said about 10,000 people in the county are currently receiving the assistance and that the three-month limit will apply to about 70 to 75 percent of them.
Stephen Ronfeldt, a lawyer for the recipients who sued the county, said, "These people truly have no other recourse. I think this will mean homelessness for a large percentage of them, or they will be a burden on other people."
General assistance, considered the safety net of last resort, is given to indigent adults who have no other support and do not qualify for any other welfare programs. The assistance is required by the state and paid for by counties.
The limit was made possible by a state welfare law amendment passed by the Legislature in the 1990s that allows counties to restrict payments to an "employable individual" to as little as three months within any 12-month period.
The dispute in the case was how to define "employable." The county's definition includes anyone under the age of 64 who is mentally and physically healthy.