Union, Supervisor Square Off Over Use of Welfare Funds

Union leaders representing more than 1,000 Orange County social services eligibility workers are criticizing the county over the handling of $52 million in federal and state community and welfare funds.

The criticism drew a strong rebuke from county Supervisor John Moorlach, who said the public-sector union is being irresponsible in its criticism.

The two sides are expected to face off before Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting at a rally scheduled for 8 a.m.

“The County of Orange is wasting federal revenues to the tune of $52 million – funds that are supposed to benefit the neediest OC residents,” the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 36 asserted in a statement Monday.

The union claims that recipients of Cal-Works, food stamps, foster care, Welfare to Work and Medi-Cal “are being shortchanged” by the county, which they also allege keeps the eligibility department “severely understaffed.”

Their claims, which come as the union negotiates a new contract with county supervisors, drew a forceful rebuttal from Moorlach, who said the accusations are completely unfounded.

“There is no legitimacy to what they’re saying,” said Moorlach. “It’s disingenuous, and it shows a little lack of scholarship.”

Moorlach and county spokesman Howard Sutter said that the $52-million figure is split between 14 funds across three different county departments, of which social services is just one.

Sutter said Monday afternoon that county Budget Director Frank Kim was tracking down how the money flows to the various funds so he can respond to the union’s claims.

Until Kim and Auditor-Controller Jan Grimes gather more details, Sutter said, “they don’t know who those funds belong to, how much is in each, what restrictions may be on those funds,” among other questions.

Sutter added that the $52 million is the fund balance for “community and welfare services” as noted on page 158 of the county’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

The union meanwhile stands by its claims, questioning where the money is going.

“If they don’t spend it on us or the community or the services, what are they spending it on? Because they have to spend the money,” said Sandra Fox, president of AFSCME Local 2076, which represents the Orange County eligibility workers.

Fox’s claims are sure to draw a reaction from supervisors on Tuesday.

Moorlach said Monday that the county is allocating the funds in accordance with federal requirements.

“It isn’t fair to her members, nor is it fair to the board,” said Moorlach.

The financial report states the special fund accounts “for the Orange County Workforce Investment Act, Welfare-to-Work, Shelter Care Facilities, In Home Supportive Services, Housing and Community Development, Substance Abuse Treatment, and Other Community and Welfare Social Programs."

"Revenues consist primarily of Federal grants passed through the State, as well as State grants,” according to the report.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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