As the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors debate how to root out fraud from within its General Relief welfare program, critics say the move - which would save $850,000 a year - doesn't do enough to curb the $275 million spent on the program last fiscal year.
In the meantime, non-profit organizations work to achieve what welfare often can't: Bringing people to self-sufficiency through aid, life skills training, and relationships.
The report found that only one percent of first-time applicants of the emergency relief program fraudulently claimed to be homeless while actually living with family, friends, or outside the county. The Board authorized the investigation last April after watching the program balloon from $148 million in 2006 to $275 million, with an 85 percent increase in caseload.
"At the end of the day, our intent is not to hurt anyone," Supervisor Don Knabe told the LA Times about the welfare crackdown. "Our intent is to have the resources available for those that are truly in need."
But critics believe that to help those in need and to make a substantial change in the ballooning cost of welfare, the county must look at the institution of welfare itself.
"What you have is a spiral," said Tony Bell, Press Deputy for LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich (R). He said the more people join the welfare program, "the more burden you put on the county taxpayer, the more you create an unsustainable system that will ultimately collapse."
This past year, $927 billion was spent on welfare programs in the United States. California, the largest welfare state with 1.5 million recipients, spent about $46 billion in 2009.
Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that welfare hurts the recipients as well: "[Welfare] generates a climate of dependence, and thereby harms. It makes people inter-generationally less capable of prospering in this society... by discouraging marriage and rewarding idleness instead of work."
The government gives a larger amount of assistance to single mothers, discouraging many couples from getting married so that they can receive more aid. Rector points out that this leads to broken families that generates a cycle of poverty.
Rector believes the larger solution comes from placing personal responsibility on those receiving aid: "First, we need to stop the unlimited growth of spending. Second, we must put in work requirements.... Third, we must make it marriage-friendly."
Non-profits in LA County are doing their own part in helping those caught in welfare get on their own two feet. In Lancaster, Calif., faith-based Grace Resources strives to provide for the poor by providing groceries, hot meals, shelter, and life-skills training classes.
"We teach them how to get along, common sense, and boundaries," said Executive Director Steve Baker, who founded the organization 21 years ago. "We get these third-generation folks [on welfare], and those tools do not exist."
While most government aid is given to anyone who meets the income requirements, Grace Resources tries to teach responsibility with some simple rules.
Clients may pick up free groceries only after sitting through an orientation that describes who pays for the food aid they receive, and then they can come back once a month to get more. Grace Resources hands out groceries at 10 a.m. and clients are encouraged to come on time, or else they will receive fewer groceries. Their shelter, nicknamed the "INN between" allows temporary residents to sleep there 15 nights out of the month.
And over the years, Baker has seen clients become self-sufficient: "We have [clients] over the years who have become donors," said Baker. "We'll have people who will come back [and say] 'We were homeless, but now we live in Bakersfield, we both have jobs, and have a house,' then hand me a check for a thousand dollars."
For Baker, the most important part of Grace Resources is the personal relationships he develops with the clients: "That's what makes us so successful, we go the extra mile to be empathetic, not just sympathetic."