OAKLAND, Calif., Nov. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a lawsuit filed today in Alameda County Superior Court, two girls, 14 and 19 years old, are asking the Court to call an immediate halt to California's illegal practice of forcing children to repay the old welfare debts of their parents or guardians.
Both girls were children when their guardians were supposedly overpaid CalWORKs cash benefits. One of them was not even born when most of the money was originally paid out. Yet despite the unfairness and illegality of holding children accountable for the debts of their parents or guardians, the California Department of Social Services (DSS) is now forcing the plaintiffs to repay the money.
The result is that the plaintiffs, like the estimated tens of thousands of people in the same position, are being driven further into poverty and robbed of the chance to become self-sufficient.
One of the petitioners, Irene L., 14, is being raised by her great-grandfather, Clarence Ayers, in Fresno County. Mr. Ayers gets $334 per month in CalWORKs aid to pay for Irene's needs. The county was threatening to cut this grant to repay almost $3,000 mistakenly paid to Irene's mother in 1996-1998. "I don't understand how the county can come after Irene for a debt that happened when she wasn't even born," said Ayers, who is also a party to the suit. "She is being punished for something she never did, and we already don't have enough money to pay for her basic living expenses."
The mother of petitioner Jamie Hartley, 19, was mistakenly given too much CalWORKs money about three years ago. Now DSS is seeking to pay itself back by garnishing Jamie's wages and her tax refund – money she needs to buy college textbooks and pay off debts. "I have no idea how I can get through school while paying my mother's debts," she said. "I never knew this problem existed until the state started coming after me."
"To saddle young people with the debts of previous generations is both illegal and immoral," said Antionette Dozier of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of the attorneys representing the petitioners. "These children are not responsible for these debts and, just when they are trying to overcome the disadvantages of growing up in poverty, it is wrong to demand it from them."
"Indentured servitude was abolished a long time ago," said Public Interest Law Project attorney Patti Prunhuber, who also represents the petitioners. "Our clients are two of potentially thousands of young people being targeted by DSS for debt collection. We want the court to tell DSS that this illegal practice has to stop right now."
The lawsuit asks the court to require DSS to throw out any regulations that allow state or county agencies to seek debt repayments from current or former CalWORKs children, and to force welfare agencies to issue reimbursements for overpayments illegally collected.
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