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County Seeks Changes in Holding onto Homeless Mail

Federal rules require the county Department of Public Social Services to store mail that's addressed to welfare and food stamps recipients who are homeless.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan to seek changes to federal regulations that require the county to send notices to itself on behalf of homeless welfare and food stamps recipients.

It is estimated that the county's Department of Public Social Services sends more than one million pieces of mail to its own address on behalf of welfare recipients with nowhere to receive their mail.

The county stores the paperwork until addressees come to pick it up, said Supervisor Don Knabe, whose Fourth District includes Marina del Rey, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach.

"We must ensure that we are using our limited resources for the people and services who need them most," Knabe said in a statement. "Sending mail to ourselves clearly does not the meet the standard of using resources wisely. While the regulation may be well-intentioned, we need more flexibility at the federal level."

When homeless participants in the county welfare system do come to pick up their mail, it can result in long wait times, as employees search through thousands of pieces of paper.

Knabe and department staffers recommended setting up email addresses for those without a home address and sending notices electronically. Then participants could access it independently or have emails printed out during a visit to the DPSS office.

An attorney for the pro bono Public Counsel Law Center pointed out some issues with the plan, including privacy concerns. She asked that community legal advocates be included in developing an effective plan to deal with the problem.

Knabe agreed and the board voted its unanimous support.

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