ACLU Demands the County of San Diego End Suspicionless Searches of CalWORKs Applicants’ Homes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 27, 2018
CONTACT:
Edward Sifuentes
[email protected]

(619) 501-3408

ACLU Demands the County of San Diego End Suspicionless Searches of CalWORKs Applicants’ Homes  

SAN DIEGO – The ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and co-counsel Fish & Richardson P.C. filed a lawsuit yesterday against the County of San Diego demanding it dismantle a program that requires suspicionless searches of CalWORKs applicants’ homes.

Under the county’s Project 100% (P100), virtually everyone applying for CalWORKs, the state’s public assistance program designed to help families with children transition to the workforce, is subjected to unannounced, unjust and unnecessary home searches by law enforcement officers. Even when there is no reason to suspect an applicant’s wrongdoing, the county requires intrusive and unwarranted searches of the family household.

The program, which was implemented in 1997, is the only one of its kind in the state. In fact, Los Angeles County abandoned a program modeled after P100 in 2009 because it was not cost effective and did not help detect significant fraud.

As argued in the lawsuit, P100 wastes taxpayer funds because it costs more in time and money than any wrongdoing it uncovers. The county can save money and prevent fraud by combining its current eligibility screening with appropriate investigations in individual cases.

“Instead of harassing innocent people in need, the county should focus on investigating conduct that actually hurts the community, like wage theft, identity theft, and elder abuse,” said Melissa Deleon, staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of San Diego. “People seeking help deserve dignity, not criminalization.”

Because the P100 home search and interrogation visits are usually unannounced, many CalWORKs applicants believe that they cannot leave their homes before the investigator arrives without jeopardizing their benefits.

Indeed, some CalWORKs applicants say they have interrupted their job searches because of the need to wait for the investigator to arrive. In cases such as these, P100 is dramatically at odds with the goal of the CalWORKs program, which is to help parents become self-supporting.

“Not only is the program harmful and ineffective, it is also counterproductive,” said Craig Countryman, pro bono co-counsel at Fish & Richardson. “Applicants often miss job interviews, classes, doctor’s appointments and other critical daily activities, such as taking and picking up children from school, while waiting for investigators to arrive for the home searches.”

According to the lawsuit, P100 violates state law by imposing unjustified hardships on people of color and women, who are disproportionately represented among CalWORKs applicants. Regardless of intent to discriminate, California law prohibits state-funded programs such as P100 from unnecessarily harming vulnerable communities by treating everyone who seeks help as a criminal.

The ACLU believes that P100 is so flawed and destructive that it should be scrapped and replaced with effective, community-based law enforcement that serves the public good. The county already has the tools necessary to detect fraud. Invasive home searches should only be conducted with a warrant when there is credible evidence to suspect fraud.

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