Some disabled and low-income senior citizens will see trash fees rise next year
In a chaotic eight-hour budget hearing Wednesday, members of the Los Angeles City Council set aside a slew of budget proposals designed to prevent the city from going bankrupt. But they did approve a reduction to one subsidy program that covers the trash fees of at least 58,395 low-income senior citizens and disabled residents in Los Angeles.
Most Los Angeles customers who live in single-family homes pay $36.32 per month in trash and recycling fees, while apartment dwellers pay $24.33, according to city officials. But disabled residents and seniors (62 or older) whose household income is less than $31,700 can apply for the Solid Waste Lifeline Rate Program to cover 100% of those fees.
The number of applicants for the program has climbed steadily in the midst of the economic downturn. This year, the city budgeted $16.6 million for the program and it is already $6.7 million over budget.
Councilman Greig Smith had proposed reducing the subsidy to bring it line with other large cities in California. (The city's survey of the 10 largest California cities showed Los Angeles offered the most generous aid program. The city that came closest was San Jose with a 30% discount; Los Angeles County offers a 25% discount).
But Smith’s proposal drew vociferous criticism from Councilman Richard Alarcon and several others who said it unfairly targeted the most vulnerable residents.
“This is just absolutely, fundamentally wrong,” Alarcon said. “Everywhere in the state they have lifeline programs to ensure that people get service, and I just think the city has been a vanguard on these programs and I don’t think now is the time to stop.”
Smith noted that many cities do not offer a discount program. “We are still giving a lifeline that is well within the realm of what everybody else in the state of California is doing,” Smith told Alarcon during a heated debate. “….This is a realization of the fact that we don’t have money to give. If you can come up with $6 million somewhere that we’ve missed, we’ll take a look at allocating it to that.”
Ultimately, the Council members voted 11 to 4 to reduce the subsidy over two years with council members Alarcon, Smith, Ed Reyes and Council President Eric Garcetti opposing that change. In a separate vote, 13 council members voted to impose a cap that would bar new participants from the program.
Under the new fee structure, lifeline customers who live in a single-family home will have to pay $12.71 per month for trash fees beginning as early as July. During the second year those monthly fees will rise to $25.42. City officials also plan to begin more aggressively verifying whether current participants still qualify.
-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall