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Probe: November 1, 2001

November 01, 2001

QUESTION: Has the so-called "welfare reform" made a dent in the welfare rolls in Imperial County? Has it saved any money? — Skeptical, Ocotillo

The number of Valleyites getting such assistance is less than half what it was three years ago, said Jim Semmes, director of the Imperial County Department of Social Services.

When the program began, there were 8,000 cases on the welfare rolls and that was growing 20 percent a year. That's now down to 3,900, Semmes said.

Stronger efforts to help welfare clients move from welfare to work helped trim the rolls. A stronger economy with more jobs may have eased the transition, Semmes said.


In a year or two, some recipients will be cut from the rolls under welfare reform regulations. A recipient may stay on welfare for only two years and for only five years in a lifetime. However, parents, not the children, will be dropped from the rolls.

That provision could mean that a family will simply receive less money when the parent is cut from the grant, or it could mean a "payee" could be appointed to handle the money, Semmes said.

The DSS could act as the "payee," paying the rent and utility bills and providing food stamps, he said.

QUESTION: Is it against the law to smoke in a public restaurant? I am talking about the American Legion in Bombay Beach. It's open to the public. You don't need a card to get in or anything. — Smoker, Niland

You must be new to the state. It's been against the law to smoke in any "work place" in California for years. A "work place" is any location with paid employees. The smoking ban includes stores, banks, offices, restaurants and even bars. You can't even smoke in jail any more.

Under that criteria, we assume it would be against the law to smoke in a private home if you had paid help doing the chores. However, we haven't heard of any effort to enforce it.

QUESTION: My friend's daughter opened an account at a jewelry store. The daughter quit making the payments. Now the store is calling my friend day and night demanding payment. They say my friend is responsible for the debt because the daughter put her mother down as a reference.

My friend asked to speak to the owner but she can't get past Sofia. Can you be forced to pay a bill just because you are put down as a reference? — Concerned, Brawley

Of course not. If your friend did not co-sign the application, your friend is not liable for the debt.

But even if your friend owed the jeweler money, his employees or bill collectors could not harass her by calling at unreasonable hours of the day or night.

The next time Sofia calls, tell her she is violating the federal Fair Credit Act and to stop calling. If she continues to call, tell her to stop doing it. It's also against the law to make annoying phone calls after you've been asked to stop.

STILL CHEAPER GAS — My daughter lives in Corona and she buys gasoline for $1.25 a gallon. A friend told me you can buy gasoline in Fresno for $1.10. — Another Gas Price Reporter, El Centro

Before you can get the cheap gasoline, you have to fill the tank with some local stuff, run up to Corona and get some cheaper gas, then onto Fresno. You won't save any money but you'll see a lot of California scenery and that's worth something.

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