OAKLAND — Social service advocates and general assistance recipients joined together Monday to protest a cut that will limit the amount of time recipients can receive aid in Alameda County.

"A lot of people depend on this program," said Michael Williams, 47, who joined more than 100 people outside the Alameda County Administration Building to protest the cuts.

"It's not fair and it's not right," said Williams, who's been receiving general assistance since October. "I'm out there looking for a job, but what am I supposed to do right now while I'm trying to get a job?"

Those receiving general assistance get $336 a month from the Alameda County Social Services Agency. As of last month, 8,510 county residents were receiving general assistance. However, the county is in the midst of imposing a six-month time limit on residents receiving general assistance who are considered employable. The new time limit took effect in January, meaning some General Assistance recipients will lose their benefits at the end of June.

The protest — organized by the Homeless Action Center, East Bay Community Law Center and POOR Magazine — preceded a meeting of the county's Social Services Committee, which received an update on the new time limits.

Those receiving aid said cutting the program back to only six months will have disastrous effects on them, especially in an economy in which it is getting more and more difficult to find a job.

"I have no family in Oakland at all," said Ronnie Watkins, 61, of Oakland. "If lose my general assistance, what am I suppose to do?"

Watkins said he spends $300 a month sharing a place with another person on a fixed income. He said that without general assistance he won't be able to afford the rent.

"I think this just sends a bad message," said Watkins, who's been receiving aid for about a year and a half.

Social service advocates, speaking at the packed committee meeting, said cutting general assistance will not save the county money in the long run because poverty, crime and homeless will increase, causing the county to fund programs to combat those issues.

According to Yolanda Baldovinos, interim director of the county's social services agency, the general assistance case load has increased from nearly 3,000 cases in fiscal 2000-01 to 8,510 recipients as of March.

The agency is projecting going $1.7 million over budget for its general assistance program for fiscal year 2007-2008. However, with time limits, the agency is projecting cutting the program's cost by nearly $9 million in fiscal 2008-09.

Baldovinos was blunt when discussing the cuts at the Social Services Committee, saying the time limits are not ideal, but necessary.

"This is not a good social services policy," Baldovinos said. "This is a purely fiscal policy.

"We simply don't have the funds to sustain it," Baldovinos added.

Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, who makes up the county's Social Services Committee along with Supervisor Gail Steele, said the general assistance cuts has given her sleepless nights.

"It's a difficult situation we find ourselves in," Lai-Bitker said. "But we are trying to find solutions."

Contact Chris Metinko at 510-763-5418 or cmetinko@bayareanewsgroup.com.