Alameda County supervisors, by the slimmest of margins, gave final approval on a variety of cuts to the general assistance program, which could leave some of the county's neediest with even less money.

In a 3-2 vote, the county's Board of Supervisors gave final approval to amend the county's ordinance concerning the program, allowing its Social Services Agency to set time limits for those on the program, as well as reduce the grant amount for different health care and housing reasons — all in an effort to save money as county costs rise and revenues decline.

The vote came after nearly two hours of public comments and questions about the amendment at Tuesday's board meeting. That meeting followed a two-hour hearing at the Social Services Committee meeting Monday regarding the same cuts.

Supervisors Nate Miley and Keith Carson opposed the cuts, and none of the supervisors seemed thrilled to cut a program that provides a stipend for needy adults who do not qualify for state or federal aid.

"You're all right," said Supervisor Gail Steele during the committee meeting. "Everybody who spoke today (opposing the cuts) is right. But this is the reality."

By the end of this fiscal year — at the end of this month — the county's general assistance program is expected to be $13.5 million in the red. The agency had budgeted about $21.5 million for its general assistance program this fiscal year, but the program is likely to cost the county closer to $35 million.

The upcoming fiscal year doesn't look much better, with the county facing a $178 million shortfall it must address in its more than $2 billion budget.

Social Services Director Yolanda Baldovinos again reiterated the cuts were not something the agency wanted, but the current budget situation gave little room to work. It is hoped the proposed program changes will decrease annual operating costs by approximately $12 million. Once the changes are fully operational, the agency's general assistance budget should be about $26.5 million.

General assistance caseloads have gone up an average of 6 percent a year for five consecutive years in the county. In 2002, nearly 3,200 received general assistance. Today, about 9,100 residents receive a maximum of $336 a month in general assistance from the Alameda County Social Services Agency.

The changes to the program would include allowing the county to put a three-month time limit on general assistance recipients who are deemed "employable," reducing the $336 stipend by $40 for some recipients because of health care costs, and reducing general assistance grants by 25 percent if those receiving them share housing.

Baldovinos stressed that the proposed three-month time limit is the last cost reduction the agency will implement, and would not go into effect until early 2010.

Nevertheless, opponents of the changes said taking away general assistance stipends will only wind up costing the county more, as those individuals will be forced to rely on other county resources more heavily.

"People on the street are saying, 'We'll survive,'"‰" said Michael Diehl, a former general assistance recipient himself. "But they aren't saying what they'll do to survive — and that's going to cost some money."