More than two million people living in Los Angeles County -- about 20 percent of the area's population -- receive welfare or other public aid and officials believe more will need help as the recession deepens.
The rising demand due to the nation's sagging economy and a jobless rate that stands at 9.5 percent in Los Angeles County has left public assistance offices ill-equipped to deal with the growing throng of indigent people.
"We have the highest human service burden of any county in the country in sheer numbers," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "Two million people is the size of some countries; that's how big our problem is."
Officials estimate the number of people on county aid is nearly 2.2 million, which equals the figure at the height of the 2001-03 recession. The total includes people receiving food stamps and general relief as well as other county-administered aid programs, such as in-home health care. The cost to the county, state and federal governments was $334 million a month by the end of last year, according to the latest report by the county's Department of Public Social Services.
County officials are also worried that there won't be enough money to help people. Property tax revenue, usually stable, is shrinking for the first time in 13 years.
Although the federal government is seeking to increase food stamp and unemployment insurance benefits, programs that are wholly funded by the county remain static.