SLO County employee on the public dole despite nearly $60,000 salary

January 16, 2019

Cassandra DeSpain speaking during public comment at a Dec. 2018 board of supervisors meeting


A San Luis Obispo County employee who makes nearly $75,000 a year in cash and benefits receives public housing assistance under a program that allows previously low-income households to continue receiving government-funded rent assistance. [Cal Coast Times]

Last month, a group of striking employees spoke of their financial hardships during a SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. Cassandra DeSpain, a county employment/resource specialist, said her wages are so low she continues to qualify for Medi-Cal and Section 8 housing subsidies.

“Very much pride and humility to admit the fact that even after a five-year (employment), me and my two children, we still qualify for Medi-Cal and Section 8,” DeSpain said. “If my wages were fair living wages, there is absolutely no reason I should qualify for those programs.”

In 2017, DeSpain received pay of $58,626 and $74,828 in total compensation, according to the Transparent California database.

In order to qualify for the Section 8 Housing Program, a three-person household must have a gross income of no more than $37,450, according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) income limits for SLO County. However, a program recipient can continue to receive benefits as long as their base salary remains below the median income for the area and their combined rent and utilities remain at a level below 30 percent of their household’s income, HASLO Executive Director Scott Smith said.

After Cal Coast Times reported on DeSpain’s public comment, she sent an email explaining how she continues to qualify for government-funded rent assistance.

“My household is a continued eligible household and has been for many years,” DeSpain wrote. “This means that the guidelines are different than an entrant applicant and my income is calculated as a percentage to my rent ratio. I continue to carry eligibility as my income to rent ratio has not been exceeded. Since my employment with the county, I have come ever closer to falling out of the eligibility. Today Section 8 pays $170 and I pay $1,235 for a total rent of $1,405. I live in a little two bedroom apartment that I have occupied for almost 12 years.”

SLO County has a median income of $59,900, putting DeSpain’s 2017 pay just below the limit.

Even so, DeSpain’s clarification raises questions as to whether she is occupying space in the program that could go to a program applicant with substantially lower income. The program operates on a lottery with generally about 1,250 applicants battling for 250 to 800 subsidized rentals.

Jerry Brown, a media liaison for HUD, said the aim of Section 8 is to shift people from receiving government assistance to self-sufficiency.

“The goal is to move people to self supporting,” Brown said. “People with higher incomes should not be occupying space needed by others.”

DeSpain did not respond to two email requests for comment, asking whether or not she believes it is right for her to remain on Section 8 and asking how the pay raise for which she is advocating would would impact her Section 8 eligibility.

Last month, SLO County employees carried out the first strike in county government history. County officials had agreed to give union members .5 percent salary increases for the current fiscal year, and 2 percent raises effective July 1, 2019. The union rejected the deal, demanding raises of an additional 2.5 percent, to give them 3 percent raises for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The strike concluded with county officials saying they were not planning on any further salary negotiations for the current fiscal year and that, in early 2019, they would discuss pay increases for 2019-2020. The county then announced a projected budget shortfall of $5 million to $10 million for 2019-2020.


Some of us (me actually)

have have CHF (congestive heart failure), diabetes, severe arthritis, severe DDD, and PTSD and receive less than $12,000 to live on. And I will unfortunately still be homeless until I die. Corrupt CAPSLO and HASLO (HUD) won’t help me in any God Damn way. How the hell does she get special housing? May this SLO county government burn in Hell.


The truth of the matter is once you are in assisted housing you never have to leave. You may need assistance to get on your feet, get an education, a good paying job, etc. but you then still get to keep your housing. You pay based on your income and then there is a cap of, last I heard, of about $1,000 a month. You can make a million dollars a year and still be in assisted housing. There are so many things wrong with our freebie programs like never making people move up and on. There are several families in our local housing program that the “Grandma” has been in housing for over 35 years, raised her kids there, now her daughter gets housing and then recently her two granddaughters with a boyfriend and kids are living in another unit, and then all get to live in the same complex.


The government doesn’t want them to ever get out of the program. As long as the government can keep people in these programs they feel they have voters who won’t ever vote to end the gravy train.


There needs to be reasonable time limits that people can be on the public dole.


I wish I could say this is shocking…


or that it is an isolated occurrence.

nazbol gang

$60k isn’t even middle class in this area


How many people in this County only wish they made this amount WITH BENEFITS?


Once the beak has dipped in the trough, they just can’t help themselves.


She also receives a pension and health care benefits that many don’t. I am a single self-employed parent with no support from my child’s parent for my son or me. I clear about the same amount as she does, with which I sent my son to college, bought a home and investment properties, and pay for my own pension and health care. Yes, all in SLO County.

nazbol gang



I too made many big sacrifices to buy a modest house and send my daughter to Cal Poly (NO STUDENT LOANS) working a full time job, went to nights, drive a used car, no Starbucks, expensive cell phones, cable, ec.. and not reciving one dime of support from a spouse or a government program. It is not easy but it is worth it knowing you you did the right thing by taking responsible for yourself and your child.