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Tuesday, March 31, 2015
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28 Day Shuffle Enjoined in Orange County
In the News

A Costa Mesa ordinance prohibits tenants from staying longer than 30 days in a motel, thus forcin... Read More..

4,000 LA public housing tenants win rent reimbursement
In the News

More than 4,000 Los Angeles public housing tenants will benefit from a $3.2 settlement approved t... Read More..

California Must Repeal Child Exclusion Law
Notes on the Legislature

California has the highest rate of child poverty in the nation and more children in poverty than any... Read More..

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Article List
Cash Aid Recipients Squeezed by Bank Fees

CalWORKs recipients are paying more than $20 Million a year in surcharges to banks in order to access their basic needs grants through the CalWORKs program.  Stimied by legislative opposition from the banks, advocates turn to the California Department of Social Services lead efforts to remove the burden of surcharges from our poorest families.

This week, California Department of Social Services (CDSS), held a meeting with state and local program administrators and advocates from local and national organizations to discuss strategies to reduce the fees and surcharges paid by low-income participants in the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) Program. 

The problem of high surcharges levied by banks and paid very low-income families who rely on CalWORKs to cover basic living expenses was first raised in Sacramento when Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D – Los Angeles)introduced Assembly Bill 756, a bill sponsored by Western Center on Law and Poverty, that would have ended these surcharges. With fierce opposition from the banking community, the bill failed to pass committee causing the Assemblywoman and Western Center to turn to the new Director of CDSS, Will Lightbourne, to address the problem. 
Media Coverage:
Sacramento News and Review:
Who is Impacted? Client Stories
Tracey. After working for a major corporation for a number of years, she was laid off when the economic crisis occurred. With a baby on the way and her resources depleted, she applied for CalWORKs. Two years later, she is still looking for job while attending school. She receives about $720 a month from CalWORKs. While she can withdraw cash at grocery stores, there is a limit of $40 per withdrawal. So far, she has not found any location where she could withdraw enough of her benefits without a fee. It makes it hard for her to withdrawal money needed to pay the bills that come at the beginning of the month, like rent and utilities.
Michelle. In 2009, after working at the same job for thirteen years, Michelle was laid off. When her unemployment ran out, she turned to CalWORKs to keep her family housed. While looking for a job, Michelle also went back to school. She receives about $516 in CalWORKs benefits per month. She must stretch her benefits to cover rent, past credit card bills, and a cell phone bill. When she withdraws her benefits, she takes the full amount right away so she won’t have to get charged the withdrawal fee more than once. She has also been able to get cash back from places like WalMart to avoid the surcharges, but there is a limit to how much she can withdrawal. She has not found a place that allows her to withdraw her full benefits without a fee. The cheapest fee she has found is $2.51.
Mary Lou. With a family of four, Mary Lou has experienced some hardship since the economic downturn. After losing her job in 2009, her family relied on her unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, her benefits eventually ran out and her husband has been unable to return to work because of his health. Mary Lou has been trying to find a job that pays enough health benefits but has been unsuccessful. As a result, her family has needed to turn to CalWORKs. However, the $860 a month for expenses and $580 in food benefits is still not enough for a family of four. Her biggest expenses are housing, utilities, and gas. The expenses alone total $2,200, which is not even covered by the benefits she receives. She has found that U.S. Bank does not charge an extra fee for withdrawing her benefits. However, there a not a lot of U.S. Bank locations. With the job market in crisis, she has found it difficult to meet household expenses without a job and with the amount of benefits she receives every month.
Note: We thank our partners at California Rural Legal Aid, Bay Area Legal Aid, California Coalition for Welfare Rights Organizations and Legal Services of Northern California for identifying CalWORKs recipients willing to share their stories.  


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