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Home | About Western Center

Western Center on Law & Poverty was formed in 1967 by a passionate group of attorneys and legal scholars from USC, UCLA and Loyola law schools who sought to create a unique organization, driven by the belief that low-income Californians deserve the finest possible legal representation before every institution that shapes their lives. In 1972, we opened our Sacramento office, establishing the first capital legislative office in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to the interests of people experiencing poverty.

For over fifty five years, Western Center has advocated on behalf of Californians experiencing poverty in every branch of government—from the courts to the Legislature. Through the lens of economic and racial justice, we litigate, educate, and advocate around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration.

Our History


Western Center founded


The California Supreme Court rules a school finance system may not discriminate against children from low-wealth school districts (Serrano v. Priest)


Western Center opens Sacramento office


150,000 tenants in the nation receive $59 million in rent refunds; largest U.S. class action settlement on behalf of indigent individuals (Underwood v. Pierce)


The California Supreme Court holds that requiring indigent adults to live in a county "poorhouse" violates their constitutional right to privacy (Robbins v. County of Sacramento)


Court of Appeal holds that homeless children may not be denied emergency shelter, leading to our sponsored homeless assistance legislation (Hansen v. Dept. of Social Services)


A county may not deny General Assistance benefits to homeless people who lack a fixed residence (Nelson v. Board of Supervisors)


Hundreds of thousands of women win improved prenatal care and four million people gain greater rights to dental care (Clark v. Kizer)


$600 million in public assistance benefits preserved for millions of Californians (Beno v. Shalala)


California Supreme Court holds a county must provide last resort medical care to those who can't afford it (Hunt v. Superior Court)


Western Center sponsors successful $2.1 billion affordable housing bond measure


Compelled transformation of L.A. County foster care system (Katie A. v. Bonta)


Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, providing residential services for thousands of severely disabled people, kept open (Rodde v. Bonta)


Ninth Circuit affirmed tenants' right to enforce federal relocation assistance laws and prohibit displacing residents until benefits are paid (Price v. Stockton Redevelopment Agency)


Court of Appeal holds that county health care must be made available to working poor (Alford v. City of San Diego)


Western Center sponsored bill requiring 60 days' notice in no-fault evictions signed into law


Sacramento mandated to provide mental health services to 10,000 chronically ill residents (Napper v. County of Sacramento)


Halted California's illegal practice of forcing children to repay old welfare debts of their parents or guardians (Hartley v. Lightbourne)


After 17 years of advocacy, California's lifetime ban on welfare for people with prior drug-related convictions repealed


Western Center successfully challenged racially discriminatory traffic fines and fees practices, leading to an amnesty plan, the right to challenge tickets, and the restoration of nearly 200,000 licenses


The repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule provides basic needs benefits for 130,000 low-income children previously excluded from critical programs


Co-sponsored successful Minimum Wage bill, raising California's minimum wage to $15/ hour by 2021


Federal district court invalidates 37-year-old federal regulation preventing people with Supplemental Security Income from receiving food stamps (Riojas v. Vilsak)


Western Center played a critical role in the passage of SB 190 (Mitchell), eliminating the ability of counties to impose fines and fees on juveniles in the juvenile justice system


L.A. County forced to stop illegal practice that pushed 30,000 Medi-Cal recipients off health coverage (Moncrief v. County of Los Angeles)


Western Center helps facilitate the largest CalWORKs grant increase in 40 years, benefiting 400,000 households, including one million kids


A significant number of Western Center priorities included in Governor Newsom's first state budget: doubles the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), ends the “senior penalty” in Medi-Cal, expands Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults, provides another boost to CalWORKs, and includes a significant investment in affordable housing and homelessness programs


The CROWN Coalition was founded in 2019 by Dove, National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law & Poverty to create a respectful and open world for natural hair through research, national campaigning and political lobbying. Western Center and partners worked to pass the first CROWN Act (SB 188) in the country, prohibiting discrimination based on hair style and texture by extending protection under the FEHA and the California Education Code.


After ten months of litigation in Hall v. USDA, the USDA began providing SNAP households with the lowest incomes (an estimated 12 million people nationally, including more than 1 million Californians) an additional $95 per month in emergency food benefits to help families weather the impact of the COVID pandemic.


In partnership with a coalition of advocates, Western Center passed Senate Bill 65, the California Momnibus Act to address persistent racial disparities in birthing outcomes. The new law will expand the state’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Committee to investigate serious illnesses and deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth and recommend best practices to reduce maternal and infant deaths. Under the new law, the committee, now made up mostly of physicians, will also include midwives, doulas, community advocates, and a tribal representative.