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Author: Courtney McKinney

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A third of Californians live in or near poverty. Advocates say the budget must do more

“Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said CalWORKs was originally based in the belief that if the government didn’t force people to work, they wouldn’t know “what was good for them.” The program has been reformed over the years, Herald said, but tens of thousands of families are still sanctioned from the system due to the work requirement.”

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The high costs of reproductive freedom 

At the beginning of May, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion informed the public of the court’s position on overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has been used to protect the reproductive rights of birthing people across the country since the 1970s. Protests began to erupt throughout the nation as the fear of losing reproductive protections became real and the urgency of the situation more apparent.  

The chances of Roe v. Wade getting overturned became real for me on October 26, 2020, when the U.S. Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to become a Supreme Court Justice. Justice Barret is clear about her political beliefs, specifically her position on Roe v. Wade. For decades, many states have pushed the Supreme Court to overturn this historic human rights case. With the addition of Justice Barrett to the bench, I knew the likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade increased exponentially. 

While Barrett’s confirmation was upsetting for many people, I found it terrifying. I am from Louisiana, a state well known for its conservative politics. I distinctly remember voting on a 2020 amendment that would add language to our constitution stating that the “right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution.” Much to my dismay (but not surprise), the amendment passed with 62% of the vote and is now part of the Louisiana Constitution. Legislation such as Louisiana’s amendment are referred to as “trigger laws”– laws that automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if Roe v. Wade is overturned. As of today, 13 states have passed trigger laws. 

In response to the public’s concern and the growing fear of losing federal abortion protections, states like California strengthened protections for reproductive rights in their constitutions. California, specifically, is also reinforcing its ability to be a “safe haven” for those who come from states with trigger laws. Recent legislation in California is focused on expanding access to abortion and protecting individuals from legal liability if they travel to the state to get an abortion. Theoretically, that’s progress. Unfortunately, California residents often struggle with restricted access to abortion services, which presents a challenge. 40% of California counties don’t have a clinic offering abortion services, rendering them unaffordable and inaccessible for many.  

Given soaring gas and plane ticket prices, travel within and to a state like California is a luxury not equally accessible to every person, and consequently, the promise of California as a safe haven is only available to those who can afford it.  

It’s no shocker that like most bad policies, the overturn of Roe v. Wade will have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. Research shows that nearly half of those who have sought an abortion live below the poverty line. If they are residents of states that have restrictive access to reproductive services—such as only having one clinic in the whole state—people dealing with financial struggles often must consider additional factors when assessing their ability to travel to a reproductive health provider. These factors often include finding childcare, their ability (or inability) to take time away from work, and securing transportation. 

As we consider the future of reproductive rights post Roe v. Wade, it is crucial that people with lower incomes are explicitly considered and protected. That’s why Western Center continues to actively advocate for the maternal and reproductive rights of marginalized birthing people. 

Last year, Western Center worked alongside coalition partners to get SB 65 signed into law. SB 65 aims to improve data collection on race and economic-based factors that lead to higher rates of maternal and infant mortality in Black and Indigenous communities. It also creates a fund to support midwives and guarantees the option of obtaining a doula as a Medi-Cal benefit. While SB 65 does not address abortion, its passage expands reproductive protections for many Californians and reinforces the ability of birthing people to have agency in their reproductive journey. It also brought important dialogue to the forefront of the birthing rights conversation about the medical vulnerability of people existing in the intersection of non-whiteness and poverty. 

Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right that should not only be accessible to those who are better off financially. Until the reproductive rights of all people are protected, regardless of their economic status, we have work to do. 

Dalyn Smith is an intern at Western Center. She is a junior at the University of Southern California and is part of USC’s Agents of Change Program. 

 

PRESS RELEASE: LA County Agrees to Stop Delaying Food Assistance to Neediest Applicants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Court injunction will require county to process all emergency CalFresh applications in three days

Los Angeles, CA – In a major victory in the fight against hunger, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted today to enter into a permanent injunction for a case filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Hunger Action Los Angeles, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, et al., requiring the county to process and approve emergency CalFresh applications in a timely manner. The injunction will impact thousands of vulnerable families experiencing dangerous food insecurity in Los Angeles County each month.

“We wouldn’t tolerate it if the fire department took a day to respond to a fire, and we shouldn’t waste time when people are hungry,” said Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action Los Angeles, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The county has the resources, provided by the federal government, to respond immediately.”

The State of California requires counties to expedite food assistance applications for people with extremely low incomes who are homeless or whose housing costs exceed their resources or monthly income. But for more than a year, LA County consistently failed to process emergency applications for CalFresh—formerly known as food stamps—in under three days as required by law.

“We are heartened the county, in entering this agreement, acknowledges that hunger cannot wait,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “These are applications for emergency assistance, and the county must treat them with an appropriate level of urgency.”

Two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles—Hunger Action Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Community Action Network—along with an applicant affected by the delays, sued the county in November, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

“The county’s blatant disregard for people living in extreme poverty, who tend to be Black and Brown, was exacerbating racial inequities in disadvantaged communities like Skid Row and South Los Angeles,” said Todd Cunningham of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. “We sued to force the county to follow the law.”

Represented by NLSLA, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Public Interest Law Project, and pro bono counsel from Sidley Austin LLP, the groups presented the court with data showing the county had violated both state and federal law for months leading up to the lawsuit. In one month alone, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline in 53 percent of eligible applications, leaving 7,600 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. Some applicants had to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“Following the filing of the lawsuit, the county’s processing of applications has improved – but not nearly enough,” said Lauren Hansen of Public Interest Law Project. “Each and every one of these emergency applications must be processed immediately.”

Peter, a CalFresh applicant named in the lawsuit, was 17 years old when his father suffered a severe stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to continue his work as a day laborer. Peter should have received access to CalFresh in three days. Instead, the family heard nothing from the county for 17 days, at which time someone called and left a message. When Peter’s father tried to return the call, he got a “high call-volume” message and was disconnected. Then he received a letter stating Peter’s application had been denied.

A November 2021 report from the county Department of Public Health warned of the “devastating consequences” of food insecurity, which significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and psychological distress or depression. In childhood, food insecurity is associated with delayed development, diminished academic performance, anxiety and depression, and early-onset obesity.

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Hunger Action LA (HALA) works to end hunger and promote healthy eating through advocacy, direct service, and organizing.

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) consists of extremely low-income and homeless people, primarily those living in Downtown LA and South Central LA. LA CAN recruits organizational members and builds indigenous leadership within this constituency to promote human rights and address multiple forms of oppression faced by extremely low-income, predominately African-American and Latino, residents. LA CAN focuses on issues related to civil rights and preventing the criminalization of poverty, women’s rights, the human right to housing, and healthy food access. LA CAN also has projects focused on economic development, civic participation and voter engagement, and community media.

Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County. Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Sidley Austin LLP is a premier law firm with a practice highly attuned to the ever-changing international landscape. The firm has built a reputation for being an adviser for global business, with more than 2,000 lawyers worldwide. Sidley maintains a commitment to providing quality legal services and to offering advice in litigation, transactional, and regulatory matters spanning virtually every area of law. The firm’s lawyers have wide-reaching legal backgrounds and are dedicated to teamwork, collaboration, and superior client service.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

 

 

 

Lawsuit Says California Discriminated Against Tenants In Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Western Center senior attorney Lorraine Lopez was on KPFA Radio in the Bay Area to discuss the lawsuit Western Center and our partners filed on behalf of tenant groups, accusing California’s Department of Housing and Community Development of discrimination and denying Californians due process in applications for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

Listen Here (Interview starts at one hour 34 minute mark)

 

Lawsuit accuses California of denying tenants due process in Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Western Center senior attorney Madeline Howard was on KPFA Radio in the Bay Area to discuss the lawsuit Western Center and our partners filed on behalf of tenant groups, accusing California’s Department of Housing and Community Development of denying Californians due process in the application process for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). As of June 1, 2022, the department denied 31% of ERAP rental assistance applications without meaningful explanation or a transparent appeals process.

Listen Here