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Author: Heather Masterton

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JOINT PRESS RELEASE: California Says Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Likely Run Out of Funds with Over 140,000 Applicants Still in Limbo

For Immediate Release: January 23, 2023​

Press Contact:

Joshua Busch, 310-991-2503, ​[email protected]
Estevan Montemayor, [email protected]

 

California Says Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Likely Run Out of Funds with Over 140,000 Applicants Still in Limbo

State lawyer says the program’s remaining $177 million could go to private contractor if the state is forced to comply with a Superior Court order, leaving no money for tenants.​

Oakland, California – January 23, 2023 – More than 140,000 Californian households who have been waiting for over ten months for a response to their rental assistance applications may be denied their opportunity to receive rent relief because the program will run out of money, according to the state’s lawyer. In a court hearing last Thursday afternoon, a lawyer for the State of California told a judge that the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program would need to spend its remaining $177 million on administrative costs if forced to comply with the court’s order to provide basic constitutional due process, leaving no money for tenants. The state claims it will pay its private contractor most – if not all – of its remaining funds just to fix its flawed application process and provide basic information to tenants it believes are ineligible for assistance.

At stake at Thursday’s hearing was how the state would issue denial notices to around 104,000 renters who submitted applications over ten months ago, and another 40,000 who have pending appeals. The state was sued by community groups Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action), Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and PolicyLink last June for issuing flawed notices that provided little or no explanation for why an applicant was denied, making it difficult for wrongfully denied tenants to appeal. Last July, a Superior Court judge agreed the state was violating applicants’ due process rights and issued an injunction blocking the state from denying tenants until the problems were addressed. But in the past six months, most tenants have received no information about why their applications have been delayed. Now, after waiting nearly a year, many may receive no assistance, even if the state determines they are eligible. This goes back on a guarantee the state made last year when announced it was abruptly closing the rental assistance program but promised that “every eligible applicant seeking assistance for eligible costs submitted and incurred on or before March 31, 2022, would be assisted.”

On Thursday, Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch said the state’s denial notices must “specify the facts supporting the denial” to satisfy due process, meaning the notice must provide enough information for applicants to understand why the state does not believe their application meets program requirements. The Court acknowledged that being told why tenants are being denied is important to allow applicants a meaningful opportunity to appeal and correct their paperwork. The state’s lawyer argued such a requirement would be too burdensome, and the state would have to pay its remaining rent relief funds to the private contractor it hired to administer the program. Judge Roesch rejected the state’s argument and its implications that “a constitutional principle can be ignored because of budgetary reasons.”

“We’re relieved that tenants who applied for desperately needed rent relief will finally get a notice that tells them the reason they are being denied assistance, and a fair chance to appeal – that’s been our goal since this suit was filed,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty. “But it’s extremely frustrating that the state has been fighting so hard to avoid giving tenants this basic information that should have been provided from the start. We are alarmed by the state’s threat to use the program’s remaining funds to pay an out-of-state contractor $177 million just to tell tenants the reason they are being denied. This threat raises very serious concerns about how the Department of Housing and Community Development has managed this funding.”

“Low-income people were decimated by this pandemic—financially, physically, and emotionally—and it is the responsibility of government to provide support for residents in times of crisis such as these,” said Cynthia Strathmann, executive director of SAJE. “Instead, the state is threatening to use all of its funds to deny people the financial support they so desperately need, after spending hundreds of millions on a private contractor. This terrible irony should not be accepted.”

In court documents, California’s Department of Housing and Community Development revealed that it hired a private, for-profit company to administer the state’s rent relief program. Based in Mississippi, Horne LLP has developed a business running and profiting off of safety-net programs created in the wake of calamitous events like hurricanes, floods, and, more recently, pandemics. California has already agreed to pay Horne over $260 million to administer its program. Recent invoices show California has been charged an average of $7.72 million per month, even with the program closed to new applications and apparently at a standstill.

“The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created to keep struggling Californians housed during an unprecedented pandemic that put millions on the brink of homelessness,” said Faizah Malik, a supervising senior attorney with Public Counsel. “However, the execution of the program has been terribly flawed. While Judge Roesch’s order helps to correct one major problem, it is fundamentally unfair for the state to now deny tenants crucial assistance because of its poor management of the program. If it is true that the state must use the remaining funds to just satisfy its constitutional obligations, it must allocate additional funds to provide the rental relief that tens of thousands of California families were promised.”

“I’m grateful the judge is on our side on this issue, but many eviction protections are expiring imminently, and HCD needs to hurry up to prevent more families from being forced to live under bridges,” said Patricia Mendoza, statewide organizer for ACCE. “The state asked us to stay home during the pandemic, and they promised that if we did so, we would be taken care of. If they want to follow through on that promise, they need to do what it takes to increase their funding to ensure tenants get the rent relief they are due now.”

“Nothing was stopping the state from reaching out to the renters who have been in limbo over the past six months to help them fix potential mistakes on their applications or ask for missing information,” said Jonathan Jager, an attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “Yet, that wasn’t done, and our neighbors and communities will pay the price.”

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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.

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is a nonprofit law firm that seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change, and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses, and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors. 

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal access to justice for more than 50 years.

 

 

Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2023-2024 California Budget Proposal

On January 10th, Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2023-24 California state budget. To address a projected budget deficit of $22.5 billion in 2023-24, the Governor proposes to delay funding for new programs, and in some cases ties new program implementation to future year revenue. The Governor’s proposal avoids major cuts, retains significant budget reserves, and maintains investments from previous budgets, including Medi-Cal expansion to all income-eligible adults regardless of immigration status effective January 2024, grant adjustments for CalWORKs and SSI/SSP, and many housing and homelessness investments. While not austere, the Governor’s budget is conservative in its ambition to meet the needs of low-income Californians.

Below is Western Center’s initial reaction to the proposed budget by issue area:

HEALTH CARE

Medi-Cal

· Maintains 2022 Budget Actions on Health4All, Share of Cost reform, and continuous eligibility: The Governor’s proposal maintains last year’s budget action to implement full-scope Medi-Cal coverage expansion to adults aged 26 through 49, regardless of immigration status, effective January 2024. In addition, there has been no change to last year’s budget deal to update the Medi-Cal Share of Cost so that seniors and people with disabilities can afford to access needed Medi-Cal services and continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children ages zero to five effective January 2025 with contingencies.

· Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The Administration proposes to enact a three-year MCO tax renewal effective January 2024 through December 2026, drawing down federal funding for estimated $6.5 billion (and potentially more) in General Fund savings in Medi-Cal.

· California’s Behavioral Health Community-Based Continuum (CalBH-CBC): The Administration seeks federal approval of CalBH-CBC Demonstration to expand behavioral health crisis, inpatient, and residential services through a staged implementation starting January 1, 2024. The fiscal impact for the Department of Health Care Services and Department of Social Services over the five years of the waiver is estimated to be $6.1 billion total funds ($314 million General Fund).

· Transitional Rent: The Administration seeks federal approval to fund up to 6 months of rent or temporary housing to individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness and transitioning out of institutional levels of care, a correctional facility, or the foster care system, and who are at risk of hospitalization. Not a statewide Medi-Cal benefit, counties may opt-in through CalBH-CBC and Medi-Cal plans may provide as optional community support service under CalAIM. The proposal includes $17.9 million ($6.3 million General Fund) in 2025-26 and up to $116.6 million ($40.8 million General Fund) at full implementation.

· Delays in Behavioral Health Bridge Housing and Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program (BHCIP) Funding: The proposal delays half ($250 million) of 2023-24 Bridge House funding until 2024-25 and delays the last round of behavioral health continuum capacity funding out one fiscal year.

· Designated State Health Program (DSHP) and Primary Care and Obstetric Rate Increase: The Administration requests federal approval to claim $646.4 million in federal funding over four years to support PATH program to build capacity to implement services under CalAIM. The DSHP proposal also includes 10% increase in primary care services, obstetric, and doula care for net impact of $22 million total funds ($152.9 million General Fund savings) in 2023-24.

Other Health Care Proposals:

· Delays healthcare workforce investments: The proposal defers $68 million in 2022-23 and $329.4 million in 2023-24 for certain Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) healthcare workforce programs, including community health workers, nurses, behavioral health, primary care and reproductive health, but these programs remain fully funded.

· Sweeps Covered California reserve fund to General Fund: Money deposited into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs totaling $333.4 million is proposed to be swept to the General Fund. This would be returned after federal subsidies end, which is scheduled in 2025-26.

 

HOUSING

Rising housing costs, stalled housing production, and shrinking housing affordable housing is crushing Californians. To alleviate the pressure on Californians, the 2023-24 Housing Budget Proposal aims to keep jurisdictions accountable for planning, zoning and permitting housing at all income levels and maintains all but three of the investments seen in the 2022 Budget Act. The proposal also includes a new legally binding statewide housing goal of building 2.5 million new units, of which 1 million units will be affordable to low-income people by the year 2030. Unlike last year’s budget, this proposal has no investments in the emergency rental assistance program or any programs to assist people struggling to pay their rent or utilities due to the pandemic but maintains last year’s budget investments including:

· $500M – Annual investment in state Low Income Housing Tax Credit program

· $225M – Multifamily Housing Program

· $225M – Infill Infrastructure Grant Program

· $250M – Adaptive reuse

· $100M – Portfolio Reinvestment Program

· $50M – Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program

· $50M – Affordable housing on excess sites.

The proposed budget cuts $350 million in housing programs that were included in last year’s Budget Act. Reductions will be restored in January 2024, if there are sufficient budget revenues. Cuts for this year include:

· Dream For All Program: The newly created program would provide shared-appreciation loans to help low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers achieve homeownership. The timeline for implementing the program will remain the same, but $200 million of the original $500 million will be reverted to the General Fund.

· CalHome: Last year’s budget included $350 million one-time General Fund ($250 million in 2022-23 and $100 million for 2023-24) for the CalHome program, to provide local agencies and nonprofits grants to assist low- and very-low-income first-time homebuyers with housing assistance, counseling and technical assistance. The proposal removes $100 million in 2023-24.

· Accessory Dwelling Unit Program: The proposal reverts last year’s budget investment of $50 million General Fund in 2022-23 for the California Housing Finance Agency’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program.

HOMELESSNESS

The proposed budget includes $3.4 billion in 2023-24 to maintain the state’s efforts to address homelessness. There are no proposed cuts to the $15.3 billion in existing homelessness investments, which include:

· $3B – Flexible aid to local governments

· $3B – Homekey

· $2.2B – Behavioral health continuum infrastructure (see health section for delay details)

· $1.5B – Behavioral Health Bridge housing (see health section for delay details)

· $860M – Community Care Expansion

· $750M ($400M in 2023-24) – 3rd round of Encampment Clean Up Grants

· $262M – Project Roomkey

· $1B – for a fifth round of Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP)

The proposed budget includes funding to allow up to six months of rent or temporary housing to eligible individuals (see transitional rent under health section for more details) and the Administration plans to work with the Legislature this year to advance homeless accountability legislation.

 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

· Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Fraud Mitigation: In recent years recipients of CalWORKs and CalFresh have become easy prey for scammers to electronically steal or “skim” cash benefits from due to the lack protections that are provided on current EBT cards. In this proposal, the Governor provides a $50 million allocation over three years to pursue security upgrades and EBT card technology enhancements. We applaud the Governor for recognizing the need to strengthen protections for CalWORKs and CalFresh recipients and look forward to working with the Administration to create these protections while ensuring recipients of these programs can access their benefits freely and uninterrupted.

 

· CalWORKs: This proposal increases CalWORKs maximum aid payment levels by 2.9%. This is on top of legislative wins that we and our partners secured last year including funding for AB 2277 (Reyes), which provides program waivers to survivors of domestic abuse, and SB 1083 (Skinner), which provided home visiting services to pregnant CalWORKs participants and updates the criteria for families to receive CalWORKs homeless assistance.

· Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): This proposal includes an 8.6% increase in funding for the SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program providing a $3.5 billion from the general fund. This allocation provides recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month for individuals and $1,928 per month for couples.

· Child Welfare: We appreciate that the Governor recognizes the importance of prioritizing the well-being of California children and their safety. This proposal provides $1.6 billion in funding to Child Welfare Services, Foster Care, Child Support Services and other programs and services. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislative leaders to ensure that any additional funding provided to prioritize the safety of children shall include the principle of keeping families whole. Far too often California families have been separated by Child Protective Services without seeking alternative options that are often at our fingertips to keep families whole and together.

· Fines and Fees: In recent years California has made significant strides to eliminate fines and fees that place Californians further into poverty, such as the civil assessment. We look forward to continuing our advocacy with our partners from the Debt Free Justice Coalition to continue to seek the elimination of unjust fines and fees.

· Migrant and Immigrant Communities: While we recognize that California is a leader in welcoming and integrating immigrant communities into our state, this proposal falls short of providing basic needs to many immigrant communities including new arrivals from the border. We believe that this proposal must build upon the investments the state has already made by including access to critical social services for migrants who are seeking humanitarian relief from the federal government including those seeking asylum, non-citizens who are survivors of domestic abuse and others. The answer from anti-immigrant states and policy makers has been to militarize the southern border and disregard the humanity of migrants who are fleeing violence. Our state’s response must be one that continues to show us as a global leader providing comfort to those in need. Additionally, we support our coalition partners’ efforts to expand and strengthen the state’s safety net this year to provide food for all Californians and access to unemployment benefits. Scheduled to implement this year, we are disappointed that the proposal delays the California Food Assistance Program expansion to all income-eligible noncitizens 55 years of age or older until 2027.

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The Governor’s proposal provides $215 million to implement the CARE Act, which creates a court-ordered treatment system that strips people with untreated schizophrenia and other psychotic spectrum disorders of their right to make their own decisions about their lives, so we along with other partners will be working to ensure there is sufficient funding to support legal counsel to CARE participants. This includes $23.8 million in 2023-24, ramping up to $68.5 million in 2025-26 and ongoing to Judicial Branch; $16.5 million in 2023-24, ramping up to $108.5 million in 2025-26 and annually thereafter to county behavioral health department; and $6.1 million in 2023-24, increasing to $31.5 million annually beginning in 2025-26, to support legal counsel to CARE participants.

 

A PDF of this analysis can be accessed here: WCLP Analysis of Gov January Budget Proposal 2023-24

For questions, contact:

· Health: Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]wclp.org

· Housing and Homelessness: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

· Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org

The Fight to KEEP LA HOUSED over the Holidays: ‘Twas the season to extend emergency protections for tenants past December 31st in LA County

On the morning of December 16, leaders from Eastside Leads, ACCE, SAJE, and KEEP L.A Housed gathered at the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors meeting. They mobilized to call on elected officials to extend emergency protections for tenants. Many in attendance rescheduled shifts (which is not easy) with their employers to show up in person. Many struggled to secure childcare and be present at the meeting to give their testimonials as constituents.

During COVID, general public comment was itemized at the beginning of the agenda for all meetings. To the community’s surprise, general public comment was suddenly moved to the end of the agenda. The local media covering the story of tenant protections was stunned as well.

What started as a group of 100 or so community members and advocates, dwindled to 30 members by noon. Many had to go to work or leave to pick up kids from school. Organizers ordered food for those who stayed and were hungry.

Tenant leaders were already restless because certain supervisors refused for weeks to meet with them personally. One leader stood up and said, “We cannot wait! We don’t want residents to go homeless; if you don’t extend tenant protections, a lot of tenants will go homeless. We are your constituents, meet with us.”

“What do we want!” shouted another tenant community leader. A crowd made up of tenants shouted in response, “Extend emergency protections for tenants!”

“You are disrupting the meeting, please leave” said LA County Sheriffs at the meeting. Slowly folks were encircled by law enforcement and moved out of the room.

Outside, organizers wrapped up the day with members who were frustrated, waiting there since 7:00 in the morning.

Another tenant shared, “I know they say that they are tired of hearing that we need to extend tenant protections, but it’s the truth! This is the reality we live in! We need elected officials to support tenants! Locally and at the state level! People are losing a place to stay!”

For the rest of December, tenants called on all Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to support extending the emergency tenant protections. Their long-term goal is to organize for permanent protections that will prevent the increasing number of tenants losing housing.

After a round of meetings with elected officials, community groups returned to the LA Board of Supervisors meeting on December 20 to make public comment. A motion was made by Supervisor Holly Mitchell to extend the emergency tenant protections until January 31st, 2023.

Supervisor Hilda Solis added an amendment for a report back on January 31st for a possible extension until June 31st, 2023. The motion also included the creation of a $5 million relief program for “mom and pop” landlords who were, according to Solis, unable to collect rent when emergency tenant protections have been in place.

During public comment, tenants and organizers spoke at length. The community called on county supervisors to pass this motion.

Pamela Agustin from Eastside Leads and a tenant in County District 5 stressed the problems of the ERAP program that has left many tenants in limbo.

“I support the motion to extend for a 30-day report back to extend the extension for 6 more months. I have seen how these tenant protections that you have passed have been a lifeline for families — it’s given the ability for families to stay whole and avoid a family member from becoming houseless.”

Pamela Augustin adds, “We are also waiting on ERAP; over 179 tenants were helped by my organization, and they have not heard from the state.”

A tenant leader with Eastside Leads called on the board to champion more permanent protections. “We ask that tenant protections that end this December 31st be extended for 6 more months. It’s important we come up with permanent protections for tenants. There are thousands of families ending up in the street.”

Carla de Paz organizer with Community Power Collective said, “we are working in Lynwood to figure out how to implement more permanent protections, but a 1-month extension is not going to be enough time. Small cities like Lynwood are waiting to work with the board to get the tools they need to implement permanent protections.”

The LA County Board of Supervisors was moved by the power of these tenants and organizers. The motion passed!

For many this is an important win but it was made resoundingly clear that being okay with tenants losing housing cannot be normalized. Whether Sacramento or local governments across California want to hear it or not, people are suffering. We need action in 2023!

As Carla de Paz said in her public comment to the LA County Board of Supervisors, “the best way to fight homelessness is to keep people housed.”

Community members impacted directly by the ongoing housing crisis and the Keep LA Housed coalition will continue their advocacy this month and beyond.

They will continue to mobilize to ensure that the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors acts to protect tenants. Constituents are being evicted everyday in Los Angeles. Tenants will continue to struggle until we reimagine housing as universal human right.

Voices From the Holiday Strike Line

Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, academic workers and food service workers in Los Angeles went on strike for fair treatment and better wages. I visited the UCLA campus and joined the picket line to speak with UC academic worker organizers to hear their struggles. Later that week, I visited a Starbucks in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and spoke to Starbuck Workers United workers where they shared the conditions they are facing in their own workplace. The workers I met with talked about their fight for a living wage, and how winning a dignified wage will help them stay housed throughout the ongoing housing crisis. These workers spoke about fighting for better health benefits for themselves and for their families. They shared how their employers have encouraged them to sign up for public benefits, how their contract negotiations are being stalled, and how they are experiencing union busting tactics throughout this journey. My conversations made clear that the only way these workers will access justice is by walking the picket line and striking for what they deserve.

The following two accounts will be center the voice of the worker. The value of this approach is to allow the narrative to speak for itself – we must listen to and understand how they live, feel, and navigate their workplace. In many ways this borrows from the tradition of the testimonio (testimony) not in the legal sense, but in how it was used as an instrument of liberation and truth telling during the fight for liberation throughout the Americas. It is in these stories that you hear the protagonists at the center of the narrative: working people. When we talk about poverty and the impacts poverty has on health, housing, public benefits, and access to justice, we are talking about the struggle of workers. If we are committed to ending poverty, supporting the right to organize a union and protecting the right to strike is essential. These are the mightiest tools working people wield to fight injustice and systems that sustain poverty.

 

The Grinch that stole union contracts: Starbucks Workers United’s Red Cup Rebellion

Thursday, November 17. 2022 

“We’re here to show Starbucks that if there is no contract, there is no coffee. If we don’t get it, we shut it down,” said Cypress Park Starbucks barista Veronica Gonzalez through a megaphone as she walked the picket line with her co-workers. On the morning of November 17, baristas across Southern California successfully went on strike and closed 10 stores down. The same day, over 90 stores throughout the country closed as part of the national strike, the Red Cup Rebellion.  “Why today?” I asked the strikers. Starbucks Workers United (SWU) organizers shared that today is Starbucks Red Cup Day, when loyal customers anticipate the release of the company’s annual Holiday themed cup. “It’s like a collector craze customers look forward to,” shared a customer walking by to take a selfie and to show workers solidarity.

Veronica and her co-workers picketed along the entrance where several cars tried to enter but supportively drove away once learning of the strike. SWU strikers are asking corporate representatives to come to the negotiation table and work towards an agreement in their fight to end what they feel are union busting tactics. Veronica  shared that “we’ve already gone through the unionizing process. We have a union in our store that we won in August, and yet, we still have no contract. Starbucks refuses to bargain in good faith, so we are here to make ourselves heard.”

SWU says that the National Labor Relations Board has issued 39 official complaints and 900 alleged federal labor law violations in response to union busting violations. Veronica’s store is one of the busiest locations in Los Angeles. “They don’t care if they are overworking us, they don’t care if they are understaffing us. If the numbers look good to them [management], they’re content with that. So if that’s the case, there goes their numbers – sorry we’re closed on the busiest day.” Veronica told me that “not anyone can do what we do. People want to say this is an unskilled job, but we are skilled workers making struggle [sic] wages.” She shared that many workers have families and live locally in Cypress Park, an area that has experienced gentrification and lacks quality, affordable housing. Many workers with families are getting by only with public benefits. “They cut our labor so short, only to make their profit margin larger. They’re making us struggle, they’re scheduling people under 20 hours, gas is $7 dollars, you still have to pay for food or apply for food stamps to pay for rent, nothing is getting cheaper, it’s unlivable conditions [sic],” feels Veronica. SWU organizers shared that they are not anti-Starbucks, but they are fighting to be seen as partners not just in words, but in dignified action. “Let’s get this contract going!” shouted Veronica.

 

UC Academic Workers Strike for better pay and health benefits for their families – Tuesday, November 15, 2022

“Union busting is disgusting,” roared a crowd of over one hundred or so academic workers as they picketed the UCLA campus. It is day two of this historic strike, which began on November 15, 2022. The picketers marched with resolve and their signs read, “UAW ON STRIKE: UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE.”

Around 48,000 academic workers across the University of California system are on strike as union leaders are asking the UC representatives to return to the negotiating table. UC officials are calling for a neutral mediator, while in several statements are claiming their offers to the union are reasonable. Workers leading negotiations shared with me that this is not enough. Their main demands are an increase in wages and expanded support to workers with families. On average, graduate students who tutor and labor as teacher assistants only earn around $24,000 annually. For academic worker organizers, this is about fighting for a living wage in the midst of unprecedented national inflation and an affordable housing crisis in California.

“All of us are student academic workers organizing. This is the time to take a stand,” said Stefany Mena who is an academic researcher in Psychology at UCLA. She argues the UC system incorrectly views them as part-time worker, while many average 60-hour work weeks. “We are severely rent burdened. Most of my salary goes back to rent for housing that the university owns.” Stefany says. Instead of being offered a raise, many academic workers are being encouraged to sign up for food stamps, she says. “During our orientation, they encourage us to sign up for public assistance… but U.C.’s shouldn’t be relying on these programs for workers to get by.” Some organizers have created mutual aid food programs to help fellow academic workers, she adds “these are amazing, but again, workers shouldn’t be struggling.” Strikers are also asking for free public transit passes. Stefany says that the rent is so high that they need transportation benefits. ” We are having to commute further and further away to find affordable rents.” Academic workers with dependents are also fighting to expand health coverage. “If you have children, it’s very difficult because it’s extremely expensive” she says.

The outcomes of this strike are still to be determined, but strikers here know that they will win what they are demanding. As they picket, they affirm, “if we don’t get it, shut it down!”

 

 

JOINT PRESS RELEASE: Statement In Response to Governor Newsom’s Rejection of Local Homeless Plans

  

    

              

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sacramento, CA

Contact: Unai Montes, [email protected], 310.962.7369 (Bilingual)

Statement In Response to Governor Newsom’s Rejection of Local Homeless Plans

The undersigned organizations that work to end homelessness are concerned by Governor Newsom’s announcement today that he is rejecting local homeless action plans required under the Homeless, Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) program. We share the Governor’s goal of ensuring that local governments act ambitiously and decisively to solve this urgent human rights crisis. At the same time, we question the choice to withhold critical grant funds already approved and committed to local emergency systems, putting existing services in jeopardy.

Recent historic investments in homelessness, affordable housing, and tenant protections are ending homelessness for tens of thousands of Californians. In fact, local homeless response systems are housing more people than ever before. Yet, given the decades of disinvestment that preceded, these recent one-time investments are only a down payment on what must be ongoing and more significant funding for the solutions we know work to end homelessness: deeply affordable housing, supportive services, and targeted homelessness prevention to curb the tide of people entering our shelters and living on our sidewalks.

Homelessness is increasing, not because State funding isn’t working, but because it’s just not enough to meet the scale of our need, especially in the face of systemic drivers like unprecedented rent increaseshousing discrimination, and chronic workforce shortages largely driven by a long legacy of inconsistent public funding.

These facts do not excuse failures to solve homelessness at any level of government. However, we cannot expect local homeless response systems to make long-term, ambitious plans with only one-time state investments, and without addressing affordable housing, healthcare, tenants rights, re-entry from the criminal justice and other systems, and glaring gaps in existing safety net systems.

People experiencing homelessness have been failed by multiple systems and deserve thoughtful, strategic, and inclusive policy solutions. They are clear on what they need: permanent housing. To achieve significant reductions in rates of homelessness across California, our leaders must make it a priority to pass legislation that focuses on permanently housing Californians, and by making an ongoing financial commitment that spans beyond just a few years and at a level commensurate with the scale of our crisis and its solutions.

The following organizations and people with lived experience of homelessness support this statement:

  • Brilliant Corners
  • Corporation for Supportive Housing
  • Destination: Home
  • Housing California
  • Homebase
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • PATH
  • The People Concern
  • Safe Place for Youth
  • Union Station Homeless Services
  • Western Center on Law & Poverty

Organizing For Vendor Justice in California

On the last Friday night of September, Mariachi Plaza was bursting with beautiful music and enticing aromas. It’s always bustling on a weekend, but this night was different.

Hundreds of cheerful street vendors, advocates, and supporters were gathered to celebrate the signing of SB 972 by Governor Gavin Newsom, which modernized the California Retail Food Code to be inclusive of street vendors.

This moment was special for street vendors in California. They made history by organizing, mobilizing, and fighting for their rights. This is a victory that will be retold alongside other stories of social justice movements, like the Justice for Janitors campaign and the United Farm Workers movement.

As I walked along all the food stands, I connected with vendors, community organizers, and other leaders who led this fight. Many of these leaders participated in the creation of the statewide coalition that won SB 972, and many were the same community members I once worked alongside.

In 2018, I had the opportunity to organize with vendors in Boyle Heights and the San Fernando Valley. For years, street vendors had been fighting criminalization and harassment. As one of two organizers on the ground, we prioritized co-organizing demonstrations with vendors when they were attacked or swept by the city. The saying I heard on the frontline was: if they mess with one of us, they mess with all of us.

Si se meten con una hormiga se meten con el hormiguero. 

The fight for street vendors was a fight for dignity. The road to SB 972 was paved by vendors’ relentless organizing, participation in forums and city council meetings, and one-on-one conversations with leaders throughout the region. These vendors stirred up “good trouble” in the form of civil disobedience, flooding council members’ offices, taking-over streets, and demonstrating at police stations. These countless years of organizing are what got SB 972 across the finish line.

Before leaving Mariachi Plaza, I stopped and spoke with Caridad Vasquez, a seasoned vendor leader who has long been involved in this fight. We made plans to speak the following week to talk about the impact of SB 972 and what this bill would mean for her.

She told me, “finally, justice was done for all street vendors, we can finally make a living legally. For so long, politicians and critics said that a food permit would not be possible, but here we are!”

Caridad has been a street vendor for over 40 years and has been part of the street vendor justice movement since the early 2000’s, when the LA Street Vendor Campaign was just taking shape. She was rejoiceful and looking forward to the work her organization Vendedores en Acción (Vendors in Action) will be involved in the following months.

She says, “many of us are recovering from the pandemic, some of us are still unemployed, others are behind on rent, and people’s recovery from the pandemic means supporting sidewalk vending.”

Caridad stresses that we should support the street vendor movement and continue to ensure a just implementation takes shape.

“Messing with the local sidewalk vendors means messing with all of us – we can all play a part by stopping injustice when we see it happen, we have a duty to contact elected officials and demand they continue to support the working people of our communities.”

Caridad is correct. Many vendor leaders like her are preparing at this moment to ensure implementation of SB 972 is a just one. Across the state, from Oakland to San Bernardino vendors and community advocates are assembling. This is just the beginning of another chapter in the story of this movement.

Until then, we should stand by and be ready to join the fight because… si se meten con una hormiga se meten con el hormiguero.

2022 Garden Party Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award Tribute

In the past fourteen years, the Equal Justice awards have been presented to a wide array of national, state, and local leaders in the legal aid world — from former U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder to California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to local leaders like Judge Terry Hatter and USC Law Professor Claire Pastore. This year, we finally realized we had been overlooking two legal aid stars in the Center’s own backyard. Those stars are the Center’s long-time Litigation Director Dick Rothschild and it’s veteran General Counsel, Robert Newman.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Yale University, Dick Rothschild attended USC Law school— graduating in 1975 where he was Order of the Coif, second highest GPA in his class and the Notes and Articles Editor of the Law Review. He then clerked for California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk. With that outstanding resume, Dick was a top prospect for the largest, most prestigious law firms in town. But that was not what he wanted to do as a lawyer and in 1976, he chose instead to sign on as a staff Attorney at the Western Center. By 1984 he was elevated to be the Center’s Director of Litigation, the position he still occupies nearly four decades later. In that role, Dick not only manages the litigation staff and all the Center’s major cases, but frequently is personally involved as lead or co-counsel in those cases.

Meantime, Bob Newman earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at Yale , finishing in 1977 and moving to Los Angeles in 1979. The next few years Bob developed a successful practice representing individuals who had suffered at the hands of government. During that time he won several of multi-million dollar judgments for victims of police misconduct. In 1986, he brought that expertise in major litigation and class actions to the Western Center when he joined the staff as its General Counsel. Over the past three and a half decades, often teaming with other Western Center lawyers, he has successfully litigated scores of major class actions and test cases establishing new legal rights and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of low income people. In addition, he shares his expertise and wisdom with other staff members when they face knotty problems in cases they are handling. While the rest of Western Center’s legal staff is unusually talented, they are even more productive and successful because the staff includes Bob and Dick with their deep reservoir of experience in complex litigation.

While this may be the first time Dick and Bob are receiving the Western Center’s Equal Justice Award, they have reputations in the legal aid and public interest community that range across the state and even nationally. This is evidenced by the many awards one or both of them have received from other organizations—among them the California Bar’s Loren Miller Award which Dick and Bob won in different years, the Lawyers’ Guild’s Robert Kenny Award which Bob received recently, and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s top award— the Kutak-Dodd Prize—which Dick earned a few years ago that goes to the outstanding legal aid lawyer in the country.

I am pleased, indeed honored, to add the Center’s Equal Justice Award to that list. It is especially meaningful for me because this time I have personally observed the contributions these two lawyers have made to the elusive goal of equal justice for all and to improving the lives of the poor and otherwise powerless. So I ask Dick Rothschild and Bob Newman to accept these Equal Justice Awards they have proven several times over that they have long deserved.