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Author: Lisa Richardson

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What Solidarity and the month of May mean to me

If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery – the wage slaves … Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up… You cannot put it out..” –August Spies  before being sentenced to death in 1886 by an Illinois court.

The Haymarket Martyrs, as many familiar with U.S labor history term the group, received worldwide attention at the time of the event, but many today do not know they are the reason International Workers Day is observed worldwide on May 1.

On May 4, 1886 a Chicago rally in support of an 8-hour work day was held in Haymarket Square. Chicago at the time was a hub of labor organizing activity, and a day earlier violence had broken out at the McCormick Harvesting Company aimed at striking workers.

The  police tragically killed workers during the rally when they opened fire on the crowd. The Haymarket crowd had been relatively peaceful; they were responding and gathering to protest the police killings from the day before, but as the police began to disperse the crowd, an unknown person threw a bomb at police. Police responded with  gunfire,killing other police officers and civilians. The aftermath led to the round up, trial, and execution of eight radical unionists.

As we end the month of May, it is the first day of month, not the last, that led to reflections on labor’s struggle but also other May Days and the moments activism and hope with them.

As a community college student in 2006, I cut my teeth on Mayday  activism at East Los Angeles College. Federal anti-immigrant legislation  had caused massive rallies across the country, and LA was no dififerent. In Los Angeles, massive student were spontaneous and uncoordinated. Student groups across L.A worked together to make May Day 1, 2006 huge, and it was. Some of the high school and college students that walked out of class later became professional labor/community organizers, teachers, professors, policy advocates, lawyers, and doctors.

Then came May Day 2016 and May Day 2017, when I was organizing with the L.A Street Vendor Campaign, which these marches with  hot dog vendors fighting to have their labor be formalized and no longer criminalized.  This, of course, was before the bill to legalize street vending in California was passed. Seeing vendors lead the march, knowing many ran from the police with scalding hot equipment in fear of police violence, brought me such joy. They owned the streets in a peaceful demonstration of power. The visuals/optics and their chants I can still hear.

To me, May Day is the day workers across the world show their political power. But it is more than that. It is a day when the poor, the economically marginalized and empowered communities highlight their struggle. It is a day on which I’ve taken my children out to gather with other likeminded folks to celebrate and demonstrate people power. I want my children, the future, to know the worker struggle continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child Support Belongs to Children

California is transforming its child support system to direct more money to the children for whom the support payments are intended. This critical reform may seem like common sense, but only a few states have adopted a similar policy. For decades, federal law has required custodial parents who receive public benefits to assign their child support payments to the government as reimbursement for the cost of those benefits. As a result, when a noncustodial parent makes a child support payment, some of that payment could be intercepted and kept by the government.

In May, California took the first step to undo this harmful and misguided policy.  The state will no longer intercept child support payments intended for families who formerly received CalWORKs. This change means an estimated $160 million per year will go to families and children.. The state’s action is in response to years of advocacy, including ongoing efforts of the Western Center on Law & Poverty and its partners in the Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition. You can learn more about the Coalition here and read the Coalition’s statement on this important policy victory.

Yetmore work to be done. California continues to intercept approximately $150 million each year from low-income families who currently receive CalWORKs, and this policy has resulted in over $6 billion dollars of government-owed child support that causes incalculable financial and social harm.

The interception of child support payments stems from racist and sexist stereotypes about black families and those who must turn to public assistance. California cannot close the racial wealth gap and end child poverty until it reforms the child support program. The Coalition’s letters to Legislative Budget Leaders asking them to continue to reform state child support policies to better support low-income children and their families can be found here.

 

Executive Director Crystal Crawford Tapped As Weingart Foundation’s Inaugural Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships

Western Center is proud to share that the Weingart Foundation has chosen our Executive Director Crystal Crawford for a groundbreaking new senior leadership role that will aw the Foundation to increase its racial justice impact. She will serve as the Weingart Foundation’s inaugural Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships.

Crystal took the helm of Western Center nearly four years ago, and during her tenure, she has steered the organization through a series of both external and internal achievements. These include,  more deeply centering racial justice in WCLP’s approach to our work, supporting community-led efforts to transform unjust systems, and strengthening the Center’s partnerships with BIPOC communities. Internally, she greatly increased the racial diversity of the board of directors and staff, and deepened WCLP’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

During Crystal’s tenure, Western Center’s attorneys and advocates have secured numerous legislative and legal victories while confronting some of the most complex health, housing and safety net problems and challenges in recent years. The team’s strategic litigation, administrative advocacy, and policy advocacy efforts have further cemented Western Center’s legacy and commitment to working to dismantle and transform systems that keep people in poverty.

As Crystal transitions from her role, the organization is in a strong financial position with a stellar team in place that will be led by Board Co-Chairperson and longtime board member Lois Thompson, who will serve as Interim Executive Director while the organization undertakes a nationwide search process for its new leader. Previously, Lois served as Co-Interim Executive Director of Western Center, along with David Elson, immediately preceding Crystal’s tenure. She is well-equipped to lead Western Center during this season of leadership transition as she partners with the management team to ensure that WCLP’s work continues
seamlessly.

Please join us in congratulating Crystal on this exciting new role! Her achievements and contributions to Western Center add yet another chapter to the organization’s proud legacy. We know that she will be an outstanding philanthropic senior leader who will lead with courage and boldness during this time when racial justice and diversity, equity and inclusion funding are under heightened attack.

 

Should Sickness Lead to Bankruptcy? Help Us Protect Californians from Medical Debt

By Linda Nguy

Joy turned to concern shortly after Humberto Cruz and his wife welcomed their firstborn child into the world in 2010. Their baby required emergency services and an extended hospital stay at Queen of the Valley Hospital  in West Covina, California. 

What happened to the Cruz family next is a problem only California lawmakers can solve. 

The tough lessons began when Cruz learned his employer’s insurance coverage failed to add his newborn to his insurance coverage. He later learned the hospital failed to mention available financial assistance, forcing Cruz to shoulder all of the nearly $20,000 bill. 

Cruz’s former employer never corrected its mistake and Cruz was soon laid off from his job. When he was unable to take time off his new job to answer a bill collector’s court summons, the collection agency won a default judgment against him, later placing a levy on his bank account and a lien against his family home. 

Life events eventually led Cruz to sell his home. The agency seized $17,000 from the sale. When Cruz purchased a new home in 2016, the collection agency placed another lien on that home. Cruz eventually settled and paid off the judgment with credit cards and savings. The 12-year ordeal cost Cruz almost $23,000, leaving him emotionally spent, financially drained and uncertain about his family’s future.

Hospital debt constitutes more than 70% of medical debt, and hospital bills can be much larger than other types of medical bills, according to 2023 research by the Urban Institute. And a California Health Care Foundation survey found more than a third (38%) of Californians report owing medical debt, with Black, Latino/x, and low-income people among the most burdened.

Despite qualifying for financial assistance, patients still receive large medical bills from hospitals. Nonprofit hospitals, in particular, do not meet their community benefit obligations, according to a recent Lown Institute Fair Share Spending study.

In 2007, the Hospital Fair Pricing Act determined hospitals in California must provide charity and discounted care to patients who receive hospital care and are uninsured or underinsured. Subsequent updates, including requirements for emergency physicians and debt collectors, raising income eligibility for financial assistance, and improving oversight and enforcement have expanded patient protections, but more must be done. Home liens like those placed on Cruz’s family home by hospital debt collectors should be prohibited. 

We and our allies have successfully challenged certain hospital practices in court. Since Western Center and Consumer Law Center, Inc. settled their case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare last year for alleged violations of hospital financial assistance laws, Santa Clara County has written off $1.48 million in patient debt and refunded more than $304,000 to patients. But more needs to be done statewide to ensure patients are not saddled with unaffordable hospital bills.

Since the Hospital Fair Pricing Act’s passage in 2016, California’s uninsured rate has been reduced by more than half with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medi-Cal and created Covered California, as well as other Medi-Cal expansions. These policies have relieved much of the burden on hospitals to cover the cost of uninsured care. 

Now, more than ever, hospitals can and should provide greater financial assistance to relieve the harmful impacts of medical debt.

Californians who want to get involved can start by contacting their Assemblymember to support AB 2297, the bill to modernize the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. It does so by:

  • Prohibiting the use of lien on homes to collect unpaid medical bills from financially eligible patients
    • For many Californians, their homes are their greatest asset, and often the main way that families build generational wealth
    • However, a loophole allows debt collectors to place liens on patients’ homes to collect unpaid hospital bills
    • Home liens should be completely prohibited in the collection of unpaid hospital bills from financially qualified patients
  • Clarifying hospitals must review financial assistance eligibility at any time
    • While the law requires hospitals to process applications at any time, many hospitals impose arbitrary deadlines – allowing hospitals to disqualify eligible patients from financial assistance to expedite collections
    • The Department of Health Care Access and Information interprets this provision of the law to prohibit deadlines for applications, which should finally be made clear in the statute
  • Eliminating the consideration of assets from charity care eligibility
    • The Medi-Cal program recently eliminated the consideration of assets, and other states are looking to bar assets as well. California’s hospital financial assistance rules should follow suit

As Assemblymember Friedman, author of AB 2297, shared at the April 9 Assembly Health Committee Hearing: “I believe in a country [and state] as wealthy as . . . California, the whole concept of medical bankruptcy and medical debt  . . . is really unacceptable. It’s an abomination. . . .The fact that we are taking people’s homes and property or putting a lien on their home just because they want to get treatment for a sickness is something that shouldn’t happen.”

To learn more about the Hospital Fair Pricing Act, read our fact sheet here. For more information about WCLP resources, click here, and to follow the progress of our recent and past legislative initiatives, please visit our newsletter page here.

 

Electronic EBT Theft & Organizer Toolkit

In 2019, the problem of electronic theft of EBT funds became a front and center issue for many California officials. At the time it was estimated that monthly losses increased from less than $10,0000 to an average of $36,000. That number has now reached $10 million a month in benefits theft.

Many Californians continue to have their benefits stolen from their EBT cards. This typically happens in two ways. Either the person has had their EBT card “skimmed” with electronic equipment that picks up and takes your information. Or people are scammed by an unauthorized third party by giving out their EBT card number and/or personal identification number.

“I’ve been eating one meal a day for the last 3 days. I need help figuring out where my money went,” said Angelica Anon in email, who did not want to disclose her real name. She shared that she is unhoused and living in her car at the moment and was struggling to use her card at the grocery store. She had tried multiple times to use it but each time she tried she was told her balance was at zero. She knew she was in trouble. For certain, she had $223 dollars remaining on the card. She was there in person to speak to someone. She wasn’t the only one and she won’t be the last. This is an ongoing obstacle in the lives of many Californians.

Community members often reach out for assistance on getting stolen funds back. As community activists / organizers we are always looking for ways to share and popularize information. Share this wherever community convenes:

With electronic theft of EBT benefits impacting many Californians who need access to food, what can we do?

Briefly here are some things you should consider:

  1. Report the theft – You have 90 days to report the theft. Report right away!
  2. Cancel your card – contact EBT Customer Service Hotline at (877) 328-9677 (open 24 hours a day) to cancel.
  3. File a claim – File the “EBT 2259” claim form with the county within 90 days of electronic theft.
    1. You will need to identify the transactions that were illegal.
    2. The EBT Hotline can get you a 60-day transaction history.
    3. BenefitsCal has 3 months
    4. EBT Edge has 365 days
    5. Or you can ask the county to help you identify the illegal transaction(s)

For more detailed information, please see guide below:

ACTIVIST / ORGANIZER TOOLKIT: SPOTLIGHT ON ELECTRONIC EBT THEFT       Community Guide

 

EBT Electronic Theft Resources (ca.gov)

Celebrating Notable Women in U.S. History

“Slavery was Legal. Colonialism was Legal. Jim Crow was Legal. Apartheid was Legal. Legality is a matter of Power, NOT Justice”

Western Center on Law & Poverty for over 55 years, has advocated in every branch of government, from courts to the Legislature, on behalf of Californians experiencing poverty. . Through the lens of economic and racial justice, Western Center litigates, educates, and advocates around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration. As advocates we recognize that some of the most powerful gatekeepers, bridgebuilders, and architects of resistance in the communities we work with are women.

Women, especially women of color, are routinely erased from public memory and historical narratives of resistance. It’s undeniable that the contributions of women of color to historical resistance movements are often overlooked or minimized. While their invaluable efforts powered the abolitionists, suffrage, labor, and civil rights movements, mainstream narratives have frequently sidelined their stories in favor of highlighting male leaders. This Women’s History Month, we choose to recognize and celebrate the pivotal role women of color have played in shaping our collective history and fighting for justice:

Sojourner Truth was an evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery before escaping to freedom in 1826. After gaining her freedom, SoujournerTruth helped enslaved people escape to freedom and traveled the country to organize for abolitionism and equal rights for all. After the Civil War, she became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping the formerly enslaved find jobs and build new lives. While in Washington, DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid-1860s, when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding, she ensured his arrest and won her subsequent case. In the late 1860s, she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide formerly enslaved people with land, though Congress never took action.

Mary Ellen Pleasant was posthumously regarded as the mother of California’s civil rights movement.  She helped to lead the abolitionist movement during the Gold-Rush era and played a key role in helping to finance John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry in Virginia, a revolt by enslaved Black slaves and white abolitionists.. Pleasant also gave shelter, jobs, and money to enslaved people running to freedom through the Underground Railroad. In 1866, a street car conductor in San Francisco refused to let her board because she was Black. Pleasant sued and the case went all the way to the California Supreme Court. In a historic decision, the court ruled that segregation on streetcars was illegal in California.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. She was a researcher, writer, and journalist. Wells-Barnett was one of the first journalists to write about the conditions of African Americans throughout the South. After the lynching of one of her friends, she dedicated her career to exposing white terrorism. Wells was a skilled investigator and worked to uncover the truth behind several cases of Black men being lynched. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. Wells-Barnett traveled internationally to bring much needed attention to lynching. Often ridiculed and  ostracized by whit suffragettes  founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, to promote suffrage for Black women.

Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American civil rights and labor activist. Her support for causes such as the Black Power movement, feminism, and the environment spanned over 70 years. During the 1950s, Boggs moved to Detroit and began editing the radical newspaper Correspondence, which supported worker-centered revolution. Throughout her life, Grace Lee Boggs maintained the core belief that if people worked together, they could accomplish positive social change.

Dolores Huerta was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association and is one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century. A leader of the Chicano civil rights movement, despite racism and sexism, she helped organize the 1965 Delano strike of 5,000 farmworkers and was the lead negotiator in the workers’ contract that followed.

Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Hamer organized voter registration drives, including the “Freedom Ballot Campaign”, a mock election, in 1963, and the “Freedom Summer” initiative in 1964. Later she became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity.

Mae Mallory was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement and a leader in the Black Power movement. Mallory was bestknown as an advocate of desegregation and Black armed self-defense.

Sarah Deer, a member of the Muscogee Creek tribe, is a lawyer, professor at the University of Kansas, and advocate who has worked for victims rights and sexual violence prevention for decades. She was an instrumental activist in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act, which expanded tribal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence.

The CROWN Coalition was founded in 2019 by Western Center on Law & Poverty, National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Dove 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. Today, twenty-four states across the country have passed the CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) Act in response to Black people, especially women regularly face discrimination in schools and the workplace based on the texture and style of their hair. Hair is often a reflection of one’s personal identity and serves as a signifier of culture and ancestry. The CROWN Act impacts racial discrimination, pay equity, and just cause protections for people of various cultural backgrounds, but especially Black people. With over 31.6 million Black people in the U.S. labor force, the CROWN Act could help reduce discrimination for more than 12% of labor force participants (U.S. Census Bureau ACS 2021a). Over 200 years before the CROWN Act, the Tignon laws of the 18th century were laws that, at the request of white women, banned Black women in the Caribbean colonies and Louisiana from exposing their natural hair in public. Their hairdos were seen as a threat to the social stability and status of white women, who protested in a letter that  Black women “who dressed too elegantly” were attracting the attentions of white men. Resembling today’s West African Gele, a tignon is a type of head covering. It is a large piece of fabric wrapped or tied around the head to form a decorative sculpture concealing the hair. Tignons were worn by free and enslaved women of African descent in Louisiana from 1786. These laws regulated appearance and enforced the dress styles for women of color in a society dominated by whiteness. Many Black women continued to wear headwraps or tignons as a sign of rebellion and resistance.

“Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.” —Mary McLeod Bethune

 

‘Tis the Season…To Donate (Unspoiled) Food

By Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, WCLP Outreach & Advocacy Associate

One in five Californians suffers from chronic hunger, but a growing food rescue effort is poised to shrink that number.

About two years ago, one of the most significant waste reduction mandates went into effect across the state. SB 1383 ambitiously seeks to reduce organic waste  by 75% by 2025.  This means that around 20 million tons of potential waste may soon be diverted from landfills to kitchen tables.

Throughout California, municipalities  are setting up  programs to  ensure that grocery stores, produce marts, corporate kitchens, schools,  and other commercial food generators  set protocols to inspect leftover food before it spoils and see that it reaches those who are hungry as fresh as possible. For years prior to SB 1383, many food generators resisted donating food. Now with legislation, a robust network of waste reduction programs and streamlined donation processes,  support is growing.  

For example, Food Finders, which has a network of over 470 partners across five counties in Southern California, has been helping food generators comply with the mandate. In particular, they facilitate same-day, donor-to-recipient delivery of edible foods.

Thanks to SB 1383, food rescue programs reach out to organizations to ensure organizations know how to communicate with local public works departments to help them become compliant. During the COVID-19 epidemic, enforcement lagged, but the work of educating food donors is back on track. 

When Food Finders engages with new partners, it provides guidance that includes defining what is “edible” food. Presently, the definition can vary, say, from store to store, because there is no federally mandated expiration date. One store may pull food three days before expiration date, others may pull it the day of. The next step for averting food waste? Federal expiration standards.

A recent study found that more than 90% of Americans misinterpret food labels, leading to the disposal of perfectly good food. This, in many ways, exacerbates the issue of “donation dumping.” 

As the work in food recovery continues without a federal mandate clarifying what is spoiled, we must remind ourselves: if you won’t eat it, don’t donate it. 

 

Settlement Finalized in Katie A. vs. Los Angeles County Mental Health Lawsuit

After more than 20 years of litigation, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, has given final approval to a settlement in the longstanding case Katie A. v. Los Angeles County. The Court’s action ends a federal class action lawsuit that, over time, led to significantly improved mental health services for children and young adults in foster care or who face imminent risk of placement in foster care. 

Filed in 2002, the suit alleged the county and state agencies failed to provide legally mandated health care services to youth in its custody. The lack of mental health services harmed foster youth by increasing the likelihood they would be removed from their homes.  Removals compound trauma for foster youth, making the lack of appropriate care even harder for children already struggling with mental illness.

“In the beginning of this lawsuit, we saw many youth have multiple moves due to behaviors that weren’t being addressed with treatment, and they were losing important connections to family and community,” said Antionette Dozier, one of Western Center’s lead attorneys on the case. 

While the County has instituted numerous new systems as a result of the lawsuit, perhaps most noteworthy is the now-standard practice for youth to receive intensive home-based mental health services that aim to keep youth with severe mental health needs in a homelike setting. Previously, they were more likely to have been  hospitalized or sent to a group home.

The County first settled the lawsuit in 2003 and agreed to provide mental health services, in addition to a long monitoring process. Plaintiffs filed a successful motion in 2009 to enforce the original settlement provisions.

Eventually, the plaintiffs reached separate settlement agreements with both the state and LA County in the case.

Co-counsel include: Disability Rights California, Bazelon Center for Mental Health, National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel.

 

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