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Author: Monika Lee

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The Fresno Housing Authority will reopen the housing voucher list soon. Here’s how you can apply.

The Fresno Housing Authority will be opening its Housing Choice Voucher Program interest list for the first time since 2019. The list will open June 15 at 10 a.m. and will close July 14 at 5 p.m.

The program, formerly known as Section 8, provides rental assistance to low-income renters in Fresno city and county.

The list has not been opened yet, but potential applicants can start the process by creating an account on the Fresno Housing Authority’s resident portal.

Once the list is open, Fresno Housing Authority “will launch an educational campaign to provide information and resources to the community to spread awareness about the program,” representatives stated in an email to Fresnoland.

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Smallwood-Cuevas Joins Grocery and Pharmacy Workers to Stop Job & Wage Cuts

Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles) joined grocery store workers from across California on May 17, who traveled to the State Capitol to rally in support of a suite of bills that would address the harmful effects of grocery mergers.

This comes on the heels of a proposed deal between Albertsons and Kroger – the nation’s two largest grocery store chains with an outsized presence in California – to ink a $24.6 billion merger.

“The astronomical cost to grocery workers of the proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger is a reminder that we have a responsibility to protect the communities we represent through public policy,” said Smallwood-Cuevas.

“That is why I am proud to author SB 725, which institutes a mandatory severance pay for workers who are laid off due to a grocery merger or acquisition. It sends a clear message that we will not allow grocery companies to enrich themselves on the backs of their employees.”

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After Years of Advocacy in Dallas and Around Texas, the CROWN Act Becomes Law

On March 22, WFAA reporter Tashara Parker stood before eight members of the Texas House of Legislature’s State Affairs committee in Austin, her hair swinging in a long braid behind her back. She had waited almost 11 hours to speak. At the podium, she asked the legislators to imagine “walking into work carrying the weight of an identity that was not your own.” That their natural hair—be it straight or textured, braided, in locks (also known as dreadlocks), or flat-ironed—was deemed “unprofessional.”

The subject of Parker’s testimony, House Bill 567, would make such discrimination illegal.

Standing for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, House Bill 567 would prevent discrimination against someone based on their hairstyle or hair texture “commonly or historically associated with race.” The bill overwhelmingly passed the State House of Representatives 143-5 April 13, and in the State Senate 29-1 nearly a month later on May 12. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law over the weekend. It goes into effect on September 1.

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California bill aims to rein in high security deposits

Most renters know securing housing isn’t as simple as finding the perfect place.

California’s renters must save up thousands of dollars to provide security deposits that can legally be as much as two months’ rent, or three months’ for furnished units.

Add in the requirement that renters put up the first month’s rent before they can move in and low-income families are most likely to give up hope of finding a home.

The state Assembly on May 22 passed a proposal that could change that.

Assembly Bill 12 would limit security deposits to one month’s rent, regardless of whether a unit is furnished or not. If the bill passes and gets Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, California could become the 12th state to limit security deposits.

“Security deposits present barriers for people to move into apartments, which can lead them to stay in apartments (and) in homes that are too small, crowded or even unsafe,” said Matt Haney, the Democratic Assemblymember from San Francisco who authored the bill. “In other cases, people take on debt or financial burden that leaves them unable to afford other necessities.”

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Lawsuit alleging discrimination against Black students with disabilities ends in settlement

Black students with disabilities who attend public schools in Sacramento will receive more support to remain in class with their peers thanks to a settlement between a nonprofit and the school district.

After four years of litigation, the nonprofit, Black Parallel School Board (BPSB), and the Sacramento City Unified School District have come to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that alleged students of color, particularly Black students, experienced excessive and disparate exclusionary disciplinary measures such as suspension, expulsion, and involuntary and undocumented removal from classrooms.

“The settlement is a result of years of advocacy. Not just by the Black Parallel School Board, but by the broader community of Sacramento, advocates for disability rights and racial equity in education as well,” said Darryl White, senior chair of BPSB.

The BPSB is a community-based membership organization that developed in 2007 to serve Black children, primarily those attending public school in Sacramento. The nonprofit was assisted by the Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California, National Center for Youth Law and Western Center on Law and Poverty in coming to the settlement.

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Changes coming to Sacramento City Unified after discrimination lawsuit settlement

The Sacramento City Unified School District is required to make changes to ensure all students have access to an education.

The changes include reducing the disproportionate discipline rate of students with disabilities, especially Black children. It’s all part of a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit between the district, students and a Black-led organization.

Three students, along with a community organization named the Black Parallel School Board, filed the lawsuit against the district in Sept. 2019.

They accused the district of segregating students with disabilities — particularly Black students —from their peers without disabilities. They also claimed students with disabilities were placed in separate classrooms or schools, and that those students faced “excessive and exclusionary discipline” for behavior caused by their disabilities.

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Sacramento City Unified School District settles lawsuit over special education practices

The Sacramento City Unified School District has reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought on by the Black Parallel School Board and district families in 2019.

The BPSB is a nonprofit community-based organization that advocates for African American families within the school district.

The class action lawsuit claimed students with disabilities were excluded and segregated from classrooms, wrongfully suspended or disciplined, and were not receiving necessary resources within the special education program. It argued these issues impacted Black students with disabilities at a disproportionate rate.

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Sacramento City Unified School District Settlement in Race and Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Increases Accountability

FOOTAGE OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE

Sacramento City Unified School District Settlement in Race and Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Increases Accountability

Agreement requires five-year monitoring period and action plan for all students to receive an equal education

Sacramento, Calif. — A group of plaintiffs that includes the Black Parallel School Board and several individual students has reached a settlement agreement with the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) in a lawsuit that challenged the district’s longstanding harmful practices of excluding and segregating students with disabilities, particularly Black students with disabilities.

The settlement was reached Friday in the class action suit, which was initially filed in 2019. The suit accused the district of discriminatory segregation of students with disabilities and Black students with disabilities into highly restrictive classrooms and schools, plus other harmful practices laid bare in a 2017 report (https://bit.ly/3Ike971), based on a district self-audit. The suit also highlighted the District’s failure to provide these students with the educational and supportive services that the law requires. Plaintiffs alleged this failure contributed to grossly disparate rates of suspension and expulsion of Black students—among the very worst in the state for Black boys in 2018-2019 (https://bit.ly/3pXkPSA) —as well as for students with disabilities.

“In the 2018-2019 school year, Black students with disabilities at SCUSD were more than ten times more likely to be suspended from school than other students with disabilities — a group disciplined at much higher rates to begin with,” said Michael Harris, an attorney for the plaintiffs with the National Center for Youth Law. “This effectively deprives Black students with disabilities of their right to an equal education.” 

Within months of filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were able to negotiate an interim agreement with the District. 

“Shortly after we sued, the District sat down with us and then agreed to halt all suspensions based on ‘willful defiance’ for students from K-8 before it became state law, and lower the threshold for reviewing a student’s suspension to determine if the student’s behavior was due to a disability,” recounted Darryl White, Chair of plaintiff Black Parallel School Board. “Those reforms remain in effect today and the full settlement agreement we have now significantly builds on those early achievements.”  

LaRayvian Barnes has a son who is a Black middle-schooler with autism attending SCUSD. As with generations of Black students with disabilities and their families in the District, they went through years of struggle to redress her son’s mistreatment and finally get him into the learning environment where he is now doing well with the help of a teacher who understands and supports him. 

Barnes said she’s hopeful that “the settlement agreement will hold the District accountable to adopt policies, provide services, and create and maintain the right kind of integrated learning environments so that students like my son will not be punished and mistreated because of who they are, but instead can learn and thrive alongside their classmates from the start.”

Said Meeth Soni, an attorney for plaintiffs with Disability Rights California: “The settlement agreement’s accountability measures will help SCUSD ensure students with disabilities are receiving the services and supports they need to succeed in school rather than being segregated from their non-disabled peers or subjected to unfair exclusionary discipline.” 

The settlement agreement requires the appointment of an independent monitor not employed by the District to review existing reports and data on the District’s special education and school discipline practices. Based on that review, the independent monitor must develop and implement an Action Plan to bring SCUSD in compliance with the law and ensure all students have equal access to a quality education. The agreement also gives the independent monitor the power to enforce the agreement. 

“We are optimistic about the independent monitor component of the settlement; it will create accountability and help guide and direct the District as it undertakes the essential work of dismantling a discriminatory system,” said plaintiff attorney Antionette Dozier of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The Action Plan will take into account initiatives and programs SCUSD has recently begun to implement and also requires the District to reduce the disproportionate discipline of Black students and students with disabilities. The Action Plan must also impose measures to increase inclusive placements, provide ongoing support and training for school staff, and help create a reliable data collection system. Further, the Action Plan must hold the district to measurable goals and deadlines for the completion of the Action Plan items. 

The independent monitor is required to provide community progress updates and reports to the plaintiffs and District. The settlement period will span five years after approval of the final Action Plan, or until the date that SCUSD fully implements all the actions that the agreement and Action Plan require. 

“This settlement is the result of years of advocacy, not just by the Black Parallel School Board and the plaintiff families in this case, but by the broader community of Sacramento advocates for disability rights and racial equity in education as well. We appreciate SCUSD working with the plaintiffs to come to an agreement that creates accountability and requires detailed plans and actions for positive change to benefit students and their families,” said Mona Tawatao of the Equal Justice Society, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Equal Justice Society (EJS), Disability Rights California (DRC), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), and Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP).

Visit https://blackparallelschoolboard.com to learn more.

Legislative Survivor: Which big California bills were shelved in ‘suspense file?’

The potential costs of a new policy or program always factor into the legislative process — but that’s especially true when the state is facing down a $31.5 billion budget deficit.

As the Legislature completed a key milestone this week, deciding the fates of nearly 1,200 measures with significant price tags, California’s looming revenue shortfall was on the mind.

“It is a different time that we have to operate in, so it is a lens that we have to look through all the bills,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who leads the appropriations committee. “To the extent there were some real pressures that we thought we needed to address, we did.”

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Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2023-2024 May Revision Budget

The Newsom Administration released its 2023-24 May Revision budget, projecting a $31.5 billion deficit. After years of a budget surplus, California is forecasting a downturn in funding due to a combination of capital gains losses and delayed tax filings due to natural disasters, but California remains strong. The May Revision reflects a $37.2 billion in total budgetary reserves and additional funds from the Managed Care Organization tax.  

Governor Newsom maintains many of the Administration’s and legislature’s previous commitments and proposes no new trigger cuts. He also proposes no new corporate or personal taxes, despite calls from the Senate and advocates to increase taxes on wealthy corporations and the state’s highest earners.  

We appreciate that the May Revision maintains past budget agreements including expansion of Medi-Cal to all regardless of immigration status, reforming the Medi-Cal share-of-cost, and on-time implementation of food assistance for Californians 55 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status 

As the fourth largest economy in the world, California has made great strides in addressing poverty and systemic inequities, but there is more work to be done. We look forward to working with the legislature and Administration to protect low-income Californians as the State enters more uncertain fiscal circumstances.  

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area, with a focus on changes from the January budget proposal.   

HEALTH CARE 

Health4All: The May Revision maintains full funding to expand full-scope Medi-Cal eligibility to all income eligible adults ages 26-49 regardless of immigration status on January 1, 2024. The May Revision includes increases for previous expansions for adults 50 and older and ages 26-49 due updated managed care rates, higher share of state-only costs, higher caseloads, and higher acuity members. 

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The May Revision proposes a bigger MCO tax with an earlier start date (April 2023 through end of 2026). This results in $19.4 billion in total funding, including $3.4 billion for 2023-24. $8.3 billion is proposed to offset General Fund and $11.1 billion is proposed to support Medi-Cal investments that improve access, quality, and equity over an 8- to10-year period. These investments include rate increases to at least 87.5% of Medicare for primary care, birthing care, and non-specialty mental health providers and the remainder will be put into a special fund reserve for future consideration.  

Covered California Affordability Sweep: The May Revision maintains proposal to sweep Covered California reserve fund to General Fund totaling $333.4 million. 

Distressed Hospital Loan Program: The May Revision includes up to $150 million one-time General Fund to provide interest-free cashflow loans to not-for-profit and public hospitals in significant financial distress or to governmental entities representing a closed hospital, for purposes of preventing the closure of, or facilitating the reopening of, those hospitals.  

Home and Community-Based Services Spending Plan Extension: The May Revision includes a six-month extension until September 30, 2024 for specified programs such as the IHSS Career Pathways Program and the Senior Nutrition Infrastructure Program to fully spend allocated funding based on critical programmatic needs.  

Doula Services Implementation Evaluation: To align with later implementation date, TBL is proposed to extend the timeline of the Doula Stakeholder Workgroup (from April 1, 2022 until December 31, 2023) and to extend the evaluation of the doula benefit implementation in the Medi-Cal program (from April 1, 2023 until June 30, 2025).  

Medical Interpreter Pilot Program: Through TBL, the May Revision proposes to extend the expenditure authority of the Medical Interpreter Pilot Project for 12 months, from June 30, 2024 to June 30, 2025.  

988 Update: The May Revision includes a one-time augmentation of $15 million for a total of $19 million, from the 988 State Suicide and Behavioral Health Crisis Services Fund for California’s 988 centers. This increase will support workforce expansion to handle increased answered call volume, extensions of service hours, and the availability of chat and text options for callers utilizing the 988 services.  

BH-CONNECT Demonstration (formerly referred to as CalBH-CBC Demonstration): The May Revision includes an update to the BH-CONNECT Demonstration to include a new Workforce Initiative and includes $480 million in funding for each year of the five-year demonstration period ($2.4 billion total funding and no General Fund).  

CalRX and Reproductive Health: The May Revision includes TBL and $2 million one-time General Fund reappropriation from the Capital Infrastructure Security Program and allows the use of these funds for reproductive health care if necessary. 

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The May Revision includes additional funding to support the implementation of the CARE Act. Compared to the Governor’s Budget, the annual increase is between $43 million and $54.5 million to account for refined county behavioral health department cost assumptions, additional one-time $15 million General Fund for Los Angeles County start-up funding. The May Revision also includes an additional $16.8 million in 2023-24, $29.8 million in 2024-25, and $32.9 million ongoing to double the number of hours per participant for legal services from 20 hours to 40 hours. 

HOMELESSNESS

The May Revision preserves the full $3.7 billion in funding for homelessness programs, as committed in previous budgets, including $1 billion for the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention grant program. 

May Revision Adjustments:  

Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program: $500 million one-time Mental Health Services Fund in 2023-24 in lieu of General Fund. This investment eliminates the January Budget proposed delay of $250 million General Fund to 2024-25 and restores the $1.5 billion commitment funded in the 2022 Budget Act for the program. 

HOUSING

While the May Revision reflects a steady commitment to Homelessness investments, the May Revision also culminated in a weakening of housing investments totaling $17.5 million in General Fund reductions and $345 million in deferrals related to housing programs. Funding for housing programs remains at approximately 88% of the allocations made in 2022-23 and proposed for 2023-24 ($2.85 billion). This outlook could change if there are sufficient General Fund dollars in January 2024. If that occurs, the Governor has committed to restoring $350 million of these reductions. Overall, the proposal includes $500 million continued annual investment in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, $225 million for the Multifamily Housing Program, and $100 million for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program. These programs have a proven track-record of addressing housing affordability and homelessness across California. 

May Revision Adjustments: 

Foreclosure Intervention Housing Prevention Program: Provides funds to various non-profit organizations to acquire foreclosed property and operate as affordable housing. Deferral of $345 million of the $500 million one-time General Fund over four fiscal years—for a revised allocation of: $50 million in 2023-24, $100 million in 2024-25, $100 million in 2025-26, and $95 million in 2026-27 

Downtown Rebound Program: Funds adaptive reuse of commercial and industrial structures to residential housing. Reverts $17.5 million in unexpended funding that remained in this program after the Notice of Funding Availability. 

In contrast, the Senate’s Budget Plan, which was released two weeks ago, both prevents funding cuts and delays, and builds on our progress by including ongoing investment in homelessness and resources for key housing production programs. Notably, that Plan provides $1 billion in ongoing funds to support the Homeless Housing Assistance, and Prevention Program, $1 billion towards the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, and an additional $300 million flexible allocation towards affordable housing programs.  

Western Center is a proud member of a coalition of California’s leading affordable housing, homelessness, and housing justice advocacy organizations championing a comprehensive coalition investment strategy for affordable housing production, preservation, and tenant stability. While the May Revision falls short of our requests to meet the housing and homelessness crisis at scale, we look forward to continuing our budget advocacy and encourage the Governor and Legislative leadership to finalize a budget that includes ongoing, significant resources like those included in the Senate budget plan and our coordinated housing budget letter. 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE  

CalWORKs Grant Increase: The May Revision reflects a 3.6-percent increase ($111.2 million in 2023-24) to CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment levels, effective October 1, 2023. These increased grant costs are funded through the Child Poverty and Family Supplemental Support Subaccount.  

Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): The May Revision continues to include an 8.6% increase in funding for the SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program providing a $3.6 billion from the general fund. This allocation provides recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month and $1,928 per month for couples. 

California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Expansion Update: The May Revision moves up the issuance of food benefits for older undocumented immigrants to start October 2025, instead of the January Proposal that delayed it until 2027, which we appreciate but we still need Food4All regardless of age and immigration status. 

Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program: The May Revision includes $47 million ($23.5 million General Fund) for outreach and automation costs to phase in a new federal Summer EBT program for children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals beginning summer 2024.  

Safety Net Reserve: The May Revision withdraws $450 million (half of $900 million) from the Safety Net Reserve. The reserve is intended to maintain existing Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program benefits and services when program cost may increase due to economic conditions, which may occur if recession occurs, so we argue it is prudent to not draw from Safety Net Reserve until those conditions are met. 

Services for Survivors and Victims of Hate Crimes Augmentation: The May Revision includes an additional $10 million General Fund to support services for victims and survivors of hate crimes and their families and facilitate hate crime prevention measures in consultation with the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs. 

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