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Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition Celebrates Full Passthrough of Child Support to Former CalWORKs Families

Beginning this month, California will pass through 100% of child support payments to families who formerly received CalWORKs benefits, putting $160 million back in the pockets of low-income families.

(Sacramento, CA – May 14, 2024)

This month, California stopped intercepting child support payments intended for families who formerly received CalWORKs benefits. As a result, an estimated $160 million per year will go to families and children, instead of being kept by the government to reimburse itself for providing public benefits to custodial parents in the past. With this policy change, California becomes a national leader, joining a small handful of states that have taken similar actions to end the practice of seizing child support payments from low-income children and families. The state’s action is in response to years of advocacy from the Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition and others.

The Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition applauds this policy win, but there is still much more work to do. The state continues to intercept approximately $150 million each year from low-income families that currently receive CalWORKs rather than sending the money directly to parents and children who need it. Additionally, struggling families are saddled with $6.4 billion in debt to the government for past-due child support while their families are receiving public benefits and accruing a 10% interest rate, which is one of the highest rates in the country.

We ask the Legislature and Governor to keep up the momentum and continue to position California’s child support program as a truly family-centered, poverty-alleviation program. Specifically, we ask that they:

1. Plan for the 100% passthrough of child support to families currently receiving CalWORKs;

2. Provide debt relief for old and uncollectible child support debt owed by low-income parents to the State for past due child support while their families were receiving public benefits; and

3. Eliminate the egregious 10% interest rate on government-owed child support debt.

These child support issues are racial and economic justice issues; passing these policy priorities can help get families out of debt and towards economic security with relatively little cost to the state in a difficult budget year.

Moreover, the California Reparations Task Force recommends the elimination of interest on past-due child support and recommends eliminating child support debt to address the harms created by the government’s pathologizing of Black families. We urge the legislature and the Governor to make amends by supporting families that need it most.

The Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition is a statewide coalition of organizations that seeks to change state policy on child support pass-through, payments, and collections to better support low income children and their families and reduce child poverty in California. Contact us at [email protected] for additional information.

Newsom’s proposed spending cuts spur backlash from affected California groups

Just minutes after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a revised state budget with billions of dollars in spending reductions on Friday, advocates for affected programs began showering reporters with statements of dismay.

The gist of the complaints was that after Newsom and the Legislature had devoted attention and money to expanded health care coverage, prekindergarten education, income supports for the poor, undocumented immigrant assistance, homelessness, climate change and a myriad other left-of-center causes, the new budget would punish their recipients.

Building the California Dream Alliance, a consortium of nearly 60 groups, was among those disappointed with Newsom’s budget, issuing a compendium of comments from its members, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“Although we appreciate the governor maintaining previous expansions and grants, his approach balances the budget on the backs of low-income Californians through over $3 billion in cuts,” Linda Nguy, an associate director of the organization, said. “Instead of considering additional revenue solutions, the governor proposes to cut in-home supportive services for people who were previously excluded from Medi-Cal due to their immigration status, deeper CalWORKs cuts, and continued cuts to housing and homelessness prevention programs.”

Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s May Revision of California’s 2024-2025 Budget

May 10, 2024

The Governor released his May Revision on May 10, estimating that the budget shortfall for the 2024-25 fiscal year grew by approximately $7 billion from the January Proposal to approximately $44.9 billion. This differs from the Legislative Analyst’s Office earlier estimate of $73 billion, with differences attributed to higher revenue projections and different Proposition 98 calculations. After accounting for the early action budget package that included $17.3 billion of solutions, the remaining budget problem is approximately $27.6 billion.

Western Center on Law and Poverty appreciates that the Governor maintains some of the previous expansions and grants proposed in the January budget. However, we oppose the Governor’s approach to address the current budget shortfall through cuts to critical safety net programs. This approach balances the budget on the backs of low-income Californians through over $3 billion in cuts. Instead of considering additional revenue solutions, the Governor proposes to cut In-Home Supportive Services for people who were previously excluded from Medi-Cal due to their immigration status, deeper CalWORKs cuts, and continued housing cuts. We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature on a final budget that reflects our values and protects vulnerable Californians.

HEALTH CARE

Cuts In-Home Supportive Services for Undocumented Individuals — Despite historic investments in Medi-Cal expansions, the May Revision proposes treating people who were previously excluded due to their immigration status differently. Specifically, the May Revision cut IHSS services for those who were previously excluded at a reduction of $94.7 million. IHSS allows seniors and people with disabilities to safely stay in their home.

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax — Sweeps $6.7 billion over multiple years from the Medi-Cal provider rate increases, Medi-Cal workforce funding, and equity payments planned for January 2025 and proposes amendment to include Medicare health plan revenue resulting in an additional $9.7 billion in total MCO Tax funds over multiple years. The related November ballot initiative raises uncertainty. If the measure passes, billions of dollars could be diverted, resulting in budget deficit that may result in future cuts to safety net programs.

Cuts Acupuncture as Medi-Cal Benefit — Eliminates acupuncture as a Medi-Cal benefit starting January 2025 at reduction of $5.4 million this budget year and $13 million ongoing.

Healthcare Workforce Reduction— Eliminates about $900 million various healthcare workforce initiatives including community health workers, nursing, social work, Song-Brown residencies, Health Professions Career Opportunity Program, and California Medicine Scholars Program as well as eliminates $189.4 million Mental Health Services Fund for programs proposed to be delayed to 2025-26 at Governor’s Budget.

Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative Reduction— Reduces $72.3 million onetime in 2023-24, $348.6 million in 2024-25, and $5 million in 2025-26 for school-linked health partnerships and grants, behavioral health services and supports platform, public education campaign, and youth suicide reporting and crisis response pilot.

Eliminates Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program and Reduces Bridge Housing Program— Eliminates $450.7 million from the last round of the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program and reduces funding for the Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program.

Eliminates Public Health Funding—Eliminates $52.5 million in 2023-24 and $300 million ongoing for state and local public health.

2022 Health Trigger Investments not Included: • Share of Cost Reform so that seniors and people with disabilities can afford to access needed Medi-Cal services • Continuous Medi-Cal Coverage for Children Aged 0 through 4.

HOUSING

One of the highest priorities for California lawmakers and residents is the housing and homelessness crisis, which requires more investment in affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs. We are concerned about the proposed cuts to these crucial programs, especially as Californians are grappling with housing insecurity and the continued legal attacks on our unhoused neighbors.

The May Revision proposes a total $1.76 billion in continued cuts to the following program (with additional cuts to January Proposal noted):

• Adaptive Reuse Program – additional $127.5 million cut

• Foreclosure Intervention Housing Preservation Program – additional $236.5 million cut

• Multifamily Housing Program – additional $75 million cut

• Infill Infrastructure Grant Program – additional $35 million cut

• Homeless Housing Assistance Program (HHAP) – additional $260 million cut

• Veteran Housing and Homeless Prevention Program – additional $26.3 million cut

The May Revision will include funding of $500 million to the state LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credits) program.

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE CalWORKs

While the May Revision does not propose to cut CalWORKs grants, the proposal continues the deep cuts proposed in January, including:

• The elimination of the Family Stabilization Program (FSP), which provides housing assistance, mental health, substance use and domestic violence services. This is a core program within CalWORKs that keeps people housed, safe, and well.

• The elimination of the Subsidized Employment Program, which provides additional job opportunities to participants to provide job experience and a path to unsubsidized employment.

• The draining of the safety net reserve, which was created to protect human services programs against cuts. The use of these funds results in a double cut to the CalWORKs program.

Additional cuts to CalWORKs include:

• The reduction of $47.1 million for the CalWORKs home visiting program ongoing, which is a cut of 45%. This highly effective program, which pairs professionals with new parents, prepares families for new infant household members and provides early supports to ensure a successful transition to new and increased parenting responsibilities. This cut could result in new referrals to child welfare services.

• The permanent elimination of the CalWORKs Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services program which is a cut of $126.6 million. These are critical services that stabilize a family and can also prevent referrals to child welfare services.

SSI/SSP

The Governor’s proposed budget did not propose a cut to SSI/SSP grants, but additional investments are still needed for this program which provides grants to seniors and people living with disabilities. The grant for individuals is currently 94% of the 2024 Federal Poverty Level (FPL). We hope to work with the administration in future budget years to strengthen these programs to bring the individual grant to at least 100% of the poverty line and to reinstate the annual cost of living increase. We would also request a revival of the special circumstances program to assist SSI recipients with unexpected expenses.

Child Support

Despite 2022 budget trigger language, the May Revision did not include a provision to fund full pass-through of child support payments to currently assisted CalWORKs families. Based upon current revenue, this trigger was not pulled and there is a need to renew this language in the 2024-25 budget.

Child Care Slots

The May Revision pauses the promised expansion of child care slots and keeps them at the current level. By pausing this expansion, the state will reduce support for California’s working families by $489 million in 2024-25 and $951 million in 2025-26.

In-Home Supportive Services for Undocumented Individuals

As previously mentioned, the May Revision cut IHSS services for people who were previously excluded from Medi-Cal due to their immigration status at a reduction of $94.7 million. IHSS allows seniors and people with disabilities to safely stay in their home.

California Food Assistance Program Expansion

• The May Revision delays the promised expansion of the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for two years, pushing benefits back to the 2027-28 budget year. CFAP is the state-funded CalFresh counterpart that serves some immigrants who are excluded from CalFresh due to their immigration status.

• This delay prevents California from fulfilling the promise to expand food benefits to undocumented older adults, therefore perpetuating poverty, food insecurity, and again inflicting harm specifically on California’s low-income immigrant communities.

Download the full analysis here: WCLP Analysis of 2024-25 May Revision

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

February 28, 2024
Following is a list of bills to help secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for low-income Californians that will be sponsored or co-sponsored by Western Center on Law & Poverty during the 2024 legislative session.

Healthcare

AB 2297 (Friedman): Medical Debt Protection
This bill would modernize the Hospital Fair Pricing Act by prohibiting the use of home liens to collect unpaid medical bills from financially eligible patients, clarifying hospitals must review financial assistance eligibility at any time, clarifying Medi-Cal and Medicare cost sharing amounts can be deducted under financial assistance policies, defining charity care as free care, and other changes.
(Co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek)
AB 2297 Fact Sheet

AB 2319 (Wilson, Weber): Reducing Black Maternal Mortality through Implicit Bias Training
This bill would reduce the disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women and other pregnant persons of color by ensuring successful implementation of the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act of 2019 (SB 464 (Mitchell)) by clarifying which facilities are mandated to administer anti-bias trainings, confers enforcement powers to CDPH and the Attorney General, establishes administrative penalties for noncompliant facilities and requires compliance data to be posted online.
(Co-sponsored with Attorney General Rob Bonta, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Reproductive Freedom for All California, California Nurse-Midwives Association and the California Black Women’s Collective)
AB 2319 Fact Sheet

AB 2753 (Ortega): Rehabilitative and Habilitative Services: Durable Medical Equipment and Services
This bill would clarify that durable medical equipment is a covered essential health benefit in California-regulated health plans and policies when prescribed by a doctor for rehabilitative or habilitative purposes. The bill would also remove limitations such as annual caps on durable medical equipment coverage.
(Co-sponsored with National Health Law Program)
AB 2753 Fact Sheet

AB 2956 (Boerner): Protecting Medi-Cal Coverage for Californians
This bill would allow people to keep their Medi-Cal coverage for a full 12 months, regardless of changes in their income and would direct California to seek federal approval, when necessary, to make permanent the federal Medi-Cal flexibilities to reduce and remedy procedural terminations, simplify income verification requirements, increase automatic Medi-Cal renewals, and improve program outreach and customer service. (Co-sponsored with The Children’s Partnership and Latino Coalition for a Healthy California)
AB 2956 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1289 (Roth): County Call Center Oversight and Reporting
This bill would remedy the barriers at county call centers by directing the promulgation of regulations that set basic standards for things like wait times and requiring DHCS to publish online call center data from all 58 counties.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

Housing

AB 653 (Reyes): Increasing Voucher Utilization
This bill would create a competitive grant program for public housing authorities (PHAs) to fund housing navigation services, landlord incentives, and deposit resources to increase lease-up success rates for tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. This bill would require PHAs to annually report their success rate and require those with a success rate below 60% to adopt certain policies to increase housing choice and work with HCD to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of California, and the National Housing Law Project).

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing Credit.
This bill would establish anti-price gouging protections for rent in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Public Advocates)

AB 2304 (Lee): Masking Limited Civil Unlawful Detainer Cases
This bill will close the gaps in the state eviction masking laws and ensure that all tenants are protected as originally intended.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

AB 2347 (Kalra): Protecting Tenant Due Process Rights
This bill would preserve the due process rights of tenants by preventing evictions when a tenant has not been properly served.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right
ACA 10 will recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Should the measure pass in the legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote to add this right to the state’s constitution, creating an obligation on the part of state and local governments to take meaningful action to fully realize the right.
(Co-sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Housing Now, ACLU California Action, Abundant Housing LA, National Homelessness Law Center, and PowerCA Action)

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: Eligibility: Income Exclusions
This bill would exempt any grant, award, scholarship, loan, or fellowship benefit provided to any assistance unit member for educational purposes from consideration as income or resources for purposes of determining CalWORKs eligibility or grant amounts. The bill would also require the State Department of Social Services to exercise a federal option to exclude, for purposes of calculating a household’s income under CalFresh, any type of income that the department excludes when determining eligibility or benefits for CalWORKs.

AB 1815 (Weber): Discrimination: Hairstyles: Amateur Sports Organizations
This bill expands upon the CROWN act by prohibiting an amateur sports club or organization from discriminating against any person based on race, inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles in the operation, conduct, or administration of a youth or amateur sports competition, training, camp, or club.
AB 1815 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1107 (Durazo): Public Social Services: County Departments: Mail Programs
This bill would require a county human services agency that administers public benefits to develop and implement a program to ensure that, at a minimum, homeless residents of a county can pick up and receive government-related mail addressed to the resident at a place designated by the agency.

Contact our Sacramento Advocates: For more information about Western Center on Law & Poverty and our advocacy priorities, go to www.wclp.org.

Brandon Greene, Director of Policy Advocacy
[email protected]
916-282-5112

Health
Linda Nguy
[email protected]
916-282-5117

Sandra O. Poole
[email protected]
916-282-5141

Housing
Cynthia Castillo
[email protected]
916-282-5103

Tina Rosales
[email protected]
916-282-5118

Public Benefits and Access to Justice
Christopher Sanchez
[email protected]
916-282-5104

Rebecca Gonzales
[email protected]
916-282-5119

CalFresh and other public aid in Sacramento County move to new system

If you get help from Sacramento County to pay for food, health care or housing — and almost half of all residents receive some kind of public assistance — you likely have visited MyBenefits CalWIN to apply for, renew or manage your benefits.

Well, that access point changes this week.

On Monday, the MyBenefits CalWIN site, mybenefitscalwin.org, began redirecting thousands of users to a brand new online portal, BenefitsCAL.com, where they will be directed to create new accounts and link to the personal information already in their files.

“We do have a large percentage of our customers who utilize our online services with our current system,” said Roselee Ramirez, manager of the human services division in the county’s Department of Human Assistance.

Ramirez said the team has been meeting with community-based organizations and advocates to encourage users to create new accounts.

“We want to make sure all our customers are aware of that, so we can help them with getting up on the new online system,” Ramirez said.

BenefitsCal has gone through several years of testing and includes updates that take advantage of 21st century technology, like using cell phones to scan and upload documents, said consumer advocate David Kane of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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In response to street vendor lawsuit, City Council members acknowledge the need to bring L.A.’s street vending ordinance into legal compliance, but the proposal still falls short.

In response to street vendor lawsuit, City Council members acknowledge the need to bring L.A.’s street vending ordinance into legal compliance, but the proposal still falls short.

Los Angeles – On Friday, October 20, 2023, a motion was introduced in Los Angeles City Council calling for the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance to be amended in order to comply with state law. Currently, the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance excludes sidewalk vendors from 9 City areas representing some of the most popular pedestrian areas of the City, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The motion proposes City officials create new vending rules for Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Bowl, to be crafted in consultation with the vending community.

The No Vending Zones in the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance, along with several other restrictive regulations, are currently the subject of a lawsuit filed in December 2022 by sidewalk vendors and sidewalk vendor advocates. The judge overseeing this lawsuit made an early ruling indicating that he found little justification for Los Angeles’ regulations under state law. Trial is set for February 2024.

We share the general goals described in this motion –  to create a lawful and successful sidewalk vending program that balances legitimate safety considerations with economic inclusion. In fact, street vendors have long been proposing these exact ideas, and have advocated tirelessly for inclusive and transparent policies that would allow these small businesses to operate with dignity and safety. So while it should not have required our lawsuit to motivate these actions, we appreciate the support of the council members authoring this motion, as well as this express acknowledgement that the City must bring its ordinance into legal compliance.

But this motion does not actually propose to eliminate the unlawful No Vending Zones, and it risks repeating the process that resulted in the illegal restrictions in the first place. The motion does not immediately end the City’s unjust exclusion of vendors from entire neighborhoods, nor does it address the deep financial, emotional, and psychological harms experienced by vendors from years of draconian enforcement of these unlawful and exclusionary policies. The motion does not address the illegal citation practices of the Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA) over the past four years, or provide redress to vending businesses that have been harmed by StreetsLA’s retaliatory actions. The motion does not address the other regulations we challenge in our lawsuit, including the unnecessary and potentially illegal buffer zones around swap meets and schools. Ultimately, the motion may lead to an unnecessary patchwork of confusing policies, still not aligned with state law.

Vendors cannot afford to continue to rack up thousands of dollars in illegitimate fines while a motion works its way through multiple committees and politicized discussions. Half-measure steps in the right direction will not resolve the litigation. Therefore, our lawsuit will proceed until the foundational legal issues underlying our case are resolved. And we will vigorously oppose any effort to use this motion, and its protracted timeline,  as justification for delaying full resolution of our legal claims. We continue to welcome a conversation with the City that centers the voices and experiences of vendors, but we are not deterred from pursuing our strong legal claims and we are confident that we will prevail in court if necessary.

 

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Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.

Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.

Public Counsel: Founded in 1970, 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 justice and opportunity for all for more than 50 years.

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. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

LA County supervisors want to erase $2.6 billion in residents medical debt

Billions of dollars of medical debt owed by nearly a million Los Angeles County residents could be purchased by the county and retired, according to a proposal set in motion on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to explore a plan to purchase $2.6 billion in medical bills owed by people throughout the county for pennies on the dollar. If implemented, the action would relieve families of what can become a lifetime burden and often prevents them from seeking medical care.

“Medical debt can contribute to food insecurity and housing instability,” said Fourth District Supervisor and board chair Janice Hahn, co-author of the motion along with Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell. “Once someone has medical debt it becomes a barrier to assessing their healthcare.”

Hahn said the motion is a way to address medical debt experienced by up to a million county residents. The process would cost the county only a fraction of the amount owed to buy the debt, then retire it, the county reported.

Here’s how it would work:

When people accumulate debt from unpaid medical bills, eventually hospitals and medical establishments sell the debt to for-profit collection agencies. If not paid, these agencies often win judgments in court that can result in liens on payroll and properties against the patients.

Los Angeles County intends to intervene by buying out the residents’ debt for pennies on the dollar.

The proposal could wipe out billions of dollars in medical debt at a cost to the county of only millions, Hahn explained. The potential cost to the county would be $24 million to retire $2 billion in medical debt spread over the next two to three years, according to the county Department of Public Health (DPH).

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Time for Change: Rethinking SSI’s Asset Limits

Time for Change: Rethinking SSI’s Asset Limits

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was created to provide financial support to low-income individuals with disabilities. While the program aims to offer a safety net for disabled folks with low income, one often-overlooked aspect is the impact of asset limits on SSI recipients. These limits force recipients to live on the edge of economic insecurity, preventing them from saving and achieving financial independence. It is time to significantly raise or eliminate the asset limit, like we have for programs like SNAP and Medi-Cal.

Today, the federal monthly SSI benefit is $914 for individuals and $1,371 for couples. As a means tested program, SSI considers all income and resources an individual has or has access to. Several factors can reduce the already modest benefit amount including other sources of income like Social Security, pensions, child support, or living with someone who provides support. 

Current asset limits require individual recipients to have less than $2,000 in assets and couples have less than $3,000. Some assets include cash, bank accounts, stocks, land, life insurance, vehicles, and anything that can be liquidated in a short amount of time. Even retirement accounts that have penalties for withdrawing funds are included. Unfortunately, these asset limits vary for individuals and couples, putting couples with disabilities at a disadvantage. To be equitable, couples should have a $4,000 resource limit. Instead, the limit is capped at $3,000 –a $1,000 penalty. This discourages couples from marrying and economically penalizes them for doing so. Certainly, the Social Security Administration (SSA) should follow a consistent resource limit so individuals and couples can be on the same level.

The asset limit issue stems from values set in an economy from five decades ago in1974. If these limits were to be adjusted for inflation, they would be around $12,378 for individuals and $18,507 for couples. Crunching the numbers, this shows a significant difference of $10,000 to $15,000 in assets, that present price levels are six times higher than in 1974, and that the 1974 dollar has lost significant purchasing power over the years, making these limits increasingly inadequate. 

Restricting savings to $2,000 and $3,000 hinders a recipient’s ability to achieve self-sufficiency and leaves them vulnerable to unexpected expenses from health crises, appliance breakdowns, or economic recession, which disproportionately affect recipients, making it that much harder to recover. As exemplified with Nicholas Hemachandra, an SSI recipient with autism, he has to cut back on hours and spend most of his earnings to avoid losing his benefits. Ray, Nicholas’ dad, hopes for a day when his son can have his own apartment when he is no longer around. However, with the $2,000 limit, it “stops him from (buying) pretty much anything (Hyatt)”. These limits create unnecessary uncertainty for parents like Ray and many others. Coupled with inflation, they further strain recipients that are struggling to keep up with rising grocery prices and housing costs. Raising these limits would encourage saving, reduce the need to exhaust savings before meeting basic needs, and encourage recipients who can, to work. 

Another issue with the outdated limit is its tendency to disrupt benefits and services, causing “churn.” On average, “70,000 beneficiaries have their benefits suspended annually”(CBPP) due to excess resources. Beneficiaries who exceed the limit not only lose benefits, but for many, more importantly, access to Medicaid. SSI eligibility automatically qualifies them for Medicaid. No senior or person with disabilities should ever have to miss essential medications or lose access to lifesaving services because of savings.

Furthermore, raising the limit would simplify the system and reduce administrative costs. Every year 40,000 beneficiaries have their coverage terminated forcing them to go through the hassle of reapplying. The Center on Budget Priorities and Policies states that SSI administration consumes 35% of SSA’s costs, even though it serves fewer recipients than SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), which costs 19%. 

Another finding to highlight from CBPP’s article is increasing limits has limited fiscal impact. Raising them to $10,000 and $20,000 for couples only boosts participation to 3%, while $100,000 results in a 5% increase. Surprisingly, removing the resource limit entirely results in a 6% expansion, just 1% more than the $100k threshold. This is because individuals applying for SSI typically have minimal savings, especially recipients with disabilities who have limited earnings.

Scaling resource limits to $10,000 and $20,000 wouldn’t significantly increase costs. In fact, the Center on Budget Priorities and Policy has projected an $8 billion increase over ten years, representing about 1% of program costs over that period. 

These proposed policy changes have the potential to alleviate SSA financial strain and, more importantly, empower this vulnerable population towards economic independence. While they may not drastically increase in program participation, they can help uplift recipients to a better state of economic well being and independence. Additionally, it’s important that we push for more dialogue in the policy space and look into other programs such as SNAP and TANF with more flexible asset limits.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting this September, the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act was introduced in Congress which aims to update SSI’s asset limits. Western Center supports this bill and will be advocating for its passage.

In conclusion, SSI’s resource limits have far-reaching consequences, forcing recipients on the edge of poverty, hindering financial security, and causing benefit interruptions. Updating these limits is vital for promoting self-sufficiency and ensuring a more effective, equitable system.

Time Is Running Out To Cash Riverside County Juvenile Fee Settlement Checks

Around 1,200 Riverside County families who paid juvenile detention fees between December 2016 and April 2020 were mailed settlement checks earlier this summer. But around 400 have yet to cash them, and time is running out.

The backstory: California families that had a child in the juvenile system used to be charged a daily fee for every day their child was in juvenile hall. California legislators banned that in 2021. But earlier this year Riverside Superior Court approved a $540,307 settlement for families who paid those fees between 2016 and April 2020. Those checks were mailed in July.

Why it matters: Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the fees loomed over the families while their child was incarcerated. “This is just such an important opportunity for us to undo some of that financial stress that these fees cause” Miller said.

Why now: Families who think they’re eligible have until Nov. 11 to cash the check. There’s about $150,000 left unclaimed from the settlement. Hong Le, a senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law says she hopes all community members are able to access the money that’s owed to them. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members,” Le said. “Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

How to know if you’re eligible? Head to the settlement site or call Riverside County’s settlement administrator.

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Albertson-Kroger Merger: bad for local community food security/food access, bad for local independent grocers, and bad for worker’s rights.

Albertson-Kroger Merger: bad for local community food security/food access, bad for local independent grocers, and bad for worker’s rights. 

By Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, Outreach and Advocacy Associate

Business boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were encouraged to stay at home and therefore ate more at home and used more utilities. Food costs increased, demand was high, and people continued to work through these difficult times. Grocery workers, distribution workers, and meat packing workers became sick and died as a result of COVID-19. Profits for these big grocery chains soared at historic rates while deaths increased among frontline workers

When you go to the grocery store, you see shelves and shelves of goods – from canned goods to diapers to fresh fruits and vegetables, to dairy to poultry. What you may not think about as often is the labor and logistics that went into stocking those shelves. 

Truck drivers bring food from across the country from warehouse centers to the store sites. Workers unload the truck and stock the shelves early in the morning and late at night, and others inspect the deliveries to assure the best quality. 

Depending on the grocery chain; you’ll see grocery store workers alongside personal shoppers fulfilling digital orders via an app. The grocery industry is evolving and profiting post-pandemic. Fierce competition is scaling up amongst big corporate grocers. 

In a move that will impact everyone from employees to grocery shoppers, Kroger announced its plans to acquire Albertsons for nearly $25 billion almost a year ago. This move would combine two of the largest grocery chains nationally. The deal creates a grocery chain amassing 5,000 locations across the U.S. Kroger representatives claim that it is the best option in balancing competition against Walmart and other big brands.

However, a study by the Food and Water Watch groups found that between 1993 and 2019 the number of U.S grocers fell by 30%. The U.S Department of Agriculture found that between 2005 to 2015 the market share of local independent grocers dropped in 41% of counties across the U.S. 

Small mom and pop businesses and your local bodegas or mercaditos will continue to get boxed out amidst consolidation of big corporate chains. These closures impact areas typically already experiencing food access issues. The top five grocery chains own half of the entire market, with Walmart dominating a quarter of the overall market share. 

At the beginning of this month, Kroger and Albertsons announced it will sell 400 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers, a move meant to ease the approval process. 66 of these stores are in California. The deal is pending approval by the FTC. Make no mistake, these big grocer cartels control food prices and will hurt local economies no matter how many stores they sell to get federal approval. 

The California Attorney General’s office has expressed serious concerns with the merger. The Attorney General has the power to review and stop mergers that are anti-competitive and will cause serious harm to consumers. 

This ongoing shift of large operators consolidating will allow them to dominate price negotiations with suppliers further impacting small local operators, increasing prices and diminishing access to food. 

This merger also touches on Black and Latinx health and access to medicines. A recent USC study showed that Black and Latinx communities lack access to pharmacies. 2,254 Kroger stores have a pharmacy in store while 1,700 Albertson include a pharmacy onsite. The concern is that the merger will lead to low performing stores with pharmacies closing, widening the pharmacy access gap. Millions would have no place to pick up their medication or would have to go long distances to do so. 

Community advocates and labor groups have spoken out against the Kroger-Albertsons merger, saying the move will hurt everyday people by raising prices and impact the livelihood of grocery workers. Less competition means chains can raise prices and consumers will have few, if any, other options. The same goes for employees, who have less bargaining power and fewer choices if they want to find a different job. 

Alarmingly, the merger will lower wages for 746,000 grocery store workers in over 50 metropolitan areas of the U.S.,” with total annual earnings dropping by $334 million in those locations.This will impact all workers across these major cities, not just those Kroger-Albertson workers. 

“These major corporations are playing monopoly with the livelihoods of our communities because they have only looked at our communities through the lens of dollars and cents and never through the lens of humanity. People who live in these communities that will soon be abandoned with no resources to rely on are tired of the white flight mentality that has continually been perpetuated by CEOs who only came to the neighborhood to take the community’s resources until they are dry,” says Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty.

As the merger remains under Federal Trade Commission (FTC) review, community groups and labor remain vigilant and in opposition to the latest monopolization by large corporations over food price and access. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) opposes the merger. According to UFCW, Kroger has not been responsive to calls by the union to be more transparent about the deal. 

Governor Newsom has the chance to stand once again with working people by signing UFCW-sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 725 by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas and offer grocery workers an important and much needed safety net. This bill would ensure corporations are held accountable to employees who are laid off due to a merger or acquisition by providing workers with one week’s severance pay per year of service. While the field will never be equal, this bill provides workers and their families with important economic safety protections when mergers and corporations devastate local communities and push them deeper into poverty. 

Help urge Governor Newsom to sign this critical bill into law by sending him a quick email

We must stop this merger and all large agribusiness mergers in its tracks. Agribusiness grows and continues to make horizontal and vertical growth in the grocery industry, further cornering the market in the hands of a few. 

We must support stronger enforcement of antitrust measures and uplift leaders that will champion a stand against powerful corporations impacting our food economies.  

We must continue to push state and local governments to champion the rebuilding of local food economies and try different paths. One way is to find alternatives that are controlled by local communities. One example is Mandela Grocery in Oakland, California, a food worker cooperative. Workers share in the profits and decision making. They source fresh products from locally owned Black farms. The local community and workers have a say. 

We must not forget the workers who kept us fed during difficult times, times they were experiencing and enduring too. Hundreds of thousands of people became unhoused and turned to SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh benefits in California, to get by because wages did not increase significantly. As communities with low incomes, communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and children continue to recover, this merger and others like it will only increase avoidable food insecurity.