Subscribe Donate

Category: Access to Justice

Home | Newsroom | Access to Justice

Criminal-Justice Reform on CA Ballot in November

“Mike Herald, policy director with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said cash bail is very punitive for low-income defendants.

“Many people ended up getting held in jail for months on end simply because they didn’t have the money to be able to get out on bail,” Herald said. “And then other folks who did get out on bail often were stuck with very large bills.”

Read More


Vote Yes on Proposition 25 to Interrupt the Poverty to Prison Pipeline and Significantly Reduce Pre-Trial Detention

In California’s money bail system, people brought to jail on charges of a misdemeanor or felony offence are required to pay money to secure release as they await trial. What that means in practice is that people with money get out of jail, and people without it don’t. But sitting in jail isn’t like waiting at the DMV – jail is, more often than not, a deeply traumatizing experience. Sometimes even deadly.

The amount of money a person can access shouldn’t determine whether the state gets to inflict irreparable harm on them via incarceration. That’s why Western Center supports Proposition 25 to end money bail in California.

Here’s how money bail works…

People who can pay the full bail amount pay directly to the court, which averages around $50,000, and they get it all back when they show up for court. People who can’t pay the full bail fall into two categories: (1) people who can scrape together enough, sometimes through friends and family, to pay a bail agent for a bail bond — usually about 10 percent of the bail amount; and (2) people who don’t have or know anyone with 10 percent of the bail amount and are held in jail until trial. It’s estimated that on any given day, nearly 50,000 Californians end up in this second category — accused of a crime, not convicted, but still sitting in jail because they can’t afford to pay.

For people with just enough to purchase a bail bond, even when they return to court to face their charges, they don’t get their money back since bail bonds are usually nonrefundable. That’s true even when charges are dropped or a person is determined to be innocent.

A Yes vote on Proposition 25 will end money bail in California, and restore $6 billion to low-wealth California communities that are preyed upon by the bail industry. Ending money bail will remove judicial discretion for people charged with most misdemeanors and require that they be sent home in under 13 hours, which we hope will encourage closer examination of who is arrested for misdemeanors, and whether certain misdemeanors should exist in the first place (for example, being “boisterous” on a bus can be a misdemeanor in California).

These are difficult conversations to have in California’s capitol, where $3 million in bail industry profits were used to help elect legislators who oppose not only repealing money bail, but also the reduction of pre-trial detention and the carceral state. Because of that, the legislature is squeamish on this issue, so Prop 25 could be the last opportunity California has for a long time to end money bail and work toward a more just system.

The $6 billion dollar California Money Bail industry preys on low-income communities, and impacts Black and Brown people and communities most. Nationally, Black people are detained at a rate five times higher than white people,[i] and Black defendants are less likely to be released on their own recognizance than white defendants.[ii] Black defendants ages 18 through 29 also receive higher bail amounts than any other group.[iii] It’s all made worse because Black Americans have A LOT less wealth to begin with, so Black people charged with a crime — whether a misdemeanor or a felony — are much more likely to have to stay in jail while waiting for trial, which increases the likelihood of conviction or going into debt with a bail agent.

In California, the billions of dollars the bail industry takes from people with little to no wealth translates to money people can’t spend on basic needs, education, health, or any other resource to get out of poverty. What’s worse, since people often borrow from friends and family to pay their bond, it can create conflict and tension within families, complicating already difficult situations. Sometimes, families have to put up their home, if they have one, for collateral to a bail agent to secure freedom for their loved one, which undermines homeownership and asset building in low-income communities of color.

For people without enough wealth or access for bail, and even with a bail bond, a stay in jail can be lengthy. It should surprise no one that jail is a dangerous and inhospitable place, where people endure sexual assault and other forms of abuse from guards and other people who are incarcerated, and where maintaining one’s health, including mental health, is difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, people held in jail while awaiting trial are more likely to have immigration officials called on them. But that’s not all: other life-altering consequences experienced by people in jail waiting for their trial include losing their homes, their cars, their children or other people they care for, their jobs, their health and so much more. As a result, many plead guilty for crimes they didn’t commit just so they can leave jail rather than wait for trial.

The money bail system is used in many ways that perversely perpetuates the criminalization of poverty. Prosecutors often ask judges to detain individuals with a high bail as leverage to convince people with low-incomes to enter a plea bargain.[iv] To give a sense of how big the problem is, in 2006, 96 percent of convictions were the result of guilty pleas — only four percent of convictions resulted from actual trials.[v] People incarcerated while awaiting trial are more likely to be convicted (even when innocent); receive harsher sentences, including more time in jail or prison; face injury or contract a serious (and costly) disease; and are more likely to return to the criminal justice system in the future.[vi]

Some critics of Proposition 25 are concerned that too much power will be placed within the computerized risk assessment tools that are to replace money bail. We are concerned about that too, which is why we sponsored Senate Bill 36 last year to require race and equity data to be collected, shared with the public, and monitored to mitigate racial bias in each risk assessment tool. Between the requirements set in Proposition 25 and SB 36, California will have some of the most robust protections against racially-biased decision making for pre-trial detention in the country, and we will be the first to end all monetary conditions of pre-trial release. Wealth is one of the most racist algorithms that exists in America, and one of the most fixed. Proposition 25 is an essential step forward in making our pre-trial decisions less racially biased.

We know that even after Proposition 25 passes, we have a lot of work to do to ensure it is implemented with diligence and equity, and that we continue to build a more just pre-trial system that treats everyone as innocent until proven guilty. Western Center is committed to this work in strong partnership with the system-impacted-person led organizations leading the way.

Please join us and leaders across the state in voting Yes on Proposition 25. Go to for more information and read the  text of the proposed law. Video panels are also available on the subject: Prop 25 Community Forum Recording (SEIU);  Yes on Prop 25  (Anti-Recidivism Coalition); Yes on Prop 25 (Yes on 25 Campaign).


[i]JUSTICE POL’Y INST., supra note XX, at 15.


[iii] JOHN WOOLDREDGE, supra note 9, at 29.




Western Center’s 2020 Proposition Guide

Californians are voting on important propositions on the 2020 California ballot right now. We know it’s confusing, so below you’ll find our guide to the propositions. All of our work, and how we see these propositions, centers around creating greater economic and racial justice, especially for people in California oppressed by poverty.

For more information to help navigate the propositions, we highly recommend the CalMatters proposition guide. If you prefer video, they have one-minute video explanations of each.

*For a PDF of this document, click here.                


PROPOSITION 14: $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Research Bond

Western Center Position: No Position

PROPOSITION 15: Schools and Communities First

Prop 15 is widely referred to as the property tax split roll. In 1978, voters approved Prop 13 which limited property taxes on all property owners, both commercial and residential, by capping taxes at 1.1 percent of the value of the property at the time it was purchased. While Prop 13 is often viewed as untouchable politically, in truth it is a major source of wealth inequality and a prime example of structural racism, because it keeps taxes permanently low for those who are long time property owners (overwhelmingly white), but imposes a higher tax on those who bought property more recently (increasingly people of color). Prop 15 would not fix all the problems created by Prop 13 but it would fix one, by setting commercial property taxes based on the current value of the property, not the original sale price. This would increase property taxes by $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion annually. 60 percent of this would go to cities, counties, and special districts and 40 percent would go to schools.

Western Center Position: YES

Prop 15 would take the first step toward restoring fairness to California’s property tax system. It would provide significant revenue which can be used for affordable housing, eliminating homelessness, and providing public benefits. It would increase funding for K-14 schools. It would make it easier for new business to compete with established businesses by making all businesses pay taxes based on market rates.

PROPOSITION 16: Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action 

This measure would reverse a 1996 initiative approved by California voters to ban the use of affirmative action in all forms of state and local government. Affirmative action is the practice of establishing certain criteria that allows consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting. The goal of affirmative action is to ensure that all people, regardless of their background, have a meaningful opportunity to benefit from government programs. In practice, affirmative action is intended to level the playing field and reduce the effects of explicit and implicit bias.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported the bill when it was under consideration in the Legislature because it is consistent with our long standing principles of ensuring that California is an inclusive and equitable state. California, like the rest of the United States, was formed on a foundation of explicit white supremacy and patriarchy in law and society, which means active policies are required to obtain balance. The more that all segments of our community have the opportunity to receive the benefits of government, the less likely it is that bias will continue to be prevalent.

Western Center staff attorney Helen Tran explains more in this blog post.

PROPOSITION 17: Right to Vote for People Who Were Formerly Incarcerated

This measure would allow Californians with a prior felony criminal conviction to be able to vote in California. Currently, a person convicted of a felony cannot vote while incarcerated or on parole. If a formerly incarcerated person on parole registers to vote or votes, that can be grounds to revoke their parole and return them to prison, even if they are otherwise abiding by all other terms of their parole. The current law acts as an additional punishment on the formerly incarcerated after they have served their time and deprives them of a fundamental right of all citizens.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported this bill when it went through the Legislature because current law disenfranchises people from exercising the fundamental right to vote. As we know from our work, the history of racism in our country has led to over-policing of communities of color. Thus, this law disproportionally impacts Black and Brown communities and dilutes their voting power.

PROPOSITION 18: Right to register to vote at age 17

As it currently stands, a person can register to vote in California if they’re a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old and a resident of the state. Registered voters can also run for elective office as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements. A person can pre-register to vote when they are either 16 or 17 years old. When a person pre-registers, they are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18. If passed, Prop 18 would allow eligible 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next November general election to vote. Those 17-year-olds could vote in any special election or primary election before the next general election. The measure also means that 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the next general election could run for office if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

Western Center Position: YES

People decide who will be on the November ballot in primaries earlier in the year. People old enough to vote in November should have the opportunity to make that initial choice for the November ballot in the primaries, even if they’re still 17. There are also studies that show that pro-voting initiatives like this encourage greater voter participation among young people, which is crucial for engaging younger generations into the political process.

PROPOSITION 19: Change in Property Tax Rule

This initiative makes changes to property taxes when people move or inherit property. Currently, persons over age 55 and those living with disabilities can move to another home and not see their taxes go up if the new property is equal to or less than the house they moved from. This initiative would expand the ability of older and disabled property owners to move and not pay higher taxes. It limits the ability of people to inherit property unless an inheriting family member lives at the property or if the property is worth more than $1 million more than the assessed value of the house. Overall, the measure would result in increased revenue of tens of millions annually. This revenue would go to fire protection and schools.

Western Center Position: No Position

While this measure would result in some increased revenue it would not provide meaningful resources for health, welfare and housing programs. Proponents have asked Western Center to support but most major progressive groups are not supporting the measure.

PROPOSITION 20: Restores Crimes and Limits Early Release

This initiative proposes to repeal portions of criminal reform initiatives passed by voters (Prop 47 in 2014 and Prop 57 in 2016). If approved, Prop 20 would reinstate certain theft crimes as felonies instead of misdemeanors, and make it harder for people convicted of felonies to be approved for parole. It also expands collection of DNA samples from people charged with crimes, and from youth.

Western Center Position: NO

This measure would disproportionally and negatively impact people of color and low income Californians. In a time when large segments of the population are seeking a reduced criminal justice footprint, this initiative is moving in the opposite direction. Increasing the number of people with felony convictions will harm individuals, communities, and ultimately, our entire society, by making reentry into community much harder. It’s harder to get a job and find a place to live with a felony conviction, and as it stands now and unless Prop 17 passes, people with felony convictions who are in prison or on parole can’t vote. This initiative will needlessly place more people into these oppressive circumstances, exacerbating California’s existing income and racial inequality and its housing/ homelessness crises, which means greater instability for our state.

PROPOSITION 21: Reduce State Limits on Local Rent Control  

This measure proposes to make several changes to a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Act. That law strictly limits how local governments can control the cost of rental housing. It bars rent control on most single family homes, bars rent control on units built after 1995, and allows landlords to increase rent on a unit whenever a tenant moves out. Western Center was a major opponent of this law when it was proposed and has remained so for the past 25 years. Prop 21 proposes to modify the Costa Hawkins Act by allowing rent control on units that are older than 15 years, including some single family homes, and it allows local governments to restrict rent increases on units when a tenant moves out.

Western Center Position: YES

A similar measure was on the 2018 ballot but failed. Since then there has been a spike in rent across California and significant increases in homelessness. With COVID-19 causing many tenants to be unable to pay the high cost of rent in California, it is necessary to pass meaningful limits on rental housing costs.

PROPOSITION 22: Repeals Worker Protections for App-based Rideshare Workers

This measure proposes to repeal a portion of AB 5 that was passed by the Legislature last year to require that companies employing so called “independent contractors” instead classify workers as employees. Doing so means the companies must provide basic worker protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health coverage, minimum wage, sick pay, overtime and social security. Large internet based corporations like Lyft, Uber, and Door Dash are proposing to eliminate these protections provided in AB 5. Western Center supported the bill because many drivers for these companies are not receiving a fair wage or minimum worker protections. When they are unable to drive, they are often left with nothing because as independent contractors, their employers are not required to pay into these systems. As a result, they often end up on public assistance and in crisis, meanwhile the companies experience record profit. Prop 22 would allow workers to remain independent contractors, and proposes that in lieu of traditional employee benefits, rideshare workers receive a menu of watered down worker protections.

Western Center Position: NO

Income inequality is quickly becoming one of the most important issues of our time. The average pay of corporate CEOs is now 321 times more than the typical worker they employ. The use of independent contractors is accelerating this trend by allowing companies to keep money normally used to provide basic employment services for themselves. App based companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pass Prop 22, which is money they could be spending on basic worker protections, since workers make the companies possible.

PROPOSITION 23: Kidney Dialysis Requirements

Western Center Position: No Position

PROPOSITION 24: Use of Personal Data by Private Business

This measure makes a host of changes to California law regarding how personal information collected by corporations and data firms can be used and shared. This bill overrides elements of a 2018 “landmark” privacy law that limited the use of data sharing. Significantly, Prop 24 allows data collectors to use “neighborhood scores” in determining a person’s credit worthiness, which means a person’s credit could be lower because of the community they live in. Prop 24 reduces the number of companies subject to the law. It takes regulation for privacy breaches away from the state Attorney General and shifts it to a newly created state agency with capped funding. It also limits the ability of the Legislature to decide how penalties collected by the state can be used by earmarking most penalty funds away from the General Fund.

Western Center Position: NO

A host of consumer organizations are opposing this measure and they have asked Western Center to join them in opposing. Some background context: a wealthy developer named Alastair Mctagart pulled a privacy initiative off the ballot in 2018 after the Legislature passed a privacy bill; he then submitted a new initiative that both strengthens and weakens the existing law. Western Center supports strong consumer protections and believes the legislative process, not the proposition process, is the appropriate forum for making changes to the law.

PROPOSITION 25: Repeal State Law Eliminating Money Bail

Prop 25 is a referendum to overturn a bill, SB 10, which was passed in 2018 by the Legislature to eliminate the use of the money bail system in California. Under the money bail system, judges allow people to be released from jail before trial if they pay a bond to secure their appearance at trial. Many people can’t afford bond and turn to bail bonds agencies to pay; people are then required to pay the agency 10 percent of the bond amount. That amount is non-refundable even if the person is acquitted or the charges are dropped. Data shows that the money bail system benefits those with wealth who can afford their own bail, while people with fewer resources often languish in jail for lengthy periods of time. In 2018 the Legislature passed SB 10 to eliminate this system and replace it with a system of release based on a “risk assessment” tool. Under this bill, the financial resources of the accused are not a factor in their release. Western Center was a co-sponsor of SB 10.

Western Center Position: YES

To support the bill that was passed to eliminate money bail, a person must vote “Yes.” The referendum is essentially asking you to consider this as if you were a legislator deciding to support the bill. Western Center co-sponsored SB 10, and now urges a “Yes” vote for Prop 25. We understand the very real concerns about replacing money bail with the “risk assessment” algorithm system, as there is noted bias in that system. However, we feel it’s likely that this is the only real opportunity to eliminate money bail in California, which disproportionately harms communities of color. If Prop 25 passes, it will be easier to address imperfections in the algorithm system than it will be to get the Legislature to take up ending money bail again.

Western Center policy advocate Jessica Bartholow explains more in this blog post.








Legal services attorneys help people experiencing poverty enforce their rights, but federal restrictions on funding prevent opportunities for lasting justice

Federal funding for legal services began as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty. With the legislative successes of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, people living in poverty needed lawyers to access the courts and assert their newfound rights.

New legal services groups sprouted up across the country, and existing privately-funded programs expanded; both were very successful at serving thousands of low-income folks and winning cases.  Before 1965, no legal aid case made it to the Supreme Court, but following federal investment in legal services, over 200 cases made it to the high court, and legal services won most of them.

From the outset of the program, that success drew ire of both corporate and political interests over the continued funding for legal aid. For example, in 1969 then-California Governor Ronald Reagan attempted to defund California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) because of its success in court against corporate dairy farmers and the state.  Reagan’s attempt failed spectacularly when a commission of three state Supreme Court justices, all Republicans, vindicated CRLA against all 127 charges.

When most of the war on poverty was dismantled, the legal services program survived.  The last bill President Nixon signed into law before resigning in 1974 established the Legal Services Corporation, which remains the largest source of funding for the nation’s legal aid programs.

But old animosities did not die.  When Reagan was elected President, his administration tried to eliminate funding for LSC altogether.  When this effort was thwarted by bi-partisan support for legal services, he appointed extremists to govern the national program.  This had a very real effect of limiting legal aid groups in their ability to challenge an unjust status quo.  Further, it kept legal service organizations battling to maintain funding – diverting time and energy from fighting poverty. Western Center’s successful case against the Legal Services Corporation for its arbitrary denial of funding in 1984 is one example of such a battle.

Then, in 1995, the Newt Gingrich-led Congress eliminated federal funding for national and state support centers like Western Center, and imposed additional restrictions on LSC funding with the clear intent of preventing legal aid groups from seeking systemic change.

These are some of the restrictions that have been imposed on LSC organizations through the years: (1) no class actions, eliminating the major procedural mechanism to represent masses of people wronged by an entity; (2) severe restrictions on legislative  and administrative advocacy; (3) no organizing; (4) no representation of undocumented immigrants; (5) no representation in cases involving voting redistricting; (6) no representation of people facing eviction from public housing based on a drug conviction; (7) no civil representation of prisoners; (8) no cases seeking statutory attorneys’ fees, a restriction that lasted from 1995-2009; (9) no school desegregation cases; (10) no abortion cases; and (11) no litigation or other advocacy “involving an effort to reform a Federal or State welfare system.”

Perhaps worst of all, most of these restrictions apply not just to the federal funds received by programs, but also to money received from other sources, such as private donations.  In other words, legal services attorneys, who represent clients in need of the most aggressive and creative representation, are faced with restrictions not imposed on any other members of the legal profession.

It’s evident that these restrictions are designed to preserve power and eliminate the opportunity for people experiencing poverty to access real justice.  Limited funding (and for a long time, limited ability for legal aid groups to seek attorney’s fees in cases they won) keeps legal aid attorneys chronically under-resourced, overworked, and underpaid.  The prohibitions on class actions and restrictions on lobbying are intended to prevent legal aid firms from addressing systemic issues faced by the broadest numbers of people living in poverty, like institutional racism and residential segregation. All of these restrictions serve as dog whistles at best, targeted dehumanization to keep people in poverty at worst.

We are proud to partner with advocates in LSC-funded programs who, despite restrictions, work daily miracles for their clients.  Imagine what these creative and talented advocates could do if they did not have one hand tied behind their backs.


Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed


  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.


  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.


  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.



New Executive Director of Western Center On Law & Poverty named

“After a nationwide search, the Board of Directors of Western Center on Law & Poverty has chosen Crystal D. Crawford to be its next Executive Director. Crawford is currently a program director at The California Wellness Foundation, a position she has held since 2012. Crawford will be the first Black woman or woman of color to serve as the organization’s Executive Director.”

Read More

Western Center names Crystal D. Crawford its new Executive Director

Crawford Brings Decades of Experience in Strategic Philanthropy, Policy Advocacy and Social Justice

LOS ANGELES – After a nationwide search, the Board of Directors of Western Center on Law & Poverty has chosen Crystal D. Crawford to be its next Executive Director. Crawford is currently a program director at The California Wellness Foundation, a position she has held since 2012. Crawford will be the first Black woman or woman of color to serve as the organization’s Executive Director.

A seasoned leader with more than 20 years of senior management experience in the legal, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, Crawford has played a pivotal role in advancing the health and economic security of low-income Californians, women of color and communities of color.

At Cal Wellness, she developed and led the organization’s groundbreaking Women’s Initiatives, a multi-million dollar program that amplifies the voices of women of color and provides philanthropy and policymakers with a vision for how to advance the health and economic security of women of color. She also helmed Cal Wellness’ legacy portfolio, Increasing Diversity in the Health Professions, which has supported community-based organizations, academic institutions and countless people of color pursuing and sustaining health professions careers.

“It’s an honor to lead Western Center in this season of renewed community commitment to fighting systemic racial and economic injustice,” said Crystal. “I am proud to stand on the shoulders of prior Western Center Executive Directors, including social justice heroes Professor Derrick Bell and Judge Terry Hatter. Right now, we find ourselves in the battle of a lifetime, so I’m energized to join forces with this smart, passionate team in fighting for justice. In the words of Ella Baker and Sweet Honey in the Rock, ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.’”

Founded over 50 years ago in the wake of the Watts rebellion, Western Center remains committed to building upon its roots in the fight for racial justice. The last several years have been a whirlwind of assaults on past civil rights wins, and Western Center has been on the forefront of advocacy and legal battles at the local, state and federal levels.  With Crystal’s leadership, Western Center will continue to mobilize its considerable resources, networks, and power to change the systems and institutions that perpetuate systemic inequality.

“Crystal is a visionary who brings stellar operational and strategic leadership expertise — along with a deep commitment to valuing community voices — to this position,” said David Elson, Co-Chair of Western Center’s Board of Directors. “We’re confident that she’s the perfect person to lead us as we continue our fight to upend the systems that keep people in poverty.”

Prior to her work with Cal Wellness, Crawford was CEO of the California Black Women’s Health Project, the only statewide organization devoted to improving the health of California’s Black women and girls through policy, advocacy, education and outreach. Prior to joining CABWHP, she served as Legal Director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights. Before working in the nonprofit, public interest sector, Crawford was a litigation associate at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and a summer associate with major corporate law firms in Los Angeles, Boston and New York. She began her post-collegiate career as a public school teacher in Harlem.

Crawford is active in the leadership of numerous civic and community organizations. She sits on the five-member Los Angeles County Public Health Commission and is a member of the Women’s Health Policy Council for the Los Angeles County Office of Women’s Health. She also sits on the Dartmouth Alumni Council and serves on the boards of the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association, the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation and Funders Concerned About AIDS. She previously served on the boards of Dartmouth College’s Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, the Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College, Health Access California, SisterSong, and on the advisory council for the California Breast Cancer Research Program.

Crawford is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2009 Advocates’ Award from Western Center, the 2012 PowerPAC Award from the Los Angeles African American Women’s Political Action Committee, and the 2015 Outstanding Women of the City Club Award.

Originally from Harlem, New York and Teaneck, New Jersey, Crawford earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College and law degree from the New York University School of Law, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow.  She is admitted to the bar in California, New York and New Jersey.

Crawford will transition from her current position at Cal Wellness and start with Western Center in early August. She will be based at Western Center’s headquarters in Los Angeles.



Full Analysis of 2020-2021 California Budget

PDF available here.

The state Legislature approved the 2020-21 budget after reaching a compromise with the Governor. The budget avoids most of the cuts proposed in the Governor’s May Revise to close an estimated $54 billion two-year budget deficit.

Progressive advocates mounted a strong campaign against the Governor’s proposed cuts, arguing that cuts during a recession harm low income families who need help now, make the recovery from the recession even harder, and reinforces structural racism and inequality by not asking the wealthy to pay more in taxes. Rather than approve the proposed austerity budget, the negotiated agreement includes a number of program advancements, and prevents almost all of the painful cuts proposed by the Governor.

Beneficial elements of this budget:

  • Restores lifetime limit for adults on CalWORKs to 60 months, adding 12 additional months that were stripped in last recession.
  • State Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit no longer excludes ITIN tax filers with children under six.
  • Increased pass through of child support for families on CalWORKs from $50 to $100 for one child, $200 for two or more.
  • No trigger cuts to SSI, CalWORKs, or Medi-Cal.
  • No cuts to existing Medi-Cal services and eligibility.
  • No cuts to SSI – federal COLA to be passed through on January 1, 2021.

The approved budget relies on the receipt of $14 billion in federal COVID emergency funds by September. Without that funding, the “trigger” mechanism will institute $14 billion in budget solutions. The Governor previously proposed a different trigger, but it was centered around cuts to Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, SSI, IHSS and K-12 education. The trigger agreed to in the budget agreement does the following:

  • Draws an additional $2.7 billion from the rainy day fund and Safety Net Reserve.
  • $1.3 billion one-time benefit from reinstatement of a longstanding deferral of state payments to CalPERS, including from state special funds.
  • $5.9 billion of increased deferrals to Proposition 98 (K-14 education) funding.
  • $600 million reduction to the county realignment backfill in this budget plan (leaving $400 million of county backfill remaining).
  • $770 million of university reductions ($370 million for UC and $400 million for CSU).
  • $100 million of reductions to the judicial branch budget.
  • At least $1.5 billion in state employee compensation reductions, for represented employees, through the collective bargaining process.
  • Potentially, another $1.6 billion from reinstatement of the one-day June payroll deferral instituted during the last recession. (This change would be optional at the direction of the Director of Finance.)

The budget plan contains total reserves of approximately $11 billion, including about $2 billion in the discretionary reserve, $900 million in the Safety Net Reserve, and $8.35 billion in the Proposition 2 Rainy Day fund. If the federal funds do not arrive and these trigger actions take effect, total reserves would be over $7 billion, including over $800 million in the discretionary reserve and $6.5 billion in the rainy day fund.

Even with this agreement, the state’s budget problems are not solved. The budget relies on an estimate of state income tax revenues which were delayed from April 15th to July 15th. The budget assumes significant revenue declines, but if these estimates are inaccurate, it could make the deficit larger (or smaller). Additionally, large revenue gaps exist in the projected 2021-22 budget, and while this budget saves some solutions for the future, there is likely to be an $8-10 billion gap.

Progressive advocates organized under the banner of Commit to Equity are advocating for the Legislature and Governor to pass additional tax increase measures this summer to bridge this gap. Among the ideas under consideration are a tax on the top one percent of tax payers, increasing taxes on corporations and instituting a wealth tax on billionaires.

Public Benefits and Human Services

The Governor’s May Revise called for significant cuts to CalWORKs and SSI. In CalWORKs, the Governor proposed a significant reduction in funding for welfare-to-work just when tens of thousands of people were coming onto the program for both cash assistance and a chance to find employment. That cut was rejected. Smaller cuts to the CalWORKs Home Visiting program and a one-year suspension in funding for the Cal-OAR program were approved.

Supplemental Security Income — The Governor proposed to reduce the state contribution to the SSI grant by approximately $5 a month. That proposal would have kept the SSI maximum grant amount flat for 2021 since a similar sized federal cost of living adjustment is expected starting January 1. But that cut was rejected in the compromise, and SSI recipients will now get the full value of the federal funds.

CalWORKs “Time Clock” — In 2012, under pressure of another large budget deficit, the Legislature went along with Governor Brown’s proposal to cut CalWORKs time on aid from 60 months to 48 months, and to institute two confusing and unproductive 24 month clocks, one with more welfare to work flexibility and one rigidly following federal TANF work requirements. As a practical matter the changes had virtually no positive client impact and both advocates and counties advocated for it to end.

This budget finally restores the full 60 months on aid permitted under federal TANF law (a racist and misogynistic rule in itself) and eliminates the two 24-month work activity approach. It means that adults forced off CalWORKs because they hit the 48-month limit will be eligible to return to CalWORKs for an additional 12 months, have their grant restored, and be eligible for all supportive services. This change will start in May, 2022 after the counties complete the transition to a single welfare information system. Read our Coalition’s budget letter here.

In addition to the CalWORKs victories, the budget also includes several additional investments to prevent hunger. The budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars for:

  • CalFresh outreach to and application assistance for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients who do not yet receive CalFresh;
  • The extraordinary effort by California’s food banks to respond to COVID-19;
  • Simplifications in the CalFresh program that will help those enrolled retain benefits and those who are eligible to access the program more readily;
  • Implementation and expansion of CalFresh to Medi-Cal dual enrollment outreach, in reach and retention;
  • Extension of the sunset for the CalFresh Safe Drinking Water Supplemental Benefit Pilot Program;
  • Shoring up county and state administration of the CalFresh program;
  • Summer meal and school meal programs.

In addition to achieving new funding, the budget also rejects the Governor’s May Revision proposal to delay the implementation of the statewide Restaurant Meal Program, to cut $8.5 million General Fund for the Senior Meals on Wheels Program, and to cut funding from college basic needs programs.

Overissuance in CalFresh — The budget extends the authority of the Department of Social Services to seek federal authority to reduce the numbers of overissuances collected in the CalFresh Program. To learn more about why this authority is needed and how harmful overpayments and overissuances of benefits can be, see this article in The New Republic, which includes quotes from Western Center and our partners at Bay Area Legal Aid. Unfortunately, the budget does not include similar protection for CalWORKs families who had overpayments triggered by the Governor’s executive order suspending re-determinations. Advocates will be working to resolve this problem over the summer.

Calfresh Application Simplification — Makes simplifications in the CalFresh program application, interview, and recertification process and requires counties to do more to ensure that applicants and recipients for Medi-Cal receive assistance in applying for CalFresh. This alignment between Health Care enrollment and CalFresh enrollment is something Western Center has been working on for years in coalition with others, and this budget action mirrors the vision of SB 1002, a Western Center co-sponsored bill vetoed by then-Governor Brown.

Simplification of Reporting Processes — Requires a workgroup to be convened by the Department of Social Services to simplify the CalFresh Semi-Annual Reporting (SAR) process. Authorizes counties to communicate with CalFresh and CalWORKs recipients about redetermination via text, cell, or email, and allows counties to use alternative methods to verify information needed to complete the reporting process and rescind a discontinuance notice.

Protecting Human Services Workforce – Limits to the amount of county share-of-cost will be required for administrative costs in the CalFresh program during the COVID-19 recession, and for two years, to ensure there is no incentive for counties strapped with budget shortfalls to reduce staff. During the last recession, loss of county safety-net jobs were significant, creating a bottleneck for accessing needed services of newly unemployed Californians, but also leaving many in that workforce without a job and prolonging our state’s economic recovery. In some counties, caseworker jobs were never fully restored and their safety net programs suffer as a result.

Immigrants and CalEITC/ Child Tax Credit — Immigrant advocates got a partial victory with the inclusion of undocumented immigrants in the state Earned Income Tax Credit (they are still barred from the federal EITC) and the state Child Tax Credit. Both are limited to families with children under six years of age, so many undocumented immigrants who file with Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) are still excluded from receiving tax credits even though they are poor and pay taxes. Advocates will be mounting a campaign to complete the work of making state tax credits available to all workers.

Child Support Pass Through — The budget increases the pass through of child support paid to a family on CalWORKs from $50 to $100 for one child, and $200 for two or more children — a change Western Center has been seeking since 2007. Western Center and other members of the Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition sponsored SB 337 (Skinner) last year, which was vetoed by the Governor. We have been calling for broad reforms of the child support system, including a transition to 100 percent pass through of child support paid. Read our Coalition’s budget letter here.

Access to Justice

The budget includes full funding for the Equal Access Fund. The Governor proposed a five percent cut in the May Revise, but that was rejected by the Legislature. The budget also includes $31 million from the Mortgage Settlement Fund for legal service organizations and support centers to provide eviction defense or other tenant defense assistance in landlord-tenant disputes, including pre-eviction and eviction legal services.

Housing and Homeless Funding

The Governor’s January budget proposed a $750 million one-time investment in homeless programs that would have been administered through regional collaborations. The May Revise pulled this proposal back and replaced state funding with funding from the federal CARES Act.

Project Roomkey — The final budget compromise includes $550 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars for Project Roomkey. These funds will be available to cities, counties, and other local entities to acquire and rehabilitate motels, hotels, apartments, adult residential facilities, residential care facilities for the elderly, manufactured housing, and other buildings with existing residential uses that could be converted to permanent or interim housing for people experiencing homelessness. Funds can also be used for master leasing properties, relocation assistance for individuals displaced due to rehabilitation, and capitalized operating subsidies. Funds must be spent by September 1 or they can be reallocated to ensure the state meets the end-of-year deadline to expend funds or return them to the federal government.

Another $50 million will come from the General Fund for Project Roomkey for the acquisition, conversion, and rehabilitation of hotels, motels, and other properties into housing for people experiencing homelessness. These funds can also be used for capitalized operating reserves and must be spent by June 30, 2022.

Additionally, $1.789 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars will go to cities and counties for public health, public safety, or homelessness, with a September 1 deadline to expend funds:

  • $225 million to cities with populations greater than 300,000 that did not receive a direct allocation from the federal government.
  • $275 million to cities with populations less than 300,000.
  • $1.289 billion to counties.

Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention (HHAP) program — $300 million from the General Fund will go to the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention (HHAP) program, administered by HCD, with funds to be allocated proportionally based on the 2019 Point in Time (PIT) Count:

  • $90 million to continuums of care.
  • $130 million to cities with populations over 300,000.
  • $80 million to counties.
  • At least eight percent of funds must go to assist homeless youth.

Funds must be spent on evidence-based solutions for homelessness, including:

  • Rapid rehousing, including rental subsidies and incentives to landlords, such as security deposits and holding fees.
  • Operating subsidies for affordable or supportive housing, emergency shelters, and navigation centers.
  • Street outreach to assist persons experiencing homelessness to access permanent housing and services.
  • Services coordination, which may include access to workforce, education, and training programs, or other services needed to promote housing stability in supportive housing.
  • Systems support for activities necessary to create regional partnerships and maintain a homeless services and housing delivery system, particularly for vulnerable populations including families and homeless youth.
  • Delivery of permanent housing and innovative housing solutions, such as hotel and motel conversions.
  • Prevention and shelter diversion to permanent housing, including rental subsidies.
  • New navigation centers and emergency shelters based on demonstrated need.

California Tax Allocation Committee — Allocates $500 million in new State Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) for 2020-21.

Foreclosure Assistance — $300 million from the National Mortgage Settlement allocated to The California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) for foreclosure assistance.

Health Care

Following agreement from the Governor, the health omnibus trailer budget bill (AB 80/SB 102) closely resembles the legislative deal reached earlier this month. The budget deal rejects many of the health cuts proposed in the May Revision. Specifically, it maintains critical Medi-Cal benefits, rejects reinstating the senior penalty by raising the Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled income limit, limits estate recovery, and restores navigator and black infant health funding. Unfortunately, the budget indefinitely delays Health4AllElders by not expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented Californians aged 65 and older.

The budget deal maintains eligibility expansions approved last year but indefinitely delays Health4AllElders: 

  • Ends the senior penalty by expanding the Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled Program for individuals with incomes between 123 and 138 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL). The 2019 Budget scheduled implementation for January 2020, but was delayed to August 2020.
  • Implements the Medicare Part B disregard, which would stop seniors and persons with disabilities from losing access to free Medi-Cal due to a confusing Medi-Cal rule that creates fluctuations in income calculations even though a person’s actual income has not changed.
  • Extends Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
  • Upholds 2016 Budget Act that limited estate recovery federal requirement to long term services for individuals who pass away after January 1, 2017. Estate recovery is asset seizure of the home and savings of poor individuals who receive health care coverage through Medi-Cal and are 55 or older or permanently institutionalized. The proposed expansion of estate recovery would have acted as an enrollment barrier, and perpetuated government-sanctioned asset stripping in communities of color.
  • Maintains one-time $30 million General Fund funding for enrollment navigators, approved in the 2019 Budget.
  • Aligns with federal law to prohibit termination of Medi-Cal eligibility for a juvenile under age 21 or foster care youth under age 26 while incarcerated.
  • Once funding is available, prioritizes Health4AllElders, which would expand full-scope Medi-Cal for adults 65 and older who, but for immigration status, would be eligible.

On the Medi-Cal benefits/services side, the budget deal: 

  • Maintains all critical Medi-Cal benefits, including adult dental benefits, audiology, incontinence creams and washes, speech therapy, optician/optical lab, podiatry, optometry, acupuncture, nurse anesthetists services, occupational and physical therapy, diabetes prevention program services, pharmacist-delivered services, screening, brief intervention and referral to treatments for opioids and other illicit drugs.
  • Services that keep individuals in their home rather than nursing facilities, including Community-Based Adult Services (CBAS) and Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP) remain. In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) service hours remain uncut.
  • Maintains funding for behavioral health counselors in emergency departments, approved in the 2019 Budget.
  • Extends the Medically Tailored Meals Pilot Program authority for an additional year, at no additional cost due to delayed implementation.
  • Directs DHCS to maximize federal funding to provide COVID-19 testing and treatment to uninsured and underinsured individuals through the COVID-19 Presumptive Eligibility (COVID19 PE) program.

On the Medi-Cal provider side, the budget deal: 

  • Maintains supplemental provider rates for physicians, dentists, women health services, family health services, developmental screenings, CBAS, Adult Day Health Center, non-emergency medical transportation, intermediate care facilities- developmental disabilities, hospital-based pediatric physician, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) screening and provider training, value-based payments, and physician and dental loan repayment, but suspends these payments (with the exception of women’s health services) on July 1, 2021 unless revenues exceed expenditures.
  • Maintains $8.2 million in supplemental payments to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles.
  • Provides payments to non-hospital clinics for 340B pharmacy services and continues planned implementation of Medi-Cal Rx for January 2021.
  • Negotiated agreement cuts Medi-Cal plan rates up to 1.5 percent from July 2019 to December 2020, due to anticipated lower costs and utilization related to the pandemic, but does not include a cap on managed care plan rates for in-patient hospital stays. The budget also establishes a risk corridor as safeguard against unanticipated costs.

Other Medi-Cal budget agreements: 

  • Delays implementation of the CalAIM
  • Maintains dental managed care in Sacramento and Los Angeles.
  • Maintains funding for the Medical Interpreters Pilot Project that was approved in 2019 Budget.
  • Prescription drugs – allows Medi-Cal to negotiate for rebates based on the international “best price,” allows DHCS to seek federal approval to establish a prescription drug rebate program for non-Medi-Cal populations, and eliminates copays and the six prescription limit in Medi-Cal fee-for-service.

Other health program budget deals: 

  • Department of Public Health – maintains funding for the Black Infant Health program and rejects reversions of 2019 augmentations, including partial reversions of funds appropriated for sickle cell disease and a farmworker health study, and an entire reversion of technical support for mental health disparities grants and mental health services grants.
  • Covered California – keeps the additional state-based subsidies for households below 138 percent FPL and between 200-600 percent FPL at lower expenditure authority to reflect lower than projected enrollment.
  • Health Care Payments Data System – establishes the system to provide for data collection and requires publicly available reporting and data releases.
  • Hearing Aids – maintains funding to help cover the cost of hearing aids not covered by insurance for children in households up to 600 percent FPL to be implemented no sooner than July 2021.




No Money, No Lawyer, No Justice

“Usually people on the other end of overpayment or overissuance claims don’t have attorneys to help, said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “That’s really appalling, because a public benefits fraud case can be enough to kick you out of the country if you’re an immigrant; they could go to jail; they could lose their kids if they go into Child Protective Services.” When people have lawyers, by contrast, “one out of two times” they can prove there was no overpayment at all.”

Read More