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Category: Access to Justice

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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. 

Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

What would you do with an extra couple hundred dollars? How about an extra thousand, or more?

These questions are a welcome reality for many Riverside County families that were recently reimbursed after being charged with illegal juvenile court fees, and they could be a life-altering reality for many more community members who are still eligible for refunds — but time is running out.

Any parent or guardian who paid juvenile detention fees to Riverside County from December 2016 to April 2020 is encouraged to check their mail for a refund check.

The reimbursements are the result of a June 2023 settlement in a class action lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, brought against the County by parents and guardians impacted by juvenile court fees. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs — representing a class of some 1,200 people — alleged the County violated state and federal law when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families with children in juvenile detention, but failed both to ensure that families were able to pay the fees and to inform families of their right to challenge the fees. The plaintiff families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

“We sincerely hope that all community members are able to access the money that is owed back to them,” said Hong Le, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members. Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

Many checks remain uncashed

Riverside County, per the class-action settlement, agreed to pay $540,307 in refunds to class members. This came after the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees following the filing of Freeman v. County of Riverside in March 2020.

More than $150,000 in reimbursement funds remain uncollected following the distribution of checks this summer. That money could be life-changing for many eligible recipients who may be unaware of their eligibility, which is why the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty are recommending that community members check old mail they have lying around and that they encourage friends and family members who may have paid juvenile court fees to do the same.

Community members who have already cashed their checks have used the funds, among other ways, to get out of debt, to help with household bills, and to improve their living situations.

“If you think that you should have received a check, please call 833-472-1997 to see if you are eligible. The Settlement Administrator can reissue a check if it didn’t reach you. The settlement is the only case in the country where families are receiving refunds for fees charged to them when they had a child in the juvenile system. We don’t want any family to miss out on getting this money,” said Rebecca Miller, senior litigator with Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Visit here for more information about the lawsuit and settlement. Information from the Settlement Administrator can be accessed here.

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The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law and 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.

Weekly Checklist: It’s Time to Update Your Employee Appearance Policy

FP Weekly members receive a practical and cutting-edge checklist of issues to consider, action steps to take, and goals to accomplish to ensure you remain on the top of your game when it comes to workplace relations and employment law compliance. This week we are republishing a checklist of items to consider when revising your employee appearance policy and dress code – an especially timely topic given the news that the U.S. Senate has relaxed its traditional dress code.

Evolving Workplace Expectations and Standards

Pandemic prompted changes. Many workplaces have become more casual in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this movement. Employers and co-workers alike probably don’t mind when a cat, dog, or child occasionally makes an appearance in a Zoom call, and they accept that many employees on those calls are wearing sweatpants with their camera-ready dress shirt. Moreover, many employers that want workers to return to the office have offered a variety of incentives, including a relaxed dress code.

What does this mean for your appearance standards? These changes should motivate you to think about how to strike a balance between employee comfort and the standards of professionalism for your particular company culture and industry. Every workplace is different, but in general, you should consider the following questions:

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Will you create a general policy simply requiring employees to look professional and well-groomed? Or do you want to be more specific?

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Will you require customer-facing employees to dress more professionally or formally than those who only interact with co-workers — whether in person or on camera?

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Will you create a separate policy for Zoom meetings that may be more relaxed than your in-person appearance policy?

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Do you want to be more specific about what attire is unacceptable in the office or on Zoom? For example, are jeans and a t-shirt allowed? What about baseball caps, sleeveless shirts, or hooded sweatshirts? Just be sure to review such policies for compliance with the workplace laws discussed in more detail below.

Hairstyle equity. In addition to pandemic-related changes over the last few years, calls for social justice led many jurisdictions to pass laws combating workplace racial bias based on hairstyle. In fact, 19 states and many localities have passed a version of the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on natural or protective hairstyles. Natural hair has not been treated with chemicals that alter color or texture — such as bleach or straightener. Protective hairstyles — such as braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots — tuck the ends of the hair away to protect from sun, heat, and other damage.

Racial discrimination based on hairstyles is a part of everyday life for many Black adults, according to a study by the CROWN Coalition — which was founded by Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. Moreover, a 2019 Dove CROWN study found that Black women were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy than their co-workers.

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Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund Secure Momentous Win for Over 40 Million SNAP Recipients

For Immediate Release

September 21, 2023

Contacts: Monika Lee, [email protected]

Ashley LaFranchi, [email protected] 

Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund Secure Momentous Win for 40 Million SNAP Recipients

California – Millions of Americans with low incomes will now receive their food benefits without delay during the first month of a potential federal government shutdown, thanks to the government’s response to a nationwide class action brought by Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund. The USDA has committed to changing its accounting practice to now guarantee that over 40 million people will receive their SNAP benefits in October, beginning this year and continuing every year moving forward – regardless of a government shutdown. 

Previously, in the face of a government shutdown, benefits were only guaranteed through September, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year. This meant that each year people were unsure if they would receive life saving and hunger averting benefits unless Congress passed a budget.

SNAP recipients, represented by Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Impact Fund, filed suit in federal court in San Francisco on September 12, 2023, against the heads of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The suit, Erdmann-Browning v. Vilsack, seeks to prevent any delays in providing SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits if the government shuts down. Congress has still not passed a series of appropriations bills or a continuing resolution funding the government ahead of the September 30th deadline.

On September 19, the parties filed papers in court stating that the USDA has changed its accounting practices so that it funds benefits in advance of the month the benefits are available to households. This means that the existing SNAP appropriation was already available to fund the October SNAP benefits. This change is consistent with the federal definition of when federal funds are legally obligated.

Congressional political games continue to harm millions of people. The latest numbers from the Census Bureau show a staggering jump in poverty since the end of federal, state, and local pandemic protections. The poverty rate increased to 12.4 percent in 2022 up from 7.8 percent in 2021, “the largest one-year jump on record.” A combination of inflation, stagnated wages, increasing housing costs, and the end of pandemic era cash supplements has exacerbated the challenges people with low incomes face to make ends meet.  

“Today, we celebrate this important victory for over 40 million Americans who will now rest easy knowing their October benefits are guaranteed for the first time ever. However, we keep finding ourselves in this precarious situation year over year,” said Jodie Berger, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It is important that every advocate, non-profit, food bank, elected official, and agency join hands to underscore the importance of food access and nutrition for the health, well-being, and more of our communities.” 

“Millions of Americans, many of whom are seniors, children, and people with disabilities, will now have a better sense of where their next meal is coming from this October. Food insecurity, lack of access to food, and hunger are preventable, as we saw during the height of the pandemic when policymakers moved swiftly to protect people,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at the Impact Fund. “Elected officials must move with speed and urgency again, because hunger is already at crisis levels and food banks continue to be overwhelmed.” 

The work is not yet over. Stalemates in Congress and extended negotiations will continue to impact over 40 million SNAP recipients who represent about 10% of Americans, who face uncertainty this November and in subsequent months if Congress does not pass a series of appropriations bills or a continuing resolution.

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The Impact Fund uses impact litigation to support communities seeking justice and provides legal support for lawyers through grants, advocacy, and training events. For more information, visit www.impactfund.org

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.

US judge declines to issue TRO on government over SNAP benefits

A federal judge in Oakland decline Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order on the U.S. government to ensure that SNAP food benefits are authorized for October in case the government shuts down at the end of this month.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar heard arguments on an ex parte motion in Oakland from plaintiff’s counsel and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys. His order came hours later.

At stake “is the food security of 40 million low-income Americans, more than 10% of the country’s population,” stated Jodie Berger of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, in a memorandum in support of the ex parte motion for a TRO and order to show cause regarding a preliminary injunction.

“Unless this court intervenes by Sept. 15, may – indeed, most – of these people will no receive the October Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits that they rely on for their subsistence food needs,” Berger wrote.