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Will ‘Public Charge’ Block Citizenship for Immigrants?

In a little-watched issue, advocates for immigrants say the U.S. government might redefine “public charge,” which could deny citizenship status. Compounding concerns: Recent family separations and other detentions. Overlooked: The well-being of families.

When Mychi Nguyen was 5 years old, in the mid-1980s, her family arrived in the United States as refugees from Vietnam. “We relied on public assistance to make it through and survive. My sister went to Head Start. My mother worked very, very hard. Coming to a country with nothing, you create a new life for yourself—and there are tons of barriers: language, culture, food,” she recalls. “Getting some of your needs met is huge. Having that assistance in the beginning was a huge game-changer. I was…an immigrant, a refugee, and I needed help. And the U.S. government provided help. We’re very grateful for it.”

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San Francisco just got rid of unfair criminal justice fees. Other counties should do the same.

San Francisco resident Mary Vandigriff remembers when her life fell apart at age 19 and she began a 20-year struggle with addiction and cycling in and out of jail.

Since Vandigriff last left jail in March 2017, she got a job at a San Francisco nonprofit, got clean and is repairing her relationships with her kids. But she still struggles, particularly with the thousands of dollars in administrative fees she owes from her time in the criminal justice system.

In San Francisco, people can be charged a $50 monthly probation fee; $1,800 is typically charged up front since probation usually lasts for three years. They can be charged as much as $35 a day for an electronic ankle monitor, and other fees to pay for reports, collection costs or tests. These fees exist in every California county, and are among the highest in the country.

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California Hospitals Must Cough Up Millions To Meet Charity Care Rules

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has ordered three California hospitals to pay out millions of dollars to local nonprofits, declining their requests to be freed from charity obligations required under state law.

The hospitals, based in the Central Valley and Los Angeles, argued that there isn’t as much need to support charity care because millions more people have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and therefore don’t need as much financial help to pay medical bills.

Becerra’s refusal signals his agreement with health consumer advocates, who argue that patients still are struggling to pay their bills, even when they have insurance. While it applies to just a few hospitals, the decision sends a message to hospitals around the state, some of which want similar relief.

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Countering Trump administration, a California legislator wants to ban work requirements for Medicaid

As states led by Republicans prepare to impose tough new conditions for Medicaid recipients with the Trump administration’s blessing, a California legislator wants to ensure no such requirements would be enacted here.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa) has introduced a bill that would bar the state from asking the federal government’s permission to impose work or volunteer requirements in order for low-income residents to be eligible for Medicaid, known in California as Medi-Cal.

Last month, the Trump administration issued guidance that, for the first time in the program’s history, it would consider allowing states to enact work or community service requirements to qualify for Medicaid.

In Trump Era, the Long Fight Against Hunger is Even Tougher

As the Trump administration sets its sights on cutting federal nutrition programs, millions of Americans could stop receiving aid and millions of undocumented immigrants are afraid to sign up for the help they desperately need. Leaders in the anti-hunger movement in California gathered in San Francisco on November 9 for a discussion, co-hosted by the Food & Environment Reporting Network and the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, of what it takes to fight hunger in the age of Trump.

More than half of adult Americans will receive food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at some point in their lifetime. In California, more than 10 percent of the state was on SNAP as of 2015. Each year, the program costs taxpayers $53 billion, but every $1 of SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity, according to the USDA.

By purchasing food, people on federal food assistance create jobs — for grocery store employees, meatpackers, farmworkers, and truckers, said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, and one of the evening’s panelists. “Every billion (dollars) we receive in California in SNAP benefits, creates 14,000 jobs,” she said.

But the White House has proposed cutting support for SNAP by 25 percent, while tightening eligibility requirements, especially for so-called able-bodied adults. The administration also hopes to lower funding to the federal food assistance program known as WIC, which serves 7.8 million women, infants and children each year.

“When we talk about more people living below the poverty line as a result of some of the proposals coming out of D.C., we’re talking about our failure to recognize their humanity,” said Bartholow. “When we cut SNAP, it doesn’t mean [people will] find money to go find food in some other way. It means they go hungry.”

But even if they’re eligible for support, many people are hesitant to sign up for it due to heightened fear about Trump’s immigration policies. “Immediately following the election, we had people calling us not to ask for help signing up with CalFresh (California’s food assistance program) or SNAP,” but for help cancelling their benefits, said Elizabeth Gomez, associate director of client services at the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which serves over 300,000 people annually, or one of five residents in Alameda County. The bank fielded at least 40 such calls in the first few weeks after Trump was elected, something Gomez said had never happened before.

Some people are afraid that, by signing up, they will be added to a national database and tracked down by immigration services if they or someone in their family is undocumented. Many also fear that by receiving food assistance they would count as a “public charge,” and thus be disqualified for ever earning citizenship, which Gomez said is one of the many mistruths that shadows food assistance. She made clear that applicants do not have to offer up proof of citizenship or even their names to receive emergency food assistance, and doing so doesn’t bar them from becoming a citizen later on.

At least not yet, noted Bartholow, but the Trump administration is considering adding food benefits and healthcare to the list of government services that designate someone a “public charge.”


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Nebraska school district defends decision to deny student lunch

A Lincoln middle-school student was denied lunch after a zero balance showed up on her lunch card.

Daniel Gearhart was outraged when his 11-year-old daughter came home hungry.

“To get up to the lunch line and have your lunch taken away from you because you didn’t have $3,” he said.

And all in front of your classmates. On Friday, Gearhart says it happened to his 6th-grade daughter, a student at Twelve Bridges Middle School in Lincoln.

“That kills you as a parent,” he said.

This is the latest example of a nationwide issue. In California, lawmakers are trying to prevent more cases of what’s called “lunch shaming.”

Gearhart says he loaded $10 into his daughter’s lunch account online as he always does, but when lunchtime rolled around, the balance still said $0. His daughter’s meal was taken away and replaced with one apple and some milk.

“I was immediately angry, calling the school and trying to get answers,” said Gearhart.

According to Western Placer Unified School District, it’s policy.

It released a statement Tuesday saying in part, “If a student does not have lunch money or does not have a balance on their account, they are offered a light alternative, which typically consists of milk or juice and a piece of fruit or snack bar.”

State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) said, “This is just one of these practices that shocks the conscience.”

California is trying to prevent what’s known as lunch shaming. Beginning Jan. 1, a new law will stop schools from treating children whose lunch accounts are past due any differently than those who don’t have money for the day. Hertzberg authored the bill.

“In the meantime, let’s not victimize children for adult issues,” said Hertzberg.

The law still allows schools to serve an “alternative snack” to students who can’t pay and wouldn’t have made a difference for Gearhart’s daughter since she wasn’t in debt, but Gearhart hopes the district will make changes on its own, so no child has to finish the school day hungry.

The new bill will also require schools to notify parents when unpaid fees exceed ten full price lunches. An official with the Western Center on Law & Poverty says there may be a second bill in the future that could ensure kids get a full meal regardless of what their balance or debt is, as long as there is an agreement that parents pay it at a later date.

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CWDA Bills Signed by Governor Brown

The Governor wrapped up his signatures and vetoes of all bills on his desk just before the midnight deadline on Sunday, October 15. CWDA had several sponsored bills signed this session.

AB 236 (Maienschein) – Clarifies that a family that is reunifying following an intervention by child protective services is eligible for temporary housing assistance through the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. Also directs the California Department of Social Services to work with counties to assess the actual nightly cost of shelter. Cosponsored with Western Center on Law and Poverty and California Coalition of Welfare Rights Organizations

AB 811 (Burke) – Will ensure that parents in CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work are able to complete their high school diploma or equivalency, as well as a subsequent education or training assignment, within the 24-month time clock

AB 1332 (Bloom) – Will enable county child welfare agencies to better protect children by creating a process for the court to formally remove a child from an abusive non-custodial parent. Cosponsored with the County of Los Angeles

SB 213 (Mitchell) – Supports the placement of abused and neglected foster children with relatives and other caregivers by streamlining and clarifying background check requirements, providing an expedited exemption process for certain minor crimes, and enabling emergency placement of children with relatives pending exemption when it is in the best interest of the child to do so. Cosponsored with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Children’s Law Center, and Public Counsel

SB 282 (Wiener) – The Reducing Hunger Among Vulnerable Californians Act of 2017 (SB 282) seeks to address the dual, often overlapping, challenges of joblessness and homelessness for low income Californians. This package of targeted program improvements will increase access to prepared food for low income homeless, elderly or disabled Californians and create real job opportunities for childless homeless adults. Cosponsored with Western Center on Law and Poverty and San Francisco County Human Services Agency

CWDA also strongly supported AB 340 (Arambula), sponsored by Californians for Safety and Justice. This bill will ensure that the behavioral health screening tools used with Medi-Cal eligible children receiving EPSDT services include questions designed to elicit information about childhood trauma.

CWDA thanks all of the authors, supporters and our co-sponsors of these important bills. See you in 2018!

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