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Category: Access to Justice

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Newsom’s Made Poverty a Priority—But Women Have Been Working on It for Years

Children’s advocates were thrilled when Gov. Gavin Newsom came out big for them on Jan. 10 in his first budget proposal. He called for phasing in universal preschool, putting money into state-funded child care and investing in education for child care workers. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said it’s clear Newsom will be an ally on social issues.

“And we’re also clear that we also helped set the table for him to have the luxury of coming in in 2019 and making these declarations and having money to spend,” she said.

…Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said women leaders in the Senate and Assembly drove poverty-related policies even while the state was dealing with a budget crisis.

“You saw women stepping forward and saying that poverty, that family poverty, that poverty among female-led households, was an important policy issue,” she said. “And you saw them apply this kind of creativity and big thinking that normally had been reserved for issues that weren’t involving poor children and their mothers.”

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Nonprofit Dental Insurer Under Scrutiny For ‘Flagrant’ Spending

Dental insurance giant Delta Dental of California is facing mounting criticism for paying its CEO exorbitantly, flying board members and their companions to Barbados for a meeting, and spending a small fraction of its revenue on charitable work — all while receiving significant state and federal tax breaks because of its nonprofit status.

Now, the company — which has 36.5 million enrollees in 15 states and the District of Columbia — is hoping to pay $155 million to acquire a 49.5 percent stake in for-profit medical and dental insurer Moda Health

…In December, Consumer Reports, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Health Access and the Western Center on Law & Poverty penned a letter to California regulators asking them to assess whether it’s appropriate for Delta Dental to be investing in a for-profit insurer.

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Governor Newsom’s proposed budget will reduce poverty, but Supplemental Security Income recipients are still ignored

By Mike Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy

Governor Newsom’s budget was released last week, and it is receiving well-deserved praise (including from Western Center) as an ambitious step toward creating a more equal California, and addressing the state’s poverty crisis. With bold proposals for ending childhood poverty, expanding health care access to young adults regardless of immigration status, and creating opportunities for families with children to get out of the cycle of poverty, Governor Newsom is sending a clear signal about his intention to take the state’s poverty issues seriously.

Western Center is thrilled with the Governor’s focus on ending poverty, and we look forward to the positive benefits it will have for millions of Californians, but there is one group that the new budget leaves out – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.

For many years, Western Center and others have pushed the Legislature and Governor to increase grants to the SSI program. All 1.3 million SSI recipients are living with disabilities, or are too old to work. With few exceptions, they are unable to earn a living and must rely on the grant they get each month to pay their rent, food and utilities.

The Governor’s new budget does not include an increase for the State Supplemental Payment (SSP), which was reduced a decade ago by the Schwarzenegger Administration to the federal minimum of $156 a month. This $77 a month reduction has never been restored, and has dropped one million SSI recipients into poverty as a result.

It has been a rough road for SSI recipients since cuts were made in 2008. In the time since, more than $11 billion has been taken from SSI recipients and put toward building the Rainy Day fund and budget surplus. The state’s budget “success” has been built on the backs of SSI recipients.

A few years ago, a coalition of groups came together to see if we could turn the situation around. The coalition included participants from a wide swath of disability, nutrition, and legal advocacy organizations, senior organizations, and SSI recipients. The coalition, known as Californians for SSI (CA4SSI), turned out for lobby days, budget hearings and committee hearings. Meetings were held repeatedly with the Governor’s office, the Pro Tem office, the Speaker’s office, and the Department of Finance urging them to restore funding for people depending on SSI to survive.

From the beginning, many SSI recipients were involved in every aspect of the coalition’s work — from building the website, to choosing messaging, to raising money — but one recipient in particular stands out, we will call him Mitch. Mitch never missed a call, never missed a hearing, and always spoke from his heart. He told powerful people even more powerful stories about SSI recipients living in their cars who had to depend on food banks every month to eat.

The coalition saw a sliver of success with a cost of living increase of $5 a month, but in spite of our combined efforts, the grants did not get restored. Frustrations began to mount inside the coalition, and many recipients felt that the coalition needed a new strategy.

We continued to lobby the state for an increase in SSI payments, and Mitch continued to show up faithfully, until one lobby day, when it became clear that he had reached a breaking point. Mitch became upset because he didn’t like the way that particular event was organized, and he yelled at staff and subsequently took to social media to criticize the campaign, which he called a failure. Despite efforts to mediate the situation, Mitch remains estranged from the coalition.

Unfortunately, Mitch was not the only SSI recipient who lost hope in our effort to advocate for SSI – many people became frustrated that we were not reaching our goal. The biggest frustration was that despite all of the hearings, meetings, and lobbying, we hadn’t accomplished what we set out to do.

People lost hope – it’s what happens when the least powerful in a society go up against the most powerful and get shut down. Mitch’s reaction was extreme compared to others, but the ache of his disappointment is shared by many SSI recipients and advocates working on the issue.

While this episode was playing out, CA4SSI embarked on a new strategy of repealing a 40-year-old state rule that barred SSI recipients from receiving SNAP food stamp benefits. With strong support from both houses of the Legislature and from Governor Brown, the rule was repealed in 2018. The state is currently working to implement the change, and by this summer, hundreds of thousands of SSI recipients will get SNAP.

This should be a happy ending, but in reality, SSI recipients have still not achieved the justice they deserve. The state is still taking $1 billion a year from SSI recipients, and while getting SNAP is good, less than half of the recipients will be eligible for food assistance. And as Mitch used to testify, there are SSI recipients who are homeless or living in cars because SSI is not enough to pay rent. For SSI recipients who receive SNAP, it won’t prevent homelessness, because SNAP can’t pay the rent.

So here we are, after the release of the boldest and most progressive budget our state has ever seen, while SSI recipients look down the barrel of year 12 of reduced grants. As we proceed into the budget revision process and head into spring, the question remains, will anything change for struggling SSI recipients, or will they once again be ignored?

Insider’s Report-November 2018

The Aftermath of the Fires

This year, Californians have faced an unprecedented number of natural disasters. But they no longer have to go at it alone. Thanks to Western Center and partners, we passed the first legislation in the country to require every county to have a disaster plan that prevents hunger among low-income Californians during and following a disaster. Need help for you or your family? Access disaster benefits by visiting the Disaster CalFresh website. Want to know more about this issue? Visit Western Center’s website.

NEWSOM’s early tests

THE BUZZ: Governing America’s biggest state ain’t easy.

— That fact was reinforced for Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom some 36 hours after he was decisively declared California’s incoming leader. With Gov. Jerry Brown out of state, Newsom was in charge as the acting governor. He was immediately greeted with twin cataclysms.

— First came the horrific shooting at a country bar in Los Angeles County. Newsom, who campaigned on going toe-to-toe with the National Rifle Association and championed a ballot initiative to regulate ammunition sales, found himself in the position of ordering flags to half staff in honor of Sgt. Ronald Lee Helus, who was slain responding to the shooting. A decidedly weightier matter than one Newsom grappled with in a previous rotation in the temporary governor’s seat.

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Insider’s Report-October 2018



23 Bills Signed!

Western Center had another landmark year in Sacramento with 23 of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills on behalf of low-income Californians signed into law. Victories included the elimination of the predatory commercial bail industry, proactive measures to dismantle segregation and end housing discrimination, and defending Medi-Cal expansion against back door federal cuts. View the full list of signed bills.

Juvenile Justice Reform –
Western Center co-sponsored SB 190 discharges $90 million in juvenile fees

According to WCLP advocate Jess Bartholow, “In passing SB 190, California became a national leader in ending regressive and racially discriminatory juvenile fees.” Lupita Carballo notes the harm of juvenile fees: “My older brother has been in and out of the system since he was ten years old. My mother is a single mom and paid thousands of dollars in fees. I could tell how it worried her. She would leave the house for work at 4 am and come home at 6 or 7 at night. She would just look so sad and tired. I’m glad this will help other families.” Read our press release here.

Another Western Center victory for license suspensions

Western Center and other civil rights lawyers successfully settled a suit accusing the Los Angeles Superior Court of improperly suspending driving privileges for tens of thousands of poor people because they can’t afford to pay their traffic fines. “Courts were required by law to look at a person’s ability to pay a fine before ordering the suspension of a driver’s license,” said Antionette Dozier, Western Center senior attorney. “In Los Angeles, they didn’t follow the law.” Watch a news report on this settlement.

Trump’s Latest Assault on Immigrants Shreds a Half-Century of Reforms

For much of the past year, anti-poverty and immigrant-rights advocates have worried that the Trump administration would reshape immigration policy on the sly. In particular, they were concerned that hard-liners in the administration would use an obscure regulatory change about how to interpret the meaning of “public charge” as a way both of slashing the total number of immigrants allowed into the United States and of reimagining which sorts of immigrants gain access.

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Courts in most states charge juveniles to exist inside the justice system. This movement wants to change that.

When Brenda Tindal’s foster daughter got in trouble with the law, she knew it would take an emotional toll. She did not, however, anticipate that the teen’s three-month stint in a California juvenile detention center would cost $16,000.

The costs — which include a court-appointed attorney, electronic monitoring, staying in a juvenile hall and restitution — resulted in the garnishment of Tindal’s income and tax returns and led to the eventual loss of her home.

“I’m really in despair,” Tindal said. “There’s a dark cloud over my life. I have absolutely nothing.”

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Splitting up California: State Supreme Court takes initiative off ballot

The state Supreme Court decided Wednesday that California will remain intact geographically, at least for now, while it decides whether the voters can consider a proposal to divide the Golden State into three new states.

The three-state initiative, Proposition 9, had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Nine days after opponents filed suit, the court issued a unanimous order removing the measure from the ballot and ordering further legal arguments on whether it should be placed on another ballot in 2020 or struck down altogether.

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