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Up-to-date COVID-19 information

OVERVIEW

  • FOOD
    • No one will be cut off from CalFresh food stamp benefits at this time. If you get CalFresh, you may get extra CalFresh benefits on your EBT card to help buy food during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in April, May, and June. More info here. (Espanol)
    • Families with children who get CalFresh, CalWORKs, Medi-Cal or foster care should get a P-EBT card by mail before May 22. If you do not and your children are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals, you may apply between May 22 – June 30. More info here.
    • Governor Newsom announced a new program for local governments to provide restaurant delivery service to older Californians. Information and sign-up details for interested participants and restaurants are available here.
    • The California Department of Education has posted a list of all school districts and locations offering grab-and-go meals during the COVID-19 school closure. They’ve also created an app to help families locate meals.
    • California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) can now purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.
  • HEALTH
    • Testing (when available) and treatment for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians. 
    • COVID-19 testing is already free for the majority of Californians with private insurance or Medi-Cal. Testing and treatment will not be used against anyone in a Public Charge analysis.
    • The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has a new Medi-Cal program for those who are uninsured and need COVID-19 testing and treatment, open to anyone not otherwise eligible for Medi-Cal. Apply directly in a community clinic or hospital.
    • Applications for Medi-Cal will be accepted without proof of income documentation during the COVID-19 crisis. This is also true for those seeking to renew existing coverage – your Medi-Cal will not be cut off if you are unable to provide paperwork right now.
  • HOUSING
  • FINANCIAL SECURITY
    • An executive order has been issued to allow current recipients of safety net programs in California (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption during this time.
    • California has established a $75 million Disaster Relief Fund to support undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19 who are ineligible for unemployment benefits and disaster relief, including the CARES Act, due to immigration status. Information on local partners for the program available here.
    • Governor Newsom announced an executive order requiring the exemption of federal, state, or local government financial assistance from debt collection and garnishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Governor Newsom signed an executive order restricting water shutoffs for homes and small businesses while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order also directs water agencies to restore water to those who had it cut off as of March 4th.
    • To ensure households keep essential Lifeline wireless and home phone service, the California Public Utilities Commission has temporarily suspended its rule requiring people with low-incomes to re-enroll in the Lifeline program. This will allow hundreds of households to retain service for the next 90 days.

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More on Health care

Medi-Cal covers all testing and treatment for the virus. For those with private insurance, current policy directives from the state of California say COVID-19 tests will be covered free of cost under all health plans regulated by the state. California DHCS has a new Medi-Cal program for those who are uninsured and need COVID-19 testing and treatment, open to anyone not otherwise eligible for Medi-Cal. Apply directly in a community clinic or hospital.

For care related to COVID-19, you should CALL your health plan for instructions. If you do not have a health plan, contact a local community clinic, or the Health Consumer Alliance hotline at 888‑804‑3536.

If you need health coverage right away, you can apply for Medi-Cal online at Covered California, and learn about more coverage options here. To receive information on options for testing and screening for the COVID-19, contact county public health departments.

Applications for Medi-Cal will be accepted without proof of income documentation during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have documentation, you should provide it, but it is not mandatory at this time. This is also true for those needing to renew existing coverage – your Medi-Cal will not be cut off if you are unable to provide paperwork.

Everyone is encouraged to seek care if they are sick, regardless of income or immigration status.

More on Housing

California Courts have issued rules that suspend most evictions during shelter-in-place.

The new rules include procedural protections for tenants that will achieve the priorities expressed by the Governor’s March 27th Executive Order, which states that a public health crisis is not the time to proceed with evictions. The rule suspends tenants’ obligation to quickly file a response to eviction cases, states that no default judgments for eviction will be issued against tenants during shelter-in-place, and suspends trials for eviction cases. Our summary of the rules on evictions and foreclosures can be found here.

Additionally, many local leaders have recognized the particular threat this crisis poses to low-income households, and have responded with local moratoria on evictions.

Here are a few helpful resources from our partners:

In the video below, Western Center attorney Madeline Howard speaks with Health Leads to give an update on tenant protections afforded by the state and local government. Madeline helps us understand the state-wide “eviction moratorium,” how to understand and leverage stronger local protections, and what may come next as leases turn over, and we prepare for the Shelter in Place to be lifted.

You can find more Information for Renters and Homeowners About Their Protections and Resources, from the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

More on Food Security

Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to allow current recipients of safety net programs (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption or need for re-certification, and it stops CalWORKs time clocks. The governor also issued an executive order making it so that when schools are closed because of COVID-19, school districts must safely provide school meals through the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option.

If you get CalFresh, you may get extra CalFresh benefits on your EBT card to help buy food during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in April, May, and June. More info here. Families with children who get CalFresh, CalWORKs, Medi-Cal or foster care should get a P-EBT card by mail before May 22. If you do not and your children are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals, you may apply between May 22 – June 30. More info here.

California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) are now able to purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.

On March 13th, a federal judge blocked a rule that would have forced 700,000 people off of SNAP food benefits (CalFresh in California), and the Trump administration says it will “hold off” on appealing that decision, which is good news.

More on Financial Security

The President signed the $2 trillion CARES Act, the Coronavirus relief package. It includes some direct payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and additional help for low-income communities and the organizations that serve them,  but it was passed without important benefits and considerations raised to address concerns for the poorest Americans, especially those who are living in deep poverty, people who are disabled or advanced in age, and people who are undocumented. The bill invests significantly more government aid for corporate America than it does for the people hit hardest by the crisis. We are hopeful that the fourth aid package, expected to be worked on by leaders while Congress is in recess for the next couple of weeks, will address these significant gaps.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients should have received AUTOMATIC COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. Additionally, California has established a $75 million Disaster Relief Fund to support undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19 who are ineligible for unemployment benefits and disaster relief, including the CARES Act, due to immigration status.

Western Center and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles created an FAQ for COVID-19 Stimulus Checks. (Espanol). Governor Newsom announced an executive order requiring the exemption of federal, state, or local government financial assistance from debt collection and garnishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) has suspended collection on debt imposed by state and local governments, including the juvenile and criminal legal systems and superior courts (traffic violations, infractions). This policy is in effect immediately.

Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order to expand child care for essential workers, and help prevent child hunger by taking steps to ensure a broad take-up of Pandemic EBT authorized by the federal Families First Act.

California Child Support Services is temporarily stopping the automatic placement of bank liens and suspension of drivers’ licenses, effective on March 17, 2020. Note that there may be instances where actions were already in the process and you will need to contact the agency handling your case.

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued new guidance to counties intended to help CalWORKs families maintain income during the COVID crisis. Our explanation of that guidance can be read here.

To ensure households keep essential Lifeline wireless and home phone service, the California Public Utilities Commission has temporarily suspended its rule requiring people with low-incomes to re-enroll in the Lifeline program. This will allow hundreds of households to retain service for the next 90 days. The Lifeline program is also loading phones with apps to allow customers to apply for CalFresh food stamps and gain access to free school lunch programs and food banks through their mobile device.

California Courts have issued new rules that set bail for people accused of a misdemeanor or low-level felony at $0 during the emergency.

If an employee’s hours are reduced or their employer shuts down, Unemployment Insurance is available, and if a medical professional says someone is unable to work due to the virus, Disability Insurance is available.

As of March 17, Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to in-person visits, but you can contact them by phone and access online services.

Additional Resources:

**IMPORTANT: In this time of increased race-based discrimination in work, school, housing and community, and with reports of hostility directed toward people of Asian descent due to COVID-19, we call on our leaders to condemn hate speech and action, and to dispel myths about the relationship between race and the virus. State and local leaders, as well as public agencies, have a responsibility to correct the misinformation that people of Asian descent are more likely to transmit COVID-19. For an example of leadership in this area, see this letter issued by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

 

 

 

Newsom’s deep-cutting budget axes programs for poor people amid $54 billion shortfall

“1:20 –Michael Herald of the Western Center for Law and Poverty explains the effect of Newsom’s proposed budget cuts — many which go deeper than the cuts after the 2008 recession — on poor people. Programs implemented in the last two years and designed to keep poor people out of debt are on the chopping block.”

Newsom’s deep-cutting budget axes programs for poor people amid $54 billion shortfall; Plus, a spotlight on Alameda County Community Food Bank

Did your rental lease expire during the pandemic? Attorney says to ‘stay in your home’

“Madeline Howard, senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, works with housing issues and the impacts on tenants daily.

Howard said even if Spallino’s landlord wanted her out by June 6, he would likely have trouble doing so because courts have shut down the process for unlawful detainers during the pandemic.

“The unlawful detainer process is how you get evicted through a court,” Howard said. “And the courts have said we are not doing any unlawful detainers, unless they are necessary for public health.”

 

Economist: Homelessness could spike 20% in California as jobless struggle during pandemic

“Anya Lawler, a housing advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, hadn’t seen the analysis, but already expects staggering numbers.

“It’s hard for all of us to wrap our minds around … the magnitude of the crisis,” said Lawler. “We have no idea how long we’re going to be sheltering in place, and we have no idea what the slow return to normal … is going to be. We know we’re looking at an enormous crisis, but we still don’t know how enormous.”

Read more

 

Analysis: May Revision of California 2020-2021 State Budget

*PDF of this analysis available here.

The May Revision for the California 2020-21 budget is a troubling demonstration of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of our lives, and will continue to do so.

The proposed budget has cuts in virtually every area of state government, including devastating cuts to education, environmental programs, health care, public benefits, In-Home Supportive Services, and wages for state employees. Only programs directly fighting the pandemic will see budget increases.

The chart below makes the depth of cuts across programs clear:

Source: CA Dept. of Finance May Revise Budget Summary, page 11

In total, the May Revise estimates a two-year budget deficit of $54.3 billion. This dwarfs the highest budget deficit from the Great Recession of $28 billion. While the cuts are deep and painful, they would be worse if the state had not saved nearly $18 billion in reserves over the past decade. This budget proposes to use half of those reserves in the 2020-21 budget, while preserving the remainder of the reserve funds for future years.

Below is a high level summary of how the budget closes the $54 billion budget deficit.

Source: CA Dept. of Finance May Revise Budget Summary, page 4

Notably, the budget is balanced with $14 billion in cuts that will occur if additional federal funds are not received by July 1, 2020. These cuts, called “triggers” in budget parlance will go into effect automatically. They include cuts to CalWORKs, IHSS, Medi-Cal, and SSI. This means attention will be focused on Congress for the next several weeks. Western Center is working with a broad coalition of groups to advocate with Congressional members to pass the HEROES Act, a recently proposed $3 trillion federal relief package that includes $875 billion for state and local governments to fill budget deficits created by the pandemic.

CalWORKs
There are no grant cuts or eligibility cuts proposed for CalWORKs, but there are major reductions being proposed to county Single Allocation Funding (SAF) to accommodate explosive growth predicted in the program. CalWORKs caseload is expected to rise to 724,000 families just months after reaching an all-time low of approximately 350,000 families in the program earlier in 2020. This rise in caseload is significantly higher than it was for the Great Recession, which peaked at just below 600,000 cases. To absorb the caseload increases, the budget uses $450 million from the Safety Net Reserve in the 2020-21 budget while retaining an additional $450 million in reserve for future budget shortfalls.

There is also very bad news for CalWORKs recipients in this budget. It reduces expenditures in CalWORKs by $850 million by making the following reductions if additional federal relief funding is not approved by Congress:

CalWORKs Employment Services and Child Care
The May Revision assumes CalWORKs Employment Services and Child Care will not be utilized by as many families due to the lack of jobs. These changes would result in a savings of $665 million General Fund in 2020-21.

CalWORKs Expanded Subsidized Employment
The May Revision reduces all but the base funding for CalWORKs Subsidized Employment. This proposal would result in a savings of $134.1 million General Fund in 2020-21.

CalWORKs Home Visiting
The May Revision reduces funding for CalWORKs Home Visiting by $30 million General Fund in 2020-21.

CalWORKs Outcomes and Accountability Review (CalOAR)
The May Revision eliminates funding for CalOAR, but provides counties with the ability to continue implementation. This proposal would result in a savings of $21 million General Fund in 2020-21.

The impact of these cuts will be a sharp curtailment of CalWORKs welfare-to-work activities. While the budget does not exempt all families with young children, as was done in the Great Recession, it assumes that the high unemployment rate will result in significantly reduced use of child care and employment services. It takes away significant funding from subsidized employment at a time when this program would be very helpful to encourage and support employers to hire CalWORKs recipients as the economy opens back up.

The budget also proposes one cut to CalWORKs not contingent on receipt of additional federal funds. The Governor’s January budget proposal to increase the child support pass through to CalWORKs families was withdrawn. This policy change would have allowed families to keep up to $100 for one child or up to $200 for two or more children in child support paid rather than keep this payment to pay the state, local and federal governments for the cost of providing basic needs help to low-income families.

While there are some disappointing cuts to the CalWORKs program services and pass through income, the Governor’s proposed budget stays the course on gains made to end childhood deep poverty. First, it retains California’s grant levels, including the proposed 3.1% increase proposed in January. CalWORKs grants will be at or above the “deep” poverty level for the first time in decades, just when poor families need the money most. Second, the budget makes no changes to CalWORKs eligibility, meaning that if the economy continues to lose jobs, there will be a safety net for families not eligible for unemployment insurance. Third, the budget does not reduce funding or eligibility for homeless and housing programs like Homeless Assistance, the Housing Support Program (HSP), Family Stabilization or CalWORKs diversion (where the Governor recently expanded eligibility via executive order).

These programs will be vitally important in protecting recipients from evictions once the pause on unlawful detainer filings is lifted.

Income and Tax Credits
While the budget makes no reductions to the state Earned Income Tax Credit and proposes an increase in the child poverty tax credit, it fails to end the exclusion for workers with ITINs.

The budget recognizes the role that wages have in reducing poverty and does not suspend the next increase in the minimum wage to $14 an hour on January 1, 2021.

SSI/SSP Grants
State funding for SSI/SSP grants is proposed to be reduced on January 1, 2021 to the federal minimum of $156 a month. While that is not good news, because the Legislature has only restored $4 of the $77 cut from SSI/SSP grants during the Great Recession, there is now only $4 a month that can be taken from recipients. This cut, like the CalWORKs cuts outlined above, will not go into effect if the state receives additional federal funding.

Equal Access Fund
The budget proposes a reduction of approximately 5% in the Equal Access Fund, or around $1 million from the $20 million fund. The one-time $20 million augmentation to the EAF is not impacted because those funds were already dispersed in the 2019-20 budget. The budget also proposes to use $31 million from the Mortgage Settlement Fund to fund legal services for persons facing eviction or homelessness. These funds will be administered by the Judicial Council, who will determine who receives the funds and for what purposes.

CalFresh
There are no changes to the CalFresh program. The budget retains funding for both the Supplemental Nutrition Benefit and the Transitional Nutrition Benefit program which were created in 2018 to help households that lost federal SNAP benefits when SSI recipients were made eligible for SNAP. The May Revision also proposes a decrease of $11.4 million ongoing Proposition 98 General Fund to establish or support food pantries and CalFresh outreach at community college campuses. Instead, it proposes statutory changes to support community college food pantries within available Student Equity and Achievement Program funding.

Child Nutrition Programs
No cuts were made, but the $70 million in the Governor’s January budget proposal to increase access to and quality of food served has been withdrawn. Additionally, the May Revision proposes some of the remaining $1.6 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds be given in grants to county offices of education for the purpose of developing networks of community schools and coordinating health, mental health, and social service supports for high-needs students, citing food insecurity as one of the barriers to learning that this funding is intended to address.

Child Support
The May Revision has withdrawn the Governor’s January Budget Proposal that would have increased the child support disregard pass-through and would have automatically forgiven uncollectable child support debt owed to the government, resulting in a savings of $8.4 million General Fund in 2020-21. Absent additional federal COVID-19 general relief funds, the budget would assume the funding levels for local child support agencies at the 2018 funding level, resulting in savings of $38.2 million General Fund in 2020-21. It would also require savings of $8.2 million in Department contracts and services.

Criminal Justice Fines and Fees
To address the expected decline in revenue for fines and fees collection, the Governor’s May Revision includes an additional $238.5 million one-time General Fund in 2020-21 and a 2-year total backfill to $315.5 million General Fund. No action was taken to relieve people who owe fees and fines.

Fees and fines will continue to weigh heavily on the physical, economic, and mental health of those impacted, and will continue to damage credit scores, access to traditional banking, and access to tax credits. What’s more, that debt will continue to impact relationships within families, and relationships with employers. Western Center will continue to push our co-sponsored bill, SB 144, to end these devastating fees in California.

The May Revision maintains funding included in the Governor’s Budget to expand the ability to pay program statewide.

Health Care
Unfortunately, the May Revision makes deep cuts to the Medi-Cal program at a time when many of California’s poor families have not yet rebounded from the last recession. The Medi-Cal budget grows slightly from last budget year to $112.1 billion ($23.2 billion General Fund) due to an anticipated increase in caseload of 2 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for a total of 14.5 million (an increase of about 2 million absent the COVID-19 pandemic). However, there are significant proposed cuts to eligibility, benefits/services, and provider rates as outlined below:

The May Revision proposes the following Medi-Cal eligibility cuts:

  • Withdraws January proposal to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to undocumented elders (Health4AllElders) for a savings of $87 million General Fund. Maintains Medi-Cal eligibility for undocumented children and young adults (Health4AllKids and Health4AllYoungAdults).
  • Does not implement the 2019 Budget Act expansion of Medi-Cal Aged and Disabled Program for individuals with incomes between 123% and 138% of the FPL, for a savings of $67.7 million General Fund. The 2019 Budget scheduled implementation for January 2020, but was delayed to August 2020, and now proposed to be eliminated.
  • Does not implement the Medicare Part B disregard, which would have stopped seniors and people with disabilities from losing access to free Medi-Cal because of a confusing Medi-Cal rule that creates fluctuations in income calculations, even when a person’s actual income has not changed.
  • Does not implement the 2019 Budget Act to extend Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, for a savings of $34.3 million General Fund in 2020-21.
  • Reverts one-time $30 million General Fund funding for enrollment navigator funding that was approved in the 2019 Budget.

On the Medi-Cal benefits/services side, the May Revision proposes trigger cuts (absent additional federal funds) to:

  • Reduce adult dental benefits to the partial restoration levels of 2014. Partial dentures, gum treatment, and rear root canals will be cut for adults.
  • Eliminate audiology, incontinence creams and washes, speech therapy, optician/optical lab, podiatry, and optometry, all of which were restored earlier this year. It also proposes to eliminate acupuncture (which was restored July 2017), nurse anesthetist services, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacist-delivered services, screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment for opioids and other illicit drugs, all of which were newly approved in the 2019 budget.
  • Repeal 2016 Budget Act that limited estate recovery to 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 have received health care coverage through Medi-Cal and are 55 or older or permanently institutionalized. This has acted as an enrollment barrier.
  • Eliminate diabetes prevention program services.
  • Eliminate the Community-Based Adult Services (CBAS) program, effective January 2021, for a General Fund savings of $106.8 million in 2020-21 and $255.8 million in 2021-22. Eliminate the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP) effective no sooner than July 2020.

Note: The May Revision includes an additional $386.7 million in General Fund costs in 2019-2020 and $284.5 million in 2020-2021 for COVID-19 response for changes including:

  • The COVID-19 presumptive eligibility program for the uninsured and underinsured who are ineligible for Medi-Cal.
  • Hospital Presumptive Eligibility Expansion (HPE) for people over age 65 and for additional time periods.
  • Waiving Shares of Cost for COVID-19 testing and treatment.
  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave for IHHS and other providers.
  • Testing, Diagnosis, and Treatment of COVID-19 for people who are Medi-Cal eligible and incarcerated.
  • A number of provider rate increases.

On the Medi-Cal provider side, the May Revision proposes to:

  • Eliminate supplemental provider rates for physicians, dentists, family health services and developmental screenings, non-emergency medical transportation, value-based payments, and amounts not yet spent on the physician and dental loan repayment programs funded by Prop 56, absent additional federal funds. These funds will be redirected toward caseload growth.
  • Eliminate Prospective Payment System (PPS) carve-outs for FQHCs and Rural Health Clinics for Medi-Cal services including pharmacy, dental and other services with the exception of Specialty Mental Health and Drug Medi-Cal Services, for $50 million General Fund savings.
  • Reduce rates to Medi-Cal plans resulting in $452.6 million General Fund savings, including a retroactive rate reduction going back to July 2019.
  • A 4-month, 10% rate increase to Skilled Nursing Facilities to support COVID-19 response.

Other Medi-Cal proposals:

  • Delay implementation of the CalAIM initiative, resulting in a decrease of $347.5 million General Fund in 2020-21.
  • Withdraw proposal to provide payments to non-hospital clinics for 340B pharmacy services for a savings of $26.3 million General Fund in 2020-21, but continue planned implementation of Medi-Cal Rx for January 2020.
  • Remove $45.1 million General Fund in 2020-21 in associated funding for the Behavioral Health Quality Improvement Program.
  • Revert one-time $20 million General Fund for behavioral health counselors in emergency departments that was approved in 2019 Budget.
  • Revert one-time $5 million General Fund for the Medical Interpreters Pilot Project that was approved in the 2019 Budget.
  • Adjustment of $5.1 billion General Fund savings due to enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate through June 30, 2021 and $1.7 billion saving from federally approved Managed Care Organization tax in April.
  • Shift $50 million from the County Medical Services Program (CMSP) reserves in each of the next four fiscal years to offset CalWORKs costs, but maintains realignment annual allocation.

The May Revise proposes the following changes to other health programs:

  • Covered California – keeps the additional state-based subsidies for households below 138% FPL and between 200-600% FPL. Because the take-up rate has been lower than anticipated, there are savings of $164.2 million for 2019-2020 and $90.3 million for 2020-2021, and $15 million in increased individual mandate penalty revenues in 2020-2021.
  • Hearing Aids – the $5 million General Fund proposal to help cover the cost of hearing aids not covered by insurance for children in households up to 600% FPL is withdrawn.
  • Medi-Cal’s Health Insurance Premium (HIPP) program in which Medi-Cal pays the premiums for eligible enrollees’ private insurance for $.7 million General Fund savings will be eliminated.

Housing Stability and Housing Supply
The Governor’s revised budget proposal includes a recognition of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s finances as well as its disproportionate impact on low-income Californians, including with respect to housing. Importantly, the Governor’s May Revise outlines principles with respect to housing which we support, and are critical to recovering from the current crisis while advancing the goals of equity and inclusion. The proposal acknowledges the great need for increased stabilization and protection of tenants, and the related need to preserve and maintain existing affordable housing resources. At the same time, the proposal meets the current crisis and is informed by lessons learned from the foreclosure crisis by outlining the need to acquire properties and use public resources to ensure every Californian has a place to call home.

The Governor’s proposal stands for the principle that we cannot allow distressed properties to be acquired en-masse by entities which will utilize them as speculative investments, but rather must ensure community acquisition and control to advance our goals and put such properties to work solving our housing crisis.

With respect to housing production, we are heartened to see the Governor’s proposal maintain $500 million in funding for state tax credits for affordable housing construction. This program is critical for producing the units we need that can serve those hit hardest by our housing crisis. The Governor’s revised proposal also maintains various bonds and other funding streams for affordable housing production: approx. $277 million affordable housing funding from real estate transaction fees, approx. $452 million in cap and trade auction proceeds, and $4 billion in Prop. 1 bonds for affordable and veterans’ housing production.

The May Revise also recognizes available federal funding for affordable housing and necessary infrastructure to support it: $1.1 billion in CDBG funds for infrastructure and disaster relief stemming from the 2017-18 wildfires, and an additional $532 million in funding from the CARES Act for housing and homelessness. While the precise breakdown of proposed uses of this funding is not included in the Governor’s proposal, the proposal states these funds will be used to support ongoing efforts to address homelessness and to secure low- and moderate-income housing.

Recognizing the state’s dramatically reduced revenue projections, the Governor’s proposal also cuts several existing sources of funding for affordable housing that have not been dedicated to specific projects. The proposal includes $250 million in cuts to mixed-income development funds over the next three years, $200 million in cuts to the infill infrastructure grant program, and $115 million in cuts to various unnamed sources. Overall, we are pleased to see the level of funding for affordable housing in the Governor’s proposal, given the economic reality our state is facing.

Renters and Homeowners
The revised budget summary highlights actions that have been taken to provide temporary, emergency relief from evictions during the pandemic, but recognizes that increased support for both homeowners and renters will be critical to our recovery. At the same time, the Governor’s May Revise recognizes the economic reality we face after COVID-19, and makes reductions to multiple sources of funding for housing production.

The budget allocates $331 million in funds from the National Mortgage Settlement by providing $300 million for housing counseling and mortgage assistance to homeowners, and $31 million for grants to legal aid programs to assist struggling renters, which we estimate will enable these programs to provide eviction prevention services to up to 7,000-10,000 renters. While we are heartened to see this recognition of the need for renter assistance, as well as the critical role of California’s legal services programs in any disaster recovery effort, we are disappointed that the budget does not account for the scale of increased need for legal services for California’s 17 million renters. Legal assistance is most successful when paired with financial assistance and substantive legal protections against inappropriate eviction; Western Center echoes the Governor’s call for federal funding for struggling renters.

Homelessness
The May Revise reiterates the critical need to shield our unhoused residents from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to continue advancing solutions to reduce homelessness overall, while recognizing the reality of the state’s financial outlook. The May Revise proposes to maintain the $750 million level of funding contained in the previous budget proposal, but anticipates these funds to come from federal sources, and proposes to use this funding to acquire properties currently being used as temporary housing under Project Roomkey, to be operated by local governments or nonprofits. To date, the state has acquired approximately 15,000 units through this program, approximately half of which have been successfully occupied.

Additionally, the May Revise proposes to send $450 million in CARES Act funding to cities that did not get a direct allocation of CARES funds to reduce homelessness, $1.3 billion to counties for the same purpose, as well as a commitment to seek additional federal funds for various homelessness programs, including rapid rehousing, rental subsidies, and temporary/interim housing.

 

 

Death reports show coronavirus hit San Jose’s poor, Latino neighborhoods hardest

“This data is pretty devastating but it’s not completely shocking given the racial disparities in our country,” said Matthew Warren, a staff attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s no secret that the neighborhoods on the east side of San Jose have not benefited from the same resources as the rest of Silicon Valley. They’ve suffered from systemic disinvestment for a long time. They probably aren’t poised to weather the current pandemic as easily as other parts of the valley, from an economic or health standpoint.”

Death reports show coronavirus hit San Jose’s poor, Latino neighborhoods hardest

Black Americans Deserve Reparations – California can lead the way

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, article after article has outlined the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black Americans. The information is staggering: according to the CDC, 30 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, though Black people are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. In California, more than 15 percent of people between the ages of 18-49 who died from Covid-19 were Black, but only six percent of Californians are.

Many explanations are offered, all of which undoubtedly play their role: Black Americans are more likely to be employed by public facing jobs that do not have a work from home option, offer little to no sick leave, and/or don’t offer health insurance. Black Americans are also more likely to live with chronic illness, instability in housing due to rental markets, and poverty. 

Although it’s impossible to pin down any one factor on which to direct laser focus, one thing is clear: the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on Black Americans mirrors the various forms of continued, systemic oppression this country has leveraged against Black people since the first person was forced here from Africa. Because of this, we can no longer ignore reparations as a plausible solution to remedy past wrongs.

In the time since slavery, decade after decade passes without repentance or repayment for that forced labor, but the American economy continues to benefit from the immeasurable contributions of people who were enslaved. Now, generations later, their descendants remain unable to reap the benefits of the American economy, and continue to be shut out from opportunities to thrive, and in many cases, survive. 

Western Center deals with the fallout of America’s anti-Blackness and legacy of slavery every day when we work to protect people impacted by poverty. We’re advocating for reparations because American racism still perpetuates disproportionately high rates of poverty among Black Americans, in addition to worse social outcomes by most measures — from COVID-19 death rates, to incarceration rates, to homelessness, to employment and education.

This is an American problem, so it’s a California problem; but it’s also a California problem because the same racist legal system created to enshrine white supremacy in the rest of America, which actively prohibits Black Americans from wealth building opportunities, also exists in California. In fact, many California homeowners can still find “racial covenants” in their home deeds, stating only whites should own the property. These deeds exist for homes across California – including some owned by a handful of Western Center staff. Racial disparities in income, access to credit, and wealth generation, even while controlling for factors like education, are still pervasive in American society, and in California.

It’s time to look to scholars and experts like Duke Professor William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, who have spent years researching and thinking through delivery systems and methods for reparations. AB 3121, proposed by Assemblymember Shirley Weber in California, would use available expertise to form specific recommendations for the California Legislature on how we might move reparations forward as a state. 

America has not done right by the people who built this country. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for people to see how much neglect Black Americans face, but we’re here now. Western Center is not content to just see the numbers of Black Americans being killed by COVID roll in – we feel the pull to act.

Our support for AB 3121 in California is only one step. As an organization, we are reassessing all of our work to think through how we will be a part of the change that actively, finally, creates a state and country that is just for us all. 

Our complete Letter of Support for AB 3121 can be found here. An excerpt is available below. 

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Background

America’s history with slavery began in 1619, when “20 and odd negroes” were brought to what was then known as “Point Comfort” in Virginia. For 250 years after these first captives were brought to the North American continent, Black people were enslaved, facing the cruelest imaginable treatment, considered property, hardly better than livestock. They were regularly beaten and lynched for frivolous infractions, and enslaved women had no protections from rape or other forms of domestic cruelty. Slavery also disrupted families: one third of marriages were forcibly dissolved, and one in five children were separated from their parents. While people enslaved in America were finally officially emancipated in 1865, it would be an insult to claim they were truly freed. Instead, white supremacist ideology and infrastructures paved the way for generations of policies that have forced the descendants of people who were enslaved into abject poverty, treating Black Americans as second- or even third-class citizens.

Reparations are, plainly put, “the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” They are not new in American history: in fact, White people who enslaved Black people received reparations for the economic losses they were projected to face by voluntarily emancipating people who were enslaved prior to 1865. Reparations have also been provided to other non-Black ethnic minorities in the US: some Native Americans have received a portion of the land that was stolen from them, among other benefits and programs; Japanese-Americans interned during World War 2 have received financial compensation; the US helped ensure through the Marshall Plan that survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants received reparations from Germany. Black Americans who are descendants of people who were enslaved in this country should be afforded the same care and consideration when it comes to reparations. This amends should be made as compensation for the irreparable harm that 250 years of slavery, followed by an additional 150 years of racially discriminatory policies and institutions, have caused to fellow Americans.

The Intractable Black Wealth Gap

The impact of slavery and enduring contemporary racial discrimination on wealth inequality cannot be understated: Black Americans were, for years, specifically excluded from historic wealth-amassing government policies, including the Homestead Acts, the Federal Housing Acts, and the GI Bill. As a result, today Black American families possess less than 10% of the wealth white families possess. Even nominally mitigating factors such as education level, family dynamics, and conspicuous consumption do not eliminate the gap. Whites have more wealth than Black college graduates at all levels of education: even white high-school dropouts earn more than Black college graduates, and white college graduates have more than 7 times more wealth than their Black peers. White single-parent households are still more than twice as wealthy as Black two-parent households. Even when controlling for income, white households have more wealth than Black households with similar incomes, despite these white households spending more.

In California specifically, white and Asian families are more likely to own homes, an important component of wealth accumulation. According to the California Budget and Policy Center in the Los Angeles area alone, “the median value of liquid assets for white households in 2014 was $110,000, compared to $200 for US- born blacks.

This is not a matter of individual behavior or financial literacy. The explanation for this persistent gap can only be post-emancipation racially discriminatory policies, which have consistently prevented Black Americans from amassing wealth at even a fraction of the rate as their White peers.

Our Organizations Urge Support for AB 3121

California has been a national leader in the movement for rights of Black Americans, but this work is incomplete if it does not include a conversation about Reparations. AB 3121 will allow us to advance the conversation of Reparations and develop ideas for how to overcome logistical implementation challenges. This bill will make a significant contribution to a timely and important policy dialogue. Western Center is proud to support AB 3121 and urges your ‘Aye’ vote.

 

STATEMENT: NO CUTS on Californians in our State Budget  

Today, California’s Department of Finance announced significant revenue declines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement makes very clear the need for Congress and the President to immediately pass the proposed relief package for state and local governments.

Any attempt by California or other states to cut programs will lead to immense human suffering, and deepen and lengthen the recession. Cuts will worsen income inequality and harm people who are already most marginalized in our society.

Those disproportionately impacted by COVID and its economic implications — primarily Black, Latinx, and low-income people (many of whom are essential workers on which California relies), are the same people who will be most negatively impacted by state cuts, if that’s the route California takes. That is absolutely unacceptable, and it is not the correct strategy for California For All.

This is an extraordinarily difficult time, and we appreciate the tremendous responsibility the Governor and Legislature has right now. But it is our responsibility at Western Center on Law & Poverty to protect the Californians with the lowest incomes who bear the brunt of the economic burden in this state.

The only priority the Legislature and Governor should have right now is to protect every PERSON who lives here — from the pandemic, from homelessness, from hunger, and from financial ruin. The overall economy comes second, human lives come first.

It’s time for Washington to accept their responsibility and pass state relief now. Congress must enact a fourth Coronavirus response package ASAP, so states aren’t forced to make cuts that will turn this recession into a full blown depression.

California, NO CUTS on Californians in our state budget.