Stay Connected Donate

Category: Financial Security

Home | Newsroom | Financial Security

How LA can make an immediate impact on homelessness

In this op-ed: Western Center’s Executive Director, Paul Tepper, explains how California counties can get thousands of people housed in the immediate future: increase General Relief/ Assistance for adults in poverty.

In L.A. County, the amount hasn’t increased since the 80’s. It’s $221/ month.

 

 

The Country’s First Child Allowance (Almost)

Last week, the California legislature passed a budget that spends billions of dollars to attack poverty in the state. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law, in so doing increasing funding for cash welfare, providing $1.5 billion for affordable housing, and also providing more resources for eviction defense, the state’s Medicaid program, homelessness aid, and myriad other anti-poverty programs. In what Newsom termed “perhaps the most significant anti-poverty initiatives that we’ll be passing this year,” the new budget also more than doubles the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and creates what might be the country’s first child allowance—or at least, the closest thing yet to one.

Under the state’s new child tax credit, all families in poverty will receive a $1,000 refundable tax credit for each child under the age of six. The only catch is that families must have at least $1 in earnings to be eligible.

“We could call it a universal allowance, you might call it a guaranteed income,” says Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It says to households with children that they will have minimally an annual income of $1,000.” If, of course, they report some earnings.

Read more

Western Center submits comments opposing HUD anti-immigrant rule proposal

The comment period has ended for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed rule to deny housing assistance to “mixed-status” families that include undocumented or otherwise ineligible individuals. The change would leave families with the choice of kicking out undocumented family members from their household, or completely losing assistance, which would also significantly impact many children who are U.S. citizens.

Western Center is strongly opposed to the rule; if implemented, it will have a devastating impact on over 25,000 families, and will create decades of generational instability and poverty. California in particular cannot afford for this rule to be implemented in the midst of our housing crisis. “Mixed-status” families are the backbone of our state; imposing this kind of baseless cruelty and instability is not only morally bankrupt, it is also devoid of common sense.

An excerpt from our comment is below. The full letter can be read here.

“As California’s oldest and largest legal services support center, we have over 50 years’ experience fighting to reduce poverty in our state through the courts, the legislature, and by working with state and local agencies to ensure our laws are fair and justly implemented. We can speak directly to which federal and state policies serve to reduce poverty in our communities and benefit our state and country as a whole and which policies worsen poverty, penalize families struggling to make ends meet, and hurt us all. HUD’s proposed rule threatens to exacerbate poverty by evicting over 25,000 families with mixed immigration status, betraying this country’s promise of opportunity in favor of an unreasoned, unworkable policy. Almost ten thousand of those families are in California. The rule should be withdrawn.”

Western Center submits comments opposing changes to the Official Poverty Measure

Western Center submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget regarding its proposal to change the federal government’s Official Poverty Measure. Western Center opposes the proposed changes, because they would significantly undermine the reality of poverty throughout the U.S., and would improperly bar individuals in need from accessing public benefits and services. People of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ communities would be disproportionately impacted by such a change.

Our full comments can be read here, and an excerpt is available below:

“Replacing the current methodology for calculating the annual poverty threshold would irreparably harm the country’s most vulnerable populations by grossly understating rate of inflation among low-income households.
The proposed rule would inflict irreparable harm because it would (1) deprive impoverished households of the public benefits necessary to mitigate their material hardships, and (2) have a disparate impact on persons on color in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

California considers adopting part of Trump’s tax law

California’s liberal Legislature wants to give poor people a lot more money in their state tax refunds each year, including an extra $1,000 for people who earn less than $30,000 a year and have at least one child under 6.

But to do it, they’ll have to agree — at least partially — with Republican President Trump.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s spending plan would triple how much the state spends on its earned income tax credit to $1.2 billion, making about 1 million more households eligible to get it. To pay for it, California would have to adopt some of Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul that was despised by Democrats, especially in California, because it capped the amount of state and local tax deductions in a move they say disproportionately hit high-income, high-taxed states.

…”The Trump administration got rid of these loopholes at the federal level to be able to provide a deeper tax cut to corporate America,” said Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We’re flipping that on its head. Instead, we’re going to use the same money … to help people who need it the most. I think most of the progressive liberal members of the Legislature are completely comfortable with that.”

Read more

Proposed Legislation Would Ban Towing In Some Cases

Unpaid parking tickets or registration fees, parking your car on a city street for more than three days — these could get you towed and if you can’t pay fees, your car might be sold!

New legislation is hoping to ease those worries. AB 516 would ban towing in a handful of cases. The goal is to keep the poor from being penalized.

“They get their cars towed away because they can’t afford parking tickets. They get their cars towed away because they can’t afford DMV registration,” said Michael Herald.

Herald is with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. He is focused on the 46% of Americans who can’t afford a $400 emergency bill.

“And then to tow away their car, their main economic asset which they use to earn a living, it’s like a punishment. It’s like trying to kill a gnat with a sledgehammer,” said Herald.

Watch the segment

Can We Stop Kids From Being Shamed Over School Lunch Debt?

An Alabama elementary school stamps a child’s arm with the message: “I need lunch money.” A Minnesota school district warns graduating seniors that they will not receive caps and gowns unless their meal debt is paid. A New Hampshire cafeteria worker is fired for serving students with outstanding lunch bills.

These are all examples of lunch shaming, a practice that may vary depending on the context, but which has persisted for years. Outcry about the issue has grown louder since the Great Recession, when a number of school districts found themselves in a financial crunch and began using punitive measures to settle meal debt.

…Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty in California, said schools routinely send bill collectors after families, but she questions whether student privacy laws are being broken in the process.

“There’s a real problem with a school that gives a third party information about a child and the child’s debt,” she said. “The information would have to include the name of the child and the action that caused the debt—and would also have to include the address of the person responsible for the child.”

Read more 

California stopped suspending licenses for failures to pay traffic fines. Why do some drivers who can’t pay still have suspended licenses?

By Rebecca Miller, Western Center Senior Litigator

In 2016, low-income motorists – represented by Western Center and other law firms — sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles for suspending the driver’s licenses of individuals who couldn’t afford to pay traffic tickets. As the suit progressed, the California Legislature passed AB 103, which abolished the practice of suspending licenses for failure to pay fines, and eventually we successfully persuaded the DMV to lift existing failure to pay suspensions.

Abolishing suspensions for failures to pay was a huge win for Californians, and resulted in more than 200,000 people getting their license back. The progress made with failure to pay suspensions opened the door to address another issue facing primarily low-income Californians – license suspensions for failing to appear in court. While suspensions for failures to pay were repealed, courts can and do still suspend if someone doesn’t show up for their court date.

We have heard story after story of people affected by failure to appear license suspensions that they can’t clear. One man was forced to turn down a job that required a license because the court insisted he pay his tickets in full (money he doesn’t have because he is unemployed). Another woman, a disabled mother of four, is forced to drive without a license so she can take her kids to school and doctor’s appointments while she chips away at her balance $25 at a time. Neither driver was able to lift their failure to appear suspension without paying their tickets in full.

To address the conundrum, the City of San Francisco announced last month that it would reinstate licenses for people who failed to appear in court after finding that the primary reason drivers don’t appear is because they cannot afford to pay their tickets. Yet outside of San Francisco, there are lingering problems with notifications for failures to appear in court that continue to punish people for living in poverty.

Some courts reinstate a driver’s license once a person appears, but other courts keep the suspension in place until the court debt is paid — essentially treating failing to appear in court the same way as failing to pay a fine. Although no county is officially suspending licenses based on failure to pay notifications sent to the DMV, Californians in many counties experience a cycle that goes something like this:

Miss a traffic court deadline for a number of potential reasons: I don’t have a defense, I don’t have the money to pay the ticket, or I’m afraid because my experience with the judicial system has created a fear of courts and judges — especially if I’m a person of color. It’s also possible that I couldn’t get off work, or don’t have sufficient transportation to get to an inconveniently located traffic court. The court then sends a failure to appear notification to the DMV. Depending on the underlying traffic offense, after one or two failure to appear notifications, my license is suspended, but I still don’t have enough money to pay the fines and don’t know how to get my license back.

A few counties allow people to go to walk-in court to “appear” by admitting guilt and agreeing not to contest the ticket. The court then sends a failure to appear release to the DMV, and the person can get their license back, even with an outstanding balance. Other courts find people who don’t appear guilty in absentia and never send a notification to the DMV in the first place.

But some courts will not release a failure to appear notification until a person pays their ticket in full, or completes all of their community service. In these courts, there is no walk-in court or forms to let you “appear.”  Even if a person files an ability to pay request saying they can’t afford the ticket and need the cost reduced or to be put on a payment plan, the court doesn’t count it as an appearance. Essentially, courts in this category use failure to appear notifications to coerce people to pay tickets they can’t afford, even though the statute and legislative history only allow courts to use failure to appear suspensions to compel a driver to come to court and either admit guilt or contest the ticket.

The move by San Francisco to reinstate licenses suspended because a driver didn’t appear in traffic court is good policy. It acknowledges that failure to appear notices are not related to driving safety, and that most failures occur because drivers can’t afford their tickets. It also recognizes that driver’s license suspensions are harmful — most Californians need a driver’s license for work and to care for their families.

However, San Francisco’s decision to take action doesn’t resolve the legal question trapping drivers in some counties: when is a court required to lift a failure to appear suspension? Despite some counties’ answers to that question, the law is clear. Courts cannot use failing to appear to suspend a driver’s license for an unpaid ticket or incomplete community service, and they cannot prevent drivers from clearing a failure to appear license suspension if there is no clear way for drivers to “appear,” or if the definition of an appearance is too narrow.

To ensure the elimination of failure to pay suspensions is a reality for low-income Californians, Western Center and our partners will continue to challenge these unlawful practices.