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Criminal-Justice Reform on CA Ballot in November

“Mike Herald, policy director with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said cash bail is very punitive for low-income defendants.

“Many people ended up getting held in jail for months on end simply because they didn’t have the money to be able to get out on bail,” Herald said. “And then other folks who did get out on bail often were stuck with very large bills.”

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Joint Statement: Federal Judge Strikes Down Trump Administration’s Attempt to Take Food Assistance from Hundreds of Thousands of Unemployed Americans

Yesterday, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down an attempt by the Trump Administration to stop food benefits for nearly 700,000 unemployed people referred to by the USDA as “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents,” or “ABAWDs” in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In the decision for District of Columbia et al v. U.S. Department of Agriculture et al, which comes seven months after the same judge issued a temporary preliminary injunction halting part of the rule, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell called the USDA’s proposed rule “arbitrary and capricious,” particularly because the department failed to address the high number of people who would lose access to food, in the midst of a pandemic, if the dramatic rule change was implemented.

Impact Fund Staff Attorney David Nahmias wrote an excellent article in July with substantial background on the so-called “ABAWD Time Limit rule” and the Trump Administration/USDA’s quest to make the already tight restrictions even tighter, over the objections of tens of thousands of public commenters. The USDA’s new rule would have restricted state authority to provide waivers to the time limit for obtaining work for people who are unemployed and in need of food assistance. For the past two decades, states have been allowed to provide waivers according to the economic and employment situations in their state, which, as Judge Howell pointed out in her decision, is particularly precarious right now because of the pandemic. The USDA’s proposed rule was an attempt to take away state discretion in favor of a harsh one-size-fits-all rule that would have taken food aid away from hundreds of thousands of people who need it.

Due to the rule’s potential to negatively impact a high number of Californians, Western Center on Law & Poverty immediately began organizing against it upon its release in December 2018, which led to the submission of hundreds of opposition comments from California’s broader anti-poverty community. In November of 2019, Western Center advocates met with the Office of Management and Budget at the White House to reinforce our opposition to the rule and organized others to do the same.

In early 2020, Impact Fund and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman joined Western Center to watch and support the D.C. case. Over the summer, we led a coalition of twenty-nine legal and advocacy organizations to submit an Amicus Brief, which appears to have had a substantial impact on the overall outcome of the case – particularly regarding the discretionary exemptions statute, which we argued the USDA had right back in 1999. In her decision, Judge Howell agreed with our interpretation of that statute through explicit mention of the State Plaintiffs’ reply brief, which refers heavily to our Amicus Brief. We are very proud to have had a hand in such a significant decision.

It’s important that this attempt by the USDA to take food aid away from people who need it was struck down, but it’s also important to note that the ABAWD Time Limit rule would not exist if it wasn’t for the 1996 welfare “reform” bill, which has done significant harm to communities across the country and solidified racial and economic disparities – including making the process for obtaining food aid incredibly onerous for people already struggling with systemic poverty. Last year, California Representative Barbara Lee introduced H.R.2809 – the Improving Access to Nutrition Act of 2019, to end the SNAP ABAWD Time Limit rule altogether. Western Center helped craft and subsequently endorsed H.R.2809, which has strong support from California’s anti-hunger community.

Yesterday’s ruling on the SNAP ABAWD Time Limit rule is very welcome news in the face of an ongoing pandemic, record unemployment, civil unrest, and persistent racial injustice. It means hundreds of thousands of people in this country will continue to have access to the food they need in the middle of multiple crises. Now that the baseline is safeguarded, we must continue to push for a long term fix to inhumane SNAP food stamp rules like the ABAWD Time Limit rule.

 

For questions contact:

Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications, Western Center on Law & Poverty — cmckinney[at]wclp.org, (214) 395-2755

Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation & Training, Impact Fund — LNako[at]impactfund.org, (510) 845-3473 ext. 307

Erik Cummins, Senior PR Manager, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman — erik.cummins[at]pillsburylaw.com, (415) 217-9341

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vote Yes on Proposition 25 to Interrupt the Poverty to Prison Pipeline and Significantly Reduce Pre-Trial Detention

In California’s money bail system, people brought to jail on charges of a misdemeanor or felony offence are required to pay money to secure release as they await trial. What that means in practice is that people with money get out of jail, and people without it don’t. But sitting in jail isn’t like waiting at the DMV – jail is, more often than not, a deeply traumatizing experience. Sometimes even deadly.

The amount of money a person can access shouldn’t determine whether the state gets to inflict irreparable harm on them via incarceration. That’s why Western Center supports Proposition 25 to end money bail in California.

Here’s how money bail works…

People who can pay the full bail amount pay directly to the court, which averages around $50,000, and they get it all back when they show up for court. People who can’t pay the full bail fall into two categories: (1) people who can scrape together enough, sometimes through friends and family, to pay a bail agent for a bail bond — usually about 10 percent of the bail amount; and (2) people who don’t have or know anyone with 10 percent of the bail amount and are held in jail until trial. It’s estimated that on any given day, nearly 50,000 Californians end up in this second category — accused of a crime, not convicted, but still sitting in jail because they can’t afford to pay.

For people with just enough to purchase a bail bond, even when they return to court to face their charges, they don’t get their money back since bail bonds are usually nonrefundable. That’s true even when charges are dropped or a person is determined to be innocent.

A Yes vote on Proposition 25 will end money bail in California, and restore $6 billion to low-wealth California communities that are preyed upon by the bail industry. Ending money bail will remove judicial discretion for people charged with most misdemeanors and require that they be sent home in under 13 hours, which we hope will encourage closer examination of who is arrested for misdemeanors, and whether certain misdemeanors should exist in the first place (for example, being “boisterous” on a bus can be a misdemeanor in California).

These are difficult conversations to have in California’s capitol, where $3 million in bail industry profits were used to help elect legislators who oppose not only repealing money bail, but also the reduction of pre-trial detention and the carceral state. Because of that, the legislature is squeamish on this issue, so Prop 25 could be the last opportunity California has for a long time to end money bail and work toward a more just system.

The $6 billion dollar California Money Bail industry preys on low-income communities, and impacts Black and Brown people and communities most. Nationally, Black people are detained at a rate five times higher than white people,[i] and Black defendants are less likely to be released on their own recognizance than white defendants.[ii] Black defendants ages 18 through 29 also receive higher bail amounts than any other group.[iii] It’s all made worse because Black Americans have A LOT less wealth to begin with, so Black people charged with a crime — whether a misdemeanor or a felony — are much more likely to have to stay in jail while waiting for trial, which increases the likelihood of conviction or going into debt with a bail agent.

In California, the billions of dollars the bail industry takes from people with little to no wealth translates to money people can’t spend on basic needs, education, health, or any other resource to get out of poverty. What’s worse, since people often borrow from friends and family to pay their bond, it can create conflict and tension within families, complicating already difficult situations. Sometimes, families have to put up their home, if they have one, for collateral to a bail agent to secure freedom for their loved one, which undermines homeownership and asset building in low-income communities of color.

For people without enough wealth or access for bail, and even with a bail bond, a stay in jail can be lengthy. It should surprise no one that jail is a dangerous and inhospitable place, where people endure sexual assault and other forms of abuse from guards and other people who are incarcerated, and where maintaining one’s health, including mental health, is difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, people held in jail while awaiting trial are more likely to have immigration officials called on them. But that’s not all: other life-altering consequences experienced by people in jail waiting for their trial include losing their homes, their cars, their children or other people they care for, their jobs, their health and so much more. As a result, many plead guilty for crimes they didn’t commit just so they can leave jail rather than wait for trial.

The money bail system is used in many ways that perversely perpetuates the criminalization of poverty. Prosecutors often ask judges to detain individuals with a high bail as leverage to convince people with low-incomes to enter a plea bargain.[iv] To give a sense of how big the problem is, in 2006, 96 percent of convictions were the result of guilty pleas — only four percent of convictions resulted from actual trials.[v] People incarcerated while awaiting trial are more likely to be convicted (even when innocent); receive harsher sentences, including more time in jail or prison; face injury or contract a serious (and costly) disease; and are more likely to return to the criminal justice system in the future.[vi]

Some critics of Proposition 25 are concerned that too much power will be placed within the computerized risk assessment tools that are to replace money bail. We are concerned about that too, which is why we sponsored Senate Bill 36 last year to require race and equity data to be collected, shared with the public, and monitored to mitigate racial bias in each risk assessment tool. Between the requirements set in Proposition 25 and SB 36, California will have some of the most robust protections against racially-biased decision making for pre-trial detention in the country, and we will be the first to end all monetary conditions of pre-trial release. Wealth is one of the most racist algorithms that exists in America, and one of the most fixed. Proposition 25 is an essential step forward in making our pre-trial decisions less racially biased.

We know that even after Proposition 25 passes, we have a lot of work to do to ensure it is implemented with diligence and equity, and that we continue to build a more just pre-trial system that treats everyone as innocent until proven guilty. Western Center is committed to this work in strong partnership with the system-impacted-person led organizations leading the way.

Please join us and leaders across the state in voting Yes on Proposition 25. Go to https://yesoncaprop25.com/ for more information and read the  text of the proposed law. Video panels are also available on the subject: Prop 25 Community Forum Recording (SEIU);  Yes on Prop 25  (Anti-Recidivism Coalition); Yes on Prop 25 (Yes on 25 Campaign).


 

[i]JUSTICE POL’Y INST., supra note XX, at 15.

[ii] JOHN WOOLDREDGE, DISTINGUISHING RACE EFFECTS ON PRETRIAL RELEASE AND SENTENCING DECISIONS, JUSTICE QUARTERLY, 29 (2012).

[iii] JOHN WOOLDREDGE, supra note 9, at 29.

[iv] JUSTICE POL’Y INST., 25

[v] Cal.STATE COURT PROCESSING, FELONY DEFENDANTS IN LARGE URBAN COUNTIES REPORTS 1992-2006

[vi] ARPIT GUPTA, CHRISTOPHER HANSMAN, & ETHAN FRENCHMAN, THE HEAVY COSTS OF HIGH BAIL: EVIDENCE FROM JUDGE RANDOMIZATION 2 (2016); LAURA & JOHN ARNOLD FOUND, PRETRIAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESEARCH 3 (2013).

Western Center’s 2020 Proposition Guide

Californians are voting on important propositions on the 2020 California ballot right now. We know it’s confusing, so below you’ll find our guide to the propositions. All of our work, and how we see these propositions, centers around creating greater economic and racial justice, especially for people in California oppressed by poverty.

For more information to help navigate the propositions, we highly recommend the CalMatters proposition guide. If you prefer video, they have one-minute video explanations of each.

*For a PDF of this document, click here.                

PROPOSITION BREAKDOWN


PROPOSITION 14: $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Research Bond

Western Center Position: No Position


PROPOSITION 15: Schools and Communities First

Prop 15 is widely referred to as the property tax split roll. In 1978, voters approved Prop 13 which limited property taxes on all property owners, both commercial and residential, by capping taxes at 1.1 percent of the value of the property at the time it was purchased. While Prop 13 is often viewed as untouchable politically, in truth it is a major source of wealth inequality and a prime example of structural racism, because it keeps taxes permanently low for those who are long time property owners (overwhelmingly white), but imposes a higher tax on those who bought property more recently (increasingly people of color). Prop 15 would not fix all the problems created by Prop 13 but it would fix one, by setting commercial property taxes based on the current value of the property, not the original sale price. This would increase property taxes by $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion annually. 60 percent of this would go to cities, counties, and special districts and 40 percent would go to schools.

Western Center Position: YES

Prop 15 would take the first step toward restoring fairness to California’s property tax system. It would provide significant revenue which can be used for affordable housing, eliminating homelessness, and providing public benefits. It would increase funding for K-14 schools. It would make it easier for new business to compete with established businesses by making all businesses pay taxes based on market rates.


PROPOSITION 16: Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action 

This measure would reverse a 1996 initiative approved by California voters to ban the use of affirmative action in all forms of state and local government. Affirmative action is the practice of establishing certain criteria that allows consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting. The goal of affirmative action is to ensure that all people, regardless of their background, have a meaningful opportunity to benefit from government programs. In practice, affirmative action is intended to level the playing field and reduce the effects of explicit and implicit bias.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported the bill when it was under consideration in the Legislature because it is consistent with our long standing principles of ensuring that California is an inclusive and equitable state. California, like the rest of the United States, was formed on a foundation of explicit white supremacy and patriarchy in law and society, which means active policies are required to obtain balance. The more that all segments of our community have the opportunity to receive the benefits of government, the less likely it is that bias will continue to be prevalent.

Western Center staff attorney Helen Tran explains more in this blog post.


PROPOSITION 17: Right to Vote for People Who Were Formerly Incarcerated

This measure would allow Californians with a prior felony criminal conviction to be able to vote in California. Currently, a person convicted of a felony cannot vote while incarcerated or on parole. If a formerly incarcerated person on parole registers to vote or votes, that can be grounds to revoke their parole and return them to prison, even if they are otherwise abiding by all other terms of their parole. The current law acts as an additional punishment on the formerly incarcerated after they have served their time and deprives them of a fundamental right of all citizens.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported this bill when it went through the Legislature because current law disenfranchises people from exercising the fundamental right to vote. As we know from our work, the history of racism in our country has led to over-policing of communities of color. Thus, this law disproportionally impacts Black and Brown communities and dilutes their voting power.


PROPOSITION 18: Right to register to vote at age 17

As it currently stands, a person can register to vote in California if they’re a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old and a resident of the state. Registered voters can also run for elective office as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements. A person can pre-register to vote when they are either 16 or 17 years old. When a person pre-registers, they are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18. If passed, Prop 18 would allow eligible 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next November general election to vote. Those 17-year-olds could vote in any special election or primary election before the next general election. The measure also means that 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the next general election could run for office if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

Western Center Position: YES

People decide who will be on the November ballot in primaries earlier in the year. People old enough to vote in November should have the opportunity to make that initial choice for the November ballot in the primaries, even if they’re still 17. There are also studies that show that pro-voting initiatives like this encourage greater voter participation among young people, which is crucial for engaging younger generations into the political process.


PROPOSITION 19: Change in Property Tax Rule

This initiative makes changes to property taxes when people move or inherit property. Currently, persons over age 55 and those living with disabilities can move to another home and not see their taxes go up if the new property is equal to or less than the house they moved from. This initiative would expand the ability of older and disabled property owners to move and not pay higher taxes. It limits the ability of people to inherit property unless an inheriting family member lives at the property or if the property is worth more than $1 million more than the assessed value of the house. Overall, the measure would result in increased revenue of tens of millions annually. This revenue would go to fire protection and schools.

Western Center Position: No Position

While this measure would result in some increased revenue it would not provide meaningful resources for health, welfare and housing programs. Proponents have asked Western Center to support but most major progressive groups are not supporting the measure.


PROPOSITION 20: Restores Crimes and Limits Early Release

This initiative proposes to repeal portions of criminal reform initiatives passed by voters (Prop 47 in 2014 and Prop 57 in 2016). If approved, Prop 20 would reinstate certain theft crimes as felonies instead of misdemeanors, and make it harder for people convicted of felonies to be approved for parole. It also expands collection of DNA samples from people charged with crimes, and from youth.

Western Center Position: NO

This measure would disproportionally and negatively impact people of color and low income Californians. In a time when large segments of the population are seeking a reduced criminal justice footprint, this initiative is moving in the opposite direction. Increasing the number of people with felony convictions will harm individuals, communities, and ultimately, our entire society, by making reentry into community much harder. It’s harder to get a job and find a place to live with a felony conviction, and as it stands now and unless Prop 17 passes, people with felony convictions who are in prison or on parole can’t vote. This initiative will needlessly place more people into these oppressive circumstances, exacerbating California’s existing income and racial inequality and its housing/ homelessness crises, which means greater instability for our state.


PROPOSITION 21: Reduce State Limits on Local Rent Control  

This measure proposes to make several changes to a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Act. That law strictly limits how local governments can control the cost of rental housing. It bars rent control on most single family homes, bars rent control on units built after 1995, and allows landlords to increase rent on a unit whenever a tenant moves out. Western Center was a major opponent of this law when it was proposed and has remained so for the past 25 years. Prop 21 proposes to modify the Costa Hawkins Act by allowing rent control on units that are older than 15 years, including some single family homes, and it allows local governments to restrict rent increases on units when a tenant moves out.

Western Center Position: YES

A similar measure was on the 2018 ballot but failed. Since then there has been a spike in rent across California and significant increases in homelessness. With COVID-19 causing many tenants to be unable to pay the high cost of rent in California, it is necessary to pass meaningful limits on rental housing costs.


PROPOSITION 22: Repeals Worker Protections for App-based Rideshare Workers

This measure proposes to repeal a portion of AB 5 that was passed by the Legislature last year to require that companies employing so called “independent contractors” instead classify workers as employees. Doing so means the companies must provide basic worker protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health coverage, minimum wage, sick pay, overtime and social security. Large internet based corporations like Lyft, Uber, and Door Dash are proposing to eliminate these protections provided in AB 5. Western Center supported the bill because many drivers for these companies are not receiving a fair wage or minimum worker protections. When they are unable to drive, they are often left with nothing because as independent contractors, their employers are not required to pay into these systems. As a result, they often end up on public assistance and in crisis, meanwhile the companies experience record profit. Prop 22 would allow workers to remain independent contractors, and proposes that in lieu of traditional employee benefits, rideshare workers receive a menu of watered down worker protections.

Western Center Position: NO

Income inequality is quickly becoming one of the most important issues of our time. The average pay of corporate CEOs is now 321 times more than the typical worker they employ. The use of independent contractors is accelerating this trend by allowing companies to keep money normally used to provide basic employment services for themselves. App based companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pass Prop 22, which is money they could be spending on basic worker protections, since workers make the companies possible.


PROPOSITION 23: Kidney Dialysis Requirements

Western Center Position: No Position


PROPOSITION 24: Use of Personal Data by Private Business

This measure makes a host of changes to California law regarding how personal information collected by corporations and data firms can be used and shared. This bill overrides elements of a 2018 “landmark” privacy law that limited the use of data sharing. Significantly, Prop 24 allows data collectors to use “neighborhood scores” in determining a person’s credit worthiness, which means a person’s credit could be lower because of the community they live in. Prop 24 reduces the number of companies subject to the law. It takes regulation for privacy breaches away from the state Attorney General and shifts it to a newly created state agency with capped funding. It also limits the ability of the Legislature to decide how penalties collected by the state can be used by earmarking most penalty funds away from the General Fund.

Western Center Position: NO

A host of consumer organizations are opposing this measure and they have asked Western Center to join them in opposing. Some background context: a wealthy developer named Alastair Mctagart pulled a privacy initiative off the ballot in 2018 after the Legislature passed a privacy bill; he then submitted a new initiative that both strengthens and weakens the existing law. Western Center supports strong consumer protections and believes the legislative process, not the proposition process, is the appropriate forum for making changes to the law.


PROPOSITION 25: Repeal State Law Eliminating Money Bail

Prop 25 is a referendum to overturn a bill, SB 10, which was passed in 2018 by the Legislature to eliminate the use of the money bail system in California. Under the money bail system, judges allow people to be released from jail before trial if they pay a bond to secure their appearance at trial. Many people can’t afford bond and turn to bail bonds agencies to pay; people are then required to pay the agency 10 percent of the bond amount. That amount is non-refundable even if the person is acquitted or the charges are dropped. Data shows that the money bail system benefits those with wealth who can afford their own bail, while people with fewer resources often languish in jail for lengthy periods of time. In 2018 the Legislature passed SB 10 to eliminate this system and replace it with a system of release based on a “risk assessment” tool. Under this bill, the financial resources of the accused are not a factor in their release. Western Center was a co-sponsor of SB 10.

Western Center Position: YES

To support the bill that was passed to eliminate money bail, a person must vote “Yes.” The referendum is essentially asking you to consider this as if you were a legislator deciding to support the bill. Western Center co-sponsored SB 10, and now urges a “Yes” vote for Prop 25. We understand the very real concerns about replacing money bail with the “risk assessment” algorithm system, as there is noted bias in that system. However, we feel it’s likely that this is the only real opportunity to eliminate money bail in California, which disproportionately harms communities of color. If Prop 25 passes, it will be easier to address imperfections in the algorithm system than it will be to get the Legislature to take up ending money bail again.

Western Center policy advocate Jessica Bartholow explains more in this blog post.


  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freeze first, verify second: Unemployed Californians get a fright from EDD

“Schemes to defraud the system and identity theft have bloomed across the state. These are not victimless crimes, Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty points out — Californians whose identities are used by scammers can be blocked from their own deserved benefits.

…Bartholow said that even if funds aren’t available for a few days, payment fees and overdraft charges can stack up, on top of the stresses for unemployed Californians looking to access their money.

“There are monetary costs,” Bartholow said, “and there are real and tangible harmful impacts to people.”

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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 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, which was signed into law by Governor Newsom, will 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. 

_______________________________________________________

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.

 

House Of Representatives passes The Crown Act

“As reports of racial discrimination at work and in schools are increasing, it is essential that lawmakers recognize where more protections against it can, and should be, strengthened,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are so grateful to Congressman Richmond and the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership on this issue and are eager to continue the work with other CROWN Act coalition members and allies until all workers and all pupils in our country are free from racial discrimination based on the texture or style of their hair. Passing this Act is an essential step to reducing school pushout of Black children and improving job opportunities for Black workers.”

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Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed

ACCESS TO JUSTICE & PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.

HEALTH

  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.

HOUSING

  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.