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PRESS RELEASE: LA County Agrees to Stop Delaying Food Assistance to Neediest Applicants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Court injunction will require county to process all emergency CalFresh applications in three days

Los Angeles, CA – In a major victory in the fight against hunger, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted today to enter into a permanent injunction for a case filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Hunger Action Los Angeles, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, et al., requiring the county to process and approve emergency CalFresh applications in a timely manner. The injunction will impact thousands of vulnerable families experiencing dangerous food insecurity in Los Angeles County each month.

“We wouldn’t tolerate it if the fire department took a day to respond to a fire, and we shouldn’t waste time when people are hungry,” said Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action Los Angeles, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The county has the resources, provided by the federal government, to respond immediately.”

The State of California requires counties to expedite food assistance applications for people with extremely low incomes who are homeless or whose housing costs exceed their resources or monthly income. But for more than a year, LA County consistently failed to process emergency applications for CalFresh—formerly known as food stamps—in under three days as required by law.

“We are heartened the county, in entering this agreement, acknowledges that hunger cannot wait,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “These are applications for emergency assistance, and the county must treat them with an appropriate level of urgency.”

Two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles—Hunger Action Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Community Action Network—along with an applicant affected by the delays, sued the county in November, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

“The county’s blatant disregard for people living in extreme poverty, who tend to be Black and Brown, was exacerbating racial inequities in disadvantaged communities like Skid Row and South Los Angeles,” said Todd Cunningham of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. “We sued to force the county to follow the law.”

Represented by NLSLA, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Public Interest Law Project, and pro bono counsel from Sidley Austin LLP, the groups presented the court with data showing the county had violated both state and federal law for months leading up to the lawsuit. In one month alone, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline in 53 percent of eligible applications, leaving 7,600 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. Some applicants had to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“Following the filing of the lawsuit, the county’s processing of applications has improved – but not nearly enough,” said Lauren Hansen of Public Interest Law Project. “Each and every one of these emergency applications must be processed immediately.”

Peter, a CalFresh applicant named in the lawsuit, was 17 years old when his father suffered a severe stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to continue his work as a day laborer. Peter should have received access to CalFresh in three days. Instead, the family heard nothing from the county for 17 days, at which time someone called and left a message. When Peter’s father tried to return the call, he got a “high call-volume” message and was disconnected. Then he received a letter stating Peter’s application had been denied.

A November 2021 report from the county Department of Public Health warned of the “devastating consequences” of food insecurity, which significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and psychological distress or depression. In childhood, food insecurity is associated with delayed development, diminished academic performance, anxiety and depression, and early-onset obesity.

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Hunger Action LA (HALA) works to end hunger and promote healthy eating through advocacy, direct service, and organizing.

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) consists of extremely low-income and homeless people, primarily those living in Downtown LA and South Central LA. LA CAN recruits organizational members and builds indigenous leadership within this constituency to promote human rights and address multiple forms of oppression faced by extremely low-income, predominately African-American and Latino, residents. LA CAN focuses on issues related to civil rights and preventing the criminalization of poverty, women’s rights, the human right to housing, and healthy food access. LA CAN also has projects focused on economic development, civic participation and voter engagement, and community media.

Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County. Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Sidley Austin LLP is a premier law firm with a practice highly attuned to the ever-changing international landscape. The firm has built a reputation for being an adviser for global business, with more than 2,000 lawyers worldwide. Sidley maintains a commitment to providing quality legal services and to offering advice in litigation, transactional, and regulatory matters spanning virtually every area of law. The firm’s lawyers have wide-reaching legal backgrounds and are dedicated to teamwork, collaboration, and superior client service.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

 

 

 

Western Center’s Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-23 May Budget Revision

The Newsom Administration released its 2022-23 May Revise budget, which includes a massive three year budget surplus of over $90 billion. While the budget includes many noteworthy proposals, overall it fails to provide robust help to those who need it most. Rather than target the surplus on increased tax credits and emergency relief for people with low incomes, the budget proposal provides more than $11 billion in tax credits to car owners, including households with incomes up to $250,000.

Paradoxically, the state has so much extra revenue that General Fund spending is limited since the increased revenue exceeds the State Appropriations Limit (aka the Gann limit). As such, the May Revise proposes large infrastructure spending that is not counted towards the Gann limit. While those proposals are not without merit, the Revise fails on fundamental anti-poverty measures, like backfilling the lost federal child tax credits proven to reduce child poverty, leaving hundreds of thousands of children at risk of unnecessarily falling back into poverty. The Revise also fails to fully eliminate civil assessment fees that disproportionately punish people experiencing poverty who cannot afford to pay a traffic ticket or take time to appear in court.

Care Court

The governor proposes $65 million to fund a new court process called Care Court, which would force unhoused individuals with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders into a court ordered treatment plan. Western Center has been tracking the proposal and vocal about our opposition since the governor revealed it in March, as it touches on each of our issue areas.

The Revise provides $39 million to the Judicial Council to run the court process, $10 million to finance a supporter program within the state Department of Aging, and $15 million to counties for training and technical assistance.

With its lack of necessary interventions, like a clear budget strategy and mechanisms for creating housing, we believe the framework of the proposal is fundamentally flawed. If implemented, it is likely CARE Court will lead to unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities and unhoused people and likely create a chilling effect that will prevent people from seeking services for fear of being institutionalized. Additionally, by involving the court system the proposal will perpetuate institutionalized racism and exacerbate existing disparities in health care delivery since Black, Indigenous and other people of color are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorders than white people. All evidence shows that adequately-resourced, intensive, voluntary outpatient treatment – not court-ordered treatment – is most effective for treating the population CARE Court seeks to serve.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

The governor’s May Revise proposes a $2.5 billion dollar increase for housing and homelessness programs from last year for multi-year investments to build housing and behavioral health housing. The Revise includes an additional $150 million to fund Homekey projects, $50 million to build interim housing and $500 million to accelerate affordable housing production and conversions of retail space in downtown corridors.

Even with the economic fallout of the pandemic raging on, the proposal does not include additional funding for tenants at the brink of eviction for their inability to pay rent. To confuse matters, the governor announced a $2.7 billion budget allocation for rental assistance, but it is not a new commitment. Rather, it’s part of the commitment the legislature made in February via Senate Bill 115, designed to ensure full coverage for rental assistance applications submitted before March 31. However, because of the burdensome application process, tenants accrue debt while they wait for approval and still face the threat of eviction for the months their application was being processed.

The governor’s proposal fails to comply with the legal requirement for the state to fully fund rental assistance applications submitted before March 31 by paying those tenants 100% of their accrued debt at the time they are approved. To keep tenants housed and fulfill the promise of the rental assistance program, the massive budget surplus must be used to fully fund tenants’ rental debt and ensure that vulnerable Californians remain housed.

Western Center will continue to advocate for other sponsored proposals missing in the May Revise, including $500 million in the Community Anti-Displacement and Preservation Program (CAPP) to acquire unsubsidized affordable housing and make them permanently affordable, $200 million in the Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program to provide stable housing and supportive services to formerly incarcerated people as outlined in AB 1816 (Bryan), and $150 million for eviction defense funding and community education and outreach.

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs

The May Revise proposes an 11.1 percent increase in CalWORKs, the largest one-year increase in the grant levels in recent memory. The funding for this comes from the Child Poverty subaccount which has seen a significant increase along with the overall budget. Even with this increase, CalWORKs grants for most families are still not out above deep poverty (50 percent of the federal poverty level). That is because most families have an excluded adult. We are calling on the legislature to fulfill the commitment made four years ago to fund CalWORKs grants at the assistance unit plus one level. See the chart below for what the gap will remain at:

Child Support Pass Through

The May Revise makes no change in the administration’s proposal to pass through all child support to former CalWORKs families. While advocates support the proposal, we seek to have it extended to current CalWORKs cases where families have lower incomes and could use the child support assistance immediately.

Food Assistance

The May Revise makes no change to the governor’s January proposal seeking to expand the California Food Assistance Program to Californians regardless of immigration status for those 55 years of age and older. Western Center stands with our partners advocating for the expansion of the program to include Californians of all ages. Many immigrant families were excluded from pandemic relief and continue to be left behind as we rebuild the state’s safety nets.

SSI/SSP

The governor’s May Revise budget makes no proposal to increase grants for blind, aged and disabled Californians. There is a provisional agreement to restore the remainder of the 2009 SSP grant cuts beginning in January 2024 but the governor did not include CA4SSI’s request to accelerate the grant increase to January 2023. By delaying the second restoration, the value of the grant will decline when compared to the federal poverty level.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s May Revision maintains the expansions proposed in the January proposal, including expanding Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status (Health4All), zeroing out premiums and copayments for Medi-Cal, and expanding Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, the May Revision makes new investments to increase the Medi-Cal doula reimbursement rate, provides navigator funding, and permanently extends presumptive eligibility for older adults and individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, the May Revision does not update the Medi-Cal share of cost, fully fund SB 65, or implement Health4All sooner than January 2024.

Below is summary of health proposals in the May Revision, which still needs to be negotiated with the legislature by the budget deadline of June 15th.

Medi-Cal

  • Increased Doula Reimbursement Rate: The May Revision proposes to increase the average doula service reimbursement rate from $450 to $1,094, which includes antepartum visits, delivery, and postpartum visits. The implementation date for the doula benefit will be shifted from July 2022 to January 2023 resulting in $974,000 total funds ($377,000 General Fund) in 2022-23 for this benefit.
  • $60M One-time Navigator Funding: The May Revision proposes to add $60 million total funds ($30 million General Fund) to the Health Enrollment Navigators available over four years through fiscal year 2025-26 to assist in outreach, application assistance, enrollment, and retention for difficult-to-reach populations, including the implementation of Health4All.
  • Presumptive Eligibility for Individuals 65 +, Blind, or Disabled: The May Revision includes $73 million total funds ($37 million General Fund) to continue Medi-Cal presumptive eligibility for older adults and individuals who are blind or disabled. Already permanent for other populations, this gives eligible older adults and individuals who are blind or disabled instant Medi-Cal eligibility for a limited time. Advocates are working to ensure this means two Presumptive Eligibility periods per year, as is currently available during COVID.
  • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventative, maternity, and behavioral health care measures, and to address gaps in care, the May Revision proposes an additional $300 million ($150 million General Fund) to the $400 million proposed in January for a combined $700 million in total funds.
  • Transitions to Managed Care: Under CalAIM, various populations are shifting to mandatory managed care effective January 2022 and January 2023. The May Revision proposes to delay the transition of ICF/DDs and Subacute Care Facilities into managed care from January 1, 2023 to July 1, 2023 to prepare for the transition. The administration also identified additional individuals subject to mandatory managed care that were assumed to already be included and will provide details on specific populations once determined.
  • LA Care Sanctions: The May Revision proposes budget bill language to use monetary sanctions collected from LA Care in the budget year to award grants to qualifying non-profit legal aid programs and organizations that serve Medi-Cal managed care enrollees in Los Angeles County or other impacted counties, for purposes of improving access to care in the Medi-Cal program.
  • Medi-Cal Media and Outreach Campaign: In an April budget change proposal prior to the May Revision, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) requested $25 million ($12.5 million General Fund) for a media and outreach campaign to encourage members to update their contact information with their counties, and to educate members of potential Medi-Cal termination if requested information is not submitted.
  • Additional AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions Elimination: In addition to elimination of AB 97 payment reductions in the January proposal, the May Revision proposes to include doula services, community health worker services, asthma prevention services, health care services delivered via remote patient monitoring, dyadic services, Medication Therapy Management, and continuous glucose monitoring system, supplies and accessories.

Other Health Proposals

  • Covered California: The May Revision proposes $304 million to extend California’s premium subsidy program for middle income Californians with incomes between 400 and 600% FPL. This represents a fraction of potential loss if federal relief is not extended.
  • Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative Grants: The May Revision includes $85 million General Fund for Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI) grants to schools, cities, counties, tribes, and/or community-based organizations. This includes grants to wellness and mindfulness programs as well as parent support and training programs.
  • Reproductive Health: The May Revision includes $57 million one-time General Fund to support safe and accessible reproductive health care, for a total of $125 million including investments in the January budget. Specifically, $40 million to DHCS for uncompensated reproductive health care, $15 million for the California Reproductive Justice and Freedom Fund at the Department of Public Health (DPH); $1 million to DPH for the Comprehensive Reproductive Rights Website, and $1 million to DPH for research on unmet needs for reproductive health care.

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PDF of this document available here.

For questions contact:

 

CA must stop forcing elders & people with disabilities to pay more for health care than everyone else

$600 a month. Imagine living on that in an expensive state like California. That’s exactly what the state requires older adults and people with disabilities to do in exchange for health care through Medi-Cal. This year, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom must change that. Health care is one of the most expensive basic needs in our society — any commitment by state leaders to address inequality must include health care.

AB 1900 by Assembly member Arambula and co-author Assembly member Wood, which Western Center is co-sponsoring with Justice in Aging, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Disability Rights California, Senior & Disability Action, and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, will address the problem by increasing the amount of monthly income older adults and people with disabilities can keep for basic needs.

Currently, elders and people with disabilities with incomes below $1,564 a month qualify for free Medi-Cal. But low-income older adults and people with disabilities who are just a $1 over the limit are required to pay over $900 of their monthly income as a share-of-cost.

The share-of-cost works like a health insurance deductible, but resets on a monthly basis. This Medi-Cal program establishes a monthly amount that older adults and people with disabilities are allowed to keep to meet their basic needs, called the maintenance need income level. The rest of their income must go toward health care expenses. The maintenance need income level of $600 hasn’t been changed since 1989, even though it is nearly impossible for anyone in California to live on $600 a month now.

By increasing the amount of monthly income older adults and people with disabilities can keep for their basic needs — up to 138% of the federal poverty level (the Medi-Cal income level for nearly all adults), AB 1900 ensures that older adults and people with disabilities don’t have to wait another 30+ years for an adjustment since the federal poverty level is updated every year.

Most people with low incomes receive their health care for free or pay up to 8.5% of their income on health care coverage. It is unfair that older adults and people with disabilities are the only population forced to pay over 60% of their income to obtain essential health care. The current policy forces aging adults, people with disabilities and their families to make impossible choices between health care, paying rent, and affording food. When people cannot access needed Medi-Cal services they often end up hospitalized or institutionalized, or forced to rely on already stretched family members to provide unpaid care.

Ten other states have higher maintenance need income levels than California. It’s time to ditch the deductible and lead the nation in health care affordability. State leaders must fund AB 1900 in this year’s state budget.

 

 

Will California sidestep federal ‘work first’ welfare rules?

“States usually only meet the federal rates through “gimmicks,” said Michael Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Some were able to lower their targets by reducing their welfare rolls. California boosted its rate by giving many working food assistance recipients an additional $10 a month out of its welfare funds.”

Read More

BREAKING: L.A. STREET VENDORS VICTORIOUS IN SACRAMENTO. SENATE VOTES IN FAVOR OF BILL THAT WILL MODERNIZE FOOD CODE AND STOP CRIMINALIZING STREET VENDING

“At the hearing, vendors spoke about the importance of passing SB 972, which was introduced by Senator Lena Gonzalez in February of this year and is co-sponsored by Inclusive Action for the CityCommunity Power CollectivePublic CounselCHIRLA, and Western Center on Law & Poverty. It’s a bill that proposes to modernize the often described as outdated California Retail Food Code. ”

BREAKING: L.A. Street Vendors Victorious In Sacramento. Senate Votes In Favor of Bill That Will Modernize Food Code and Stop Criminalizing Street Vending

Should both the rich and poor in California receive $400 gas tax rebates?

“Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, sees the fairness question differently.
 
The price of gas is the same for everyone, even as incomes vary, he said. While some living in poverty cannot afford to own a car, low-income Californians are less likely to have an option to work from home during the pandemic, and a car is a lifeline.”

Read More

Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Agenda  

Western Center’s policy advocates are hard at work in Sacramento to pass this year’s slate of bills to make California better for everyone. Here is our full 2022 Legislative Agenda.

HOMELESSNESS

AB 1816 (Bryan): Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program

(co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership)

This bill will establish a funding source for permanent affordable housing and workforce development for formerly incarcerated people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. The bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness – 70 percent of Californians experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration.

AB 2230 (Gipson) – CalWORKs: Temporary Shelter and Permanent Housing Benefits

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will make significant improvements in the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) to minimize homelessness that CalWORKs families experience by repealing the limitations for receiving assistance through HAP. HAP is meant to assist families who have become unhoused and need immediate assistance. It is Western Center’s firm belief that families should not be burdened with additional program requirements to receive critical assistance for the health and safety of their family.

AB 2339 (Bloom): Emergency Shelters

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Public Interest Law Project)

There are upwards of 160,000 people experiencing homelessness in California, and 72% are completely unsheltered. While some California localities provide enough shelter beds, in others, there are either no shelter beds or only a small number. AB 2339 strengthens housing element law to ensure that zones identified for shelters and other interim housing are suitable and available. The bill also requires jurisdictions to demonstrate sufficient capacity on the sites to meet the identified need for interim housing for those experiencing homelessness.

SB 1017 (Eggman): Keeping Survivors Housed

(co-sponsored with California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, Dr. Beatriz Maria Solis Policy Institute – Women’s Foundation of California, Family Violence Appellate Project)

This bill allows domestic violence survivors who are tenants to maintain their current housing and avoid eviction by expanding allowable documentation for lease termination policies, allowing survivors to use eviction protections when the abusive person is on the lease but no longer residing in the residence, and by allowing survivors who live with an abusive person to remain in the unit on the same lease terms while removing the abusive person.

California Emergency Rental Assistance Program

While not a bill, Western Center and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation are working to obtain an extension of the current eviction protections implemented in response to the pandemic. To prevent mass evictions, displacement, and economic instability, the state must extend these protections as hundreds of thousands of tenants wait for rental assistance from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

HOUSING

AB 1911 (Gabriel): Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit

(co-sponsored with California Housing Partnership, California Coalition for Rural Housing, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and San Diego Housing Federation)

AB 1911 creates an Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit to support the preservation of tens of thousands of affordable housing units at risk of converting to market rate housing or displacing low-income tenants. California cannot afford to lose tens of thousands of affordable housing units in the midst of our current housing crisis. A targeted tax credit that encourages property owners to sell to affordable housing developers committed to long-term affordability would allow thousands of lower-income households to stay in their homes.

AB 2597 (Bloom, E. Garcia): Cool and Healthy Homes

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Inner City Law Center, Leadership Council, Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP)

AB 2597 will address a long-standing issue that is rapidly exacerbated by human-induced climate change: the safety of renters in their homes when outdoor temperatures rise. Excessive heat has a negative impact on health and quality of life and leads to an increasing number of deaths. State law has long required that rental units be able to maintain a safe indoor air temperature when it’s cold outside, but there is no analogous requirement that applies when the weather is hot. This gap leaves many renters living in homes that reach unhealthy and often dangerous temperatures indoors and disproportionately impacts low-income households and people of color. AB 2597 will update the state’s habitability standards to ensure that all rental units have a means of maintaining a safe indoor air temperature regardless of the temperature outside.

AB 2713 (Wicks): Tenant Protections: Just Cause Termination: Rent Caps

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

This bill cleans up loopholes in AB 1482, California’s first statewide just cause eviction protection and anti-rent gouging law. Since AB 1482 was enacted in 2019, several key loopholes (owner move-in, substantial renovation, and intent to remove the unit from the rental market) have been exploited by landlords attempting to evict vulnerable tenants. This law will require owners attempting to evict tenants for owner move-in to move into the unit within 90 days and stay at the unit for a minimum of three years. For owners attempting to evict based on substantial renovation, it will require owners to obtain the necessary permits for the renovations and justify why the improvements cannot be completed with the tenants in place. For evictions based on withdrawal from the rental market, the owner will be required to clearly explain in the notice to the tenant what the alternative use of the property will be and the necessary permits to convert the unit to the intended use. If the landlord does not meet those conditions post eviction, the tenant has the right to rent the unit under the previous terms of the agreement.

SCA 2 (Allen, Wiener): Public Housing Projects Two-year bill

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Coalition for Rural Housing, California Housing Consortium, California Housing Partnership, California Association of Realtors, California YIMBY, Housing California, Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, and Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing)

SCA 2 will place the repeal of Article 34 of the California Constitution on the ballot. Passed by voters in 1950, Article 34 requires a majority approval by the voters of a city or county for the development, construction, or acquisition of publicly subsidized housing. For decades the requirement has stifled the development of subsidized housing creating and perpetuating racially and economically segregated communities. The passage of SCA 2 would give voters an opportunity to eliminate an obstacle, enshrined in our Constitution, which currently undermines the ability to address California’s acute housing and homelessness challenges.

HEALTH CARE

AB 470 (Carrillo): Eliminating the Non-MAGI Assets LimitTwo-year bill

(co-sponsored with Justice in Aging)

This bill will clean up code for when the Medi-Cal assets test is eliminated on January 1, 2024, following the 2021 budget agreement that also raises the asset limits effective July 1, 2022.

AB 1355 (Levine): Expanding Independent Medical ReviewTwo-year bill

This bill will ensure more fairness in the Medi-Cal appeals process by expanding Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal members and services, and by standardizing the process state departments must follow when alternating judges’ decisions in fair hearings. Independent Medical Reviews use medical professionals with expertise in the medical service at issue, resulting in more favorable and clinically sound outcomes for patients than plan appeals and state fair hearings.

AB 1900 (Arambula): Share of Cost Reform

(co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Disability Rights California, Justice in Aging, and Senior and Disability Action)

This bill will make the Medi-Cal Share of Cost program more affordable by updating the maintenance need levels to 138% of the federal poverty level. Today, older adults and people with disabilities who are just $1 over the free Medi-Cal limit are forced to pay over $800 of their monthly income on health care and are expected to survive on just $600—the maintenance need level—to pay for rent, food, utilities, and all other expenses.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums

(co-sponsored with Children Now)

Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families already living on very limited incomes and create barriers in access to care and unnecessary breaks in coverage for eligible individuals. This bill will ensure pregnant people, children, and people with disabilities can access the health care services they need to stay healthy by eliminating their monthly Medi-Cal premiums.

SB 644 (Leyva): Connecting Unemployed Individuals to Covered California & Medi-Cal

(co-sponsored with Health Access and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network)

This bill will require the Employment Development Department (EDD) to share with Covered California contact and income information about people who have recently applied for or lost unemployment, state disability insurance, paid family leave, and other EDD programs. This will allow Covered California to reach out and help enroll individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

SB 923 (Wiener): Access to Gender Affirming Care

(co-sponsored with Break The Binary LLC, California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, California TRANScends, Equality California, Gender Justice LA, National Health Law Program, Orange County TransLatinas, Queer Works, Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance, San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives, The TransPower Project, TransCanWork, Trans Community Project, Transgender Health and Wellness Center, Tranz of Anarchii INC, Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC), and Unity Hope)

This bill will improve access to gender affirming care for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people by mandating health plans require TGI cultural competency training for contracted providers, their staff, and the staff of health plans. It would also require plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 1820 (Arambula): Labor Trafficking

(co-sponsored with Loyola Law School, SJI Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative)

California has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation, yet only two state agencies, the Department of Justice and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, are responsible for prosecuting human trafficking cases. This bill will provide the Department of Industrial Relations with statutory authority to investigate and prosecute claims of human labor trafficking. This a priority for Western Center because many workers who are victims of labor trafficking are exploited because of poverty.

AB 2052 (Quirk-Silva): CalWORKs Child Education Act of 2022

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

The pandemic has impacted the timeliness with which some children can complete high school. This bill will allow children receiving CalWORKs to obtain aid until age 20 if they are attending their last year of high school.

AB 2300 (Kalra): CalWORKs and CalFresh: Work Requirements

(co-sponsored with Legal Aid at Work, Women’s Foundation of California, and WorkSafe)

This bill will expand good cause exemptions for the CalWORKs welfare to work program to allow parents with children under two years old not to participate in welfare to work for up to 12 months. This bill incorporates many legal protections created by the legislature, like the Crown Act and domestic worker protections, into CalWORKs.

AB 2277 (Reyes): CalWORKs for Survivors of Domestic Violence

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will remove barriers for accessing the CalWORKs program a critical social service that assists families in financial need, by waiving program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. Currently, counties have the authority to waive CalWORKs program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. However, despite their ability to do so, many counties do not. This bill will require counties to waive the requirements.

SB 996 (Kamlager): CalWORKs Asset Test and Work Limit

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organization)

This bill will eliminate the eligibility requirement for CalWORKs families to prove that they have less than $10,211 in their possession, and the 100-hour rule which requires parents to work no more than 100 hours to qualify for the program. Removing these archaic requirements will ensure that all eligible CalWORKs families can access the social service.

SB 972 (Gonzalez): Street Vendors

(co-sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Power Collective, Inclusive Action for the City, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Public Counsel)

Street vendors are a part of California’s culture and have been for decades. In recent years, street vendors became part of the formal economy with the decriminalization of street vending in 2018. However, many street vendors who sell food are unable to obtain health permits from their local county health departments, so this bill will modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits. Creating this pathway will allow street vendors to further enter the formal economy and put an end to fines issued to these entrepreneurs with limited incomes.

SB 1200 (Skinner): Enforcement of Judgments: Renewal and Interest

This bill will reduce the interest rate on unpaid debt from 10 percent annually to 3 percent annually. New York became the first state to reduce the interest rate on debt and California should follow the example.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

AB 1792 (Ward): Diversification of Grand Juries

Grand Juries play a critical role in the lives of Californians involved in the legal system — particularly people of color and those living in poverty who are over-policed. Currently, juries are disproportionately made up of retirees who can afford to take time off to serve. AB 1972 will diversify grand juries in California so they are representative of their populations and will ensure people are fairly compensated when they serve so jury duty is more accessible for Californians with low incomes.

 

 

 

 

BenefitsCal – A New Way to Get CalFresh, Medi-Cal, & Cash Benefits

There’s a new way to apply for and keep your public benefits!  BenefitsCal helps people with CalFresh, Medi-Cal, County Medical Services Program (CMSP), CalWORKs, General Assistance/Relief (GA/GR), and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI).

You can use BenefitsCal to:

  • Apply and renew benefits
  • Appoint an authorized representative
  • Upload documents
  • Report changes
  • Contact your caseworker
  • And more…

Read on for important details, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions.

When are BenefitsCal changes happening?

BenefitsCal is starting in phases depending on the county you live in. Here are the important details:

System downtime:  Visit this website for the latest status on system downtime.

*Tip: You can still access CalFresh applications at GetCalFresh, Medi-Cal applications at Covered California, and all other services by calling your county (search for phone number under “Apply by Phone” here). For Medi-Cal under new “accelerated enrollment” rules that can get you covered quickly, apply at Covered California.

  • September 27, 202139 counties started to use BenefitsCal instead of the old website (C4Yourself). At the same time, county eligibility workers started using their new computer system (CalSAWS).
  • April 25, 2022 – Los Angeles County started to use BenefitsCal instead of the old website (Your Benefits Now, or YBN). County employees will continue to use CalSAWS.
  • October 2022 to October 2023 – The remaining 18 counties in six waves will start using BenefitsCal instead of the old website (MyBenefits CalWIN). County employees will also start using CalSAWS. You may need to wait for these changes in your county:
    • October 31, 2022 (Wave 1) – Placer & Yolo Counties
    • February 27, 2023 (Wave 2) – Contra Costa, Santa Clara & Tulare Counties
    • April 24, 2023 (Wave 3) – Orange, Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties
    • July 3, 2023 (Wave 4) – San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Cruz & Solano Counties
    • September 4, 2023 (Wave 5) – Alameda, Fresno & Sonoma Counties
    • October 30, 2023 (Wave 6) – Sacramento, San Francisco & San Luis Obispo Counties

How can applicants and beneficiaries access BenefitsCal?

When you first visit BenefitsCal, click on the “Log In” button at the top right. That will take you to a page that looks like this:

Then click “Create Account.” After you enter your information, BenefitsCal will gather information about your case from the old websites (C4Yourself & Your Benefits Now). Your login information from the old websites will not work in BenefitsCal.

Between October 2022 and October 2023: If you live in one of the 18 counties making changes during this time, you have to wait for your county to start using BenefitsCal in the six waves above. Once your county makes the change, you can create an account in BenefitsCal. Your login information from MyBenefits CalWIN (MBCW) will not work in BenefitsCal.

*Tip: Check out these helpful YouTube videos on how to create an account, apply for benefits, report a change, upload documents, reset your password, and more! Until BenefitsCal creates videos in languages other than English, use YouTube’s subtitles to select another language.

*Tip: These Quick Reference Guides include screenshots and step-by-step instructions (in English only) on how to apply for benefits, request an appointment, upload documents, and more! We await CalSAWS translating these guides into other languages.

Do I need to answer all of the questions in BenefitsCal?

Most BenefitsCal questions are not required. They are optional unless they include “(required)” in the question. Click the NEXT button to skip optional questions and continue with your application or request.

How can application assisters & community-based organizations (CBOs) access BenefitsCal?

BenefitsCal functionality for application assisters and CBOs will be limited at first. Assisters/CBOs can submit applications, upload documents, export & view reports (see more about this below), and check limited application status information (but not whether applications were approved or denied). More features will be added soon, possibly in September 2022. Assister/CBO accounts will allow users to handle applications in all 58 counties by October 2023.

What if I do not already have a CBO account?

If you do not have an account, you can request a new BenefitsCal login by selecting “Log In” and then “Register Your CBO Account.” Counties will approve CBO registrations. For more information, check out this YouTube video and this reference guide for CBOs.

How does a CBO account in BenefitsCal work?

CBO accounts in BenefitsCal will be set up with a “manager” role. This CBO Manager Account will be able to create assister accounts/logins for other people in their organization. They can also track and manage applications developed by the assister accounts that they create.

There is no limit to the number of CBO Manager Accounts and assister accounts, but CBOs should be strategic in how many accounts they set up. Organizations with multiple locations can choose to have combined or separate accounts. Counties are expected to have their own processes for managing and monitoring CBO Manager Account creation (to prevent duplication).

*Tip: Learn more about the CBO accounts in this Quick Guide.

What should I do if I have a problem with BenefitsCal?

Applicants should contact their county for help. Find your county’s contact information here and here. You can also report problems directly to BenefitsCal by submitting an online inquiry: visit CalSAWS.org, select the green “Ask CalSAWS” button at the top right, and submit your information.

BenefitsCal and CalSAWS have set up a “Command Center” to support county employees. Counties can contact office-level support staff, Change Network Champions, Technical Points of Contact, and other resources to get answers to functional questions and report challenges.

You can also contact an advocacy organization to help you navigate an issue and get a resolution. Here is a list of organizations and contacts that may be able to help you:

What are some limitations with BenefitsCal?

BenefitsCal will get better with time. Some features are still unavailable. Advocates are pressing BenefitsCal to fix them soon. Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. BenefitsCal sometimes asks questions that are not needed. Especially for questions about immigration status and people not applying for benefits, some questions are irrelevant. You can click the “NEXT” button to skip optional and irrelevant questions.
  2.  Applicants should contact their counties for language assistance. (County contact information here and here).
  3. While the questions will be available in multiple languages, BenefitsCal only allows consumers and assisters to enter English-language letters and characters into the system. BenefitsCal will not accept other letters and characters (ñ, é, ó, Հայերեն, 한국어, русский, 中文, Tiếng Việt, ລາວ, etc.). In BenefitsCal, you will need to use English-language letters.
  4. The “Do I Qualify” and “See If You Qualify” chatbot screener may ask unnecessary questions. Remember you can always submit an application – even if the chatbot screener says you may not qualify.
  5. At different parts of the application, BenefitsCal will ask you for personal information, like your race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These questions are optional. Your answers do not impact your eligibility for benefits. Counties will only use the answers for civil rights statistics.
  6. If you are only applying for Medi-Cal, you do not need to confirm that your shots (vaccines) are up to date. This is only required for CalWORKs applicants under age 6. BenefitsCal will remove the question for Medi-Cal applicants soon.
  7. If you are only applying for Medi-Cal, you do not need to answer the question “Is anyone on strike?” This question should not be in the application.
  8. BenefitsCal may ask you to upload documents that are not required, including for people that are not applying for benefits. If you are nervous about submitting documents, you can ask county workers to confirm which documents are required to process your application.
  9. BenefitsCal did not develop an integrated Release of Information (ROI) for assister/CBO accounts to access case information. This is a pending request that will be resolved later in 2022. Since there is no way to grant permissions within BenefitsCal, only limited information is available on the website for assisters/CBOs. You can still have applicants sign an ROI and send it to the county to get information directly from a county eligibility worker.

If there are other suggestions you have for improving the BenefitsCal website, you can submit them through the BenefitsCal website at https://benefitscal.com/public/HPAOS.

Where can advocates learn more about BenefitsCal and CalSAWS?

Consumer advocates have been working for years to make BenefitsCal work. And we still have a lot of work to do! If you want to join our effort, check out this advocate toolkit and recorded training. For more information, please contact David Kane at dkane[at]wclp.org or the CalSAWS Advocate Co-Leads:

Jennifer Tracy: jennifer[at]jenntracy.com