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US judge declines to issue TRO on government over SNAP benefits

A federal judge in Oakland decline Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order on the U.S. government to ensure that SNAP food benefits are authorized for October in case the government shuts down at the end of this month.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar heard arguments on an ex parte motion in Oakland from plaintiff’s counsel and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys. His order came hours later.

At stake “is the food security of 40 million low-income Americans, more than 10% of the country’s population,” stated Jodie Berger of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, in a memorandum in support of the ex parte motion for a TRO and order to show cause regarding a preliminary injunction.

“Unless this court intervenes by Sept. 15, may – indeed, most – of these people will no receive the October Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits that they rely on for their subsistence food needs,” Berger wrote.

Class Action Lawsuit: Over 40 Million Americans at Risk of Hunger if Federal Government Fails to Act

For Immediate Release

September 13, 2023

Contacts: Monika Lee, [email protected]

Teddy Basham-Witherington, [email protected]

Class Action Lawsuit: 42 Million Americans at Risk of Hunger if Federal Government Fails to Act

California – Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund have filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prevent a delay in providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to over 40 million Americans. 

Congress must pass either appropriation bills or a “continuing resolution” to temporarily continue federal funding by September 30th, or else the federal government will shut down. 

The lawsuit asserts that the USDA should exercise available strategies to order the continuation of the SNAP benefits, while Congress works on passage of the funding bills. 

SNAP serves low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, providing benefits only to those whose net income is below the federal poverty level. The most recent USDA demographic data shows that 65% percent of SNAP participant households live in families with children, with 11 percent of the families receiving need-based cash aid; 36% are in households with members who are seniors or are disabled; and 41% are in households with low-wage. 

Since the end of federal COVID pandemic SNAP emergency benefits, advocates are seeing millions of families hitting a hunger cliff, overwhelming food banks with increased demand. Millions of people are eating less or are going hungry, impacting their physical and mental health, education, and employment. 

One plaintiff has multiple sclerosis and can no longer work. She and her family use the majority of their income to stay in motels to avoid living on the streets. When money runs out, they live in their van, which requires saving additional funds to buy ice for her medication that needs to be kept cool. She is entirely reliant on CalFresh, Californian’s version of SNAP,  for her family’s food. Without CalFresh, she and her family will go hungry. 

The second plaintiff is a young woman who recently found housing after two years of homelessness. She searched for and found a job, but without a four-year degree, could not earn enough to afford housing. She works as a part-time preschool teacher, going to college to increase her earning capacity. She receives CalFresh, which is crucial to her being able to meet her food needs, as her basic monthly expenses leave slim funds for food. 

Both plaintiffs would go hungry if their benefits are suspended, and fear that food banks and meal centers will be overwhelmed as all CalFresh recipients will similarly be seeking those services. Their stories will become even more common without action by the USDA and other agencies. 

With the filing of this case, the courts can issue a temporary restraining order to require the defendants to continue operation of the SNAP program and get benefits released to the 42 million Americans in need. 

“It’s unconscionable that Congress would allow partisan fighting to get in the way of 42 million Americans putting food on their tables,” said Jodie Berger, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The USDA must ensure SNAP recipients do not experience gaps in benefits regardless of any impending government shutdown. Children should not go to bed hungry, and people should not have to choose between paying rent and eating. The neediest people living in the richest country in the world deserve to have food on the table.” 

“Food justice spans economic, environmental, racial, and social justice. Every agency and Congress person must take responsibility and accountability for the 42 million lives in their hands,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at The Impact Fund. “This case is about each and every one of the individuals, families, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on SNAP to survive.” 

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The Impact Fund uses impact litigation to support social justice for communities seeking justice and provides legal support for lawyers through grants, co-counsel and training events. For more information, visit https://www.impactfund.org/ 

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. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

How I Went from A Street Vendor to Organizing Street Vendors: A Conversation with Ana Cruz Juarez and Miguel Lucas Tax

For decades, street vendors provided food for their communities and law enforcement and health departments across the city of Los Angeles criminalized them for doing so. These vendors were disproportionately Black and Brown, often immigrants who provided food in low-income communities of color disproportionately harmed by food insecurity and food deserts. All of them operated in the informal economy, in a segregated system – upheld by outdated municipal codes and state retail food laws – that favored enforcement against and criminalization of street vendors. 

With SB 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, and SB 972, the California Retail Food Code Act, street vending has been decriminalized, and food codes have been modernized to include and welcome sidewalk food vendors into our economy. This complete one-eighty occurred because of community organizing done well. And yet, enforcement of these wins has been a challenge. Western Center recently joined as counsel in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging their unlawful and discriminatory “no vending zones.”  

A successful organizer not only engages one person and mobilizes them to take action. They also create such investment in the work that they develop new leaders who become organizers themselves and grow and lead the movement. In short, a great organizer doesn’t just bring people in at critical moments of mobilization. They facilitate those individuals’ growth as leaders in the movement and support developing their existing strengths. 

Ana Cruz Juarez and Miguel Lucas Tax are two such organizers. They actively work across Southern California, organizing street vendors from a non-profit organizing hub called the Community Power Collective (CPC). 

CPC has organized one of the most exciting policy campaigns in recent years. The LA Street Vendor Campaign began decades ago and has expanded into a massive statewide network, known as the California Street Vendor Campaign, which has numerous partners up and down the state. This growth stems from CPC’s vision to have the most impacted lead their own battles. And their hiring of Ana and Migueltwo influential leaders in the street vending community did just that. 

Ana Cruz Juarez 

When Ana Cruz Juarez began vending in Hollywood, other vendors shared their yearslong experience of harassment and inhumane treatment while working in the area. 

“If you think about it, street vendors who were selling before SB 946 lived a completely different experience from those selling after,” Ana shared.  

She was told that before vendors organized with the LA Street Vendor Campaign, many faced obstacles and feared harm from law enforcement. And with every story of harm, Ana began to visualize something bigger – an organizing program that not only spanned the city but was powerful enough to grow beyond the city’s boundaries. 

“I started to align my emotions to the emotions of others; the obstacles of others were my obstacles. What is happening to me locally as a street vendor is happening citywide, statewide, and in other states like New York. Our struggle is not just here but everywhere,” Ana said. 

Ana credits her successful organizing to understanding that movement leadership will continue to develop out of the meetings she is helping sidewalk vendors organize. She constantly uplifts other street vendors organizing and sees herself as a convener or facilitator of these spaces.  

She shares that vendors who are learning to organize themselves go from being one-time activists who attend council meetings to organizers themselves “who are building power by recruiting and educating other vendors.”  

Miguel Lucas Tax 

Like Ana, Miguel Lucas Tax went from vending to organizing other vendors. He would set up in Exposition Park, where street vendors like him were often targeted for selling hot dogs to sports fans and museum goers. “Vendors were intimidated. They felt voiceless, and they felt unheard,” he shares. 

Miguel was inspired by other street vendors he saw on YouTube defending themselves in street vending food hubs. Together with others, Miguel supported the early training of street vendors to use this tactic to stand their ground against harassment, intimidation, and unjust enforcement.  

“We learned to stand together with each of us providing security from the police. We’d say, ‘Don’t run. Stand next to your comrade; defend each other.” 

Local legal allies documented attacks on street vendors by the LAPD. This documentation would later form the basis for a lawsuit, leading to officer resignations.  

“I learned that when we organize ourselves and unite, we can win,” Miguel said. 

Organizing disrupts the power of the elite that sustains poverty and injustice. It seeks to live beyond a moment, a social media post or a spontaneous protest, and instead, aims to harnass that momentary energy to wage a planned and strategic campaign led by a collective or cadre who know the community. There is no “I” in organizing. Organizing calls on the “We” to lead. And at the heart of organizing is ordinary people. People directly impacted by the issue know they have power and can lead, if only they are given the space and time to grow as leaders of their community. They are the pulsing heart that drives movements. Without them, there is no hunger for change.  

That is who Ana and Miguel are. They collectively analyze and decipher the hidden social, political, and economic power that impacts vendors locally and across the state. They plan direct actions and recruit new street vendors daily who have never been involved in the movement. For them, the only way forward is to organize, struggle and win.  

 

Welfare: As US tightens work rules, California considers loosening them

Just as Republicans in Congress are moving to beef up work requirements for people who receive welfare, California lawmakers are moving to do the opposite.

Included in a recent state Assembly budget proposal, and in a bill the Assembly passed on Wednesday, is a plan to remake CalWORKs, the state’s federally funded cash welfare program that requires recipients to work or search for jobs using a list of approved activities.

Under the proposed state changes, recipients would gain greater flexibility to participate in activities such as going to school, domestic violence counseling, addiction treatment or mental health care. The proposal, estimated to cost $100 million, also would lessen financial penalties if recipients violate work rules.

That would make it likely that fewer recipients would get jobs and more likely California would miss a key federal work standard, for which it could be fined.

Read More

California bill aims to rein in high security deposits

Most renters know securing housing isn’t as simple as finding the perfect place.

California’s renters must save up thousands of dollars to provide security deposits that can legally be as much as two months’ rent, or three months’ for furnished units.

Add in the requirement that renters put up the first month’s rent before they can move in and low-income families are most likely to give up hope of finding a home.

The state Assembly on May 22 passed a proposal that could change that.

Assembly Bill 12 would limit security deposits to one month’s rent, regardless of whether a unit is furnished or not. If the bill passes and gets Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, California could become the 12th state to limit security deposits.

“Security deposits present barriers for people to move into apartments, which can lead them to stay in apartments (and) in homes that are too small, crowded or even unsafe,” said Matt Haney, the Democratic Assemblymember from San Francisco who authored the bill. “In other cases, people take on debt or financial burden that leaves them unable to afford other necessities.”

Read More

Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2023-2024 May Revision Budget

The Newsom Administration released its 2023-24 May Revision budget, projecting a $31.5 billion deficit. After years of a budget surplus, California is forecasting a downturn in funding due to a combination of capital gains losses and delayed tax filings due to natural disasters, but California remains strong. The May Revision reflects a $37.2 billion in total budgetary reserves and additional funds from the Managed Care Organization tax.  

Governor Newsom maintains many of the Administration’s and legislature’s previous commitments and proposes no new trigger cuts. He also proposes no new corporate or personal taxes, despite calls from the Senate and advocates to increase taxes on wealthy corporations and the state’s highest earners.  

We appreciate that the May Revision maintains past budget agreements including expansion of Medi-Cal to all regardless of immigration status, reforming the Medi-Cal share-of-cost, and on-time implementation of food assistance for Californians 55 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status 

As the fourth largest economy in the world, California has made great strides in addressing poverty and systemic inequities, but there is more work to be done. We look forward to working with the legislature and Administration to protect low-income Californians as the State enters more uncertain fiscal circumstances.  

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area, with a focus on changes from the January budget proposal.   

HEALTH CARE 

Health4All: The May Revision maintains full funding to expand full-scope Medi-Cal eligibility to all income eligible adults ages 26-49 regardless of immigration status on January 1, 2024. The May Revision includes increases for previous expansions for adults 50 and older and ages 26-49 due updated managed care rates, higher share of state-only costs, higher caseloads, and higher acuity members. 

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The May Revision proposes a bigger MCO tax with an earlier start date (April 2023 through end of 2026). This results in $19.4 billion in total funding, including $3.4 billion for 2023-24. $8.3 billion is proposed to offset General Fund and $11.1 billion is proposed to support Medi-Cal investments that improve access, quality, and equity over an 8- to10-year period. These investments include rate increases to at least 87.5% of Medicare for primary care, birthing care, and non-specialty mental health providers and the remainder will be put into a special fund reserve for future consideration.  

Covered California Affordability Sweep: The May Revision maintains proposal to sweep Covered California reserve fund to General Fund totaling $333.4 million. 

Distressed Hospital Loan Program: The May Revision includes up to $150 million one-time General Fund to provide interest-free cashflow loans to not-for-profit and public hospitals in significant financial distress or to governmental entities representing a closed hospital, for purposes of preventing the closure of, or facilitating the reopening of, those hospitals.  

Home and Community-Based Services Spending Plan Extension: The May Revision includes a six-month extension until September 30, 2024 for specified programs such as the IHSS Career Pathways Program and the Senior Nutrition Infrastructure Program to fully spend allocated funding based on critical programmatic needs.  

Doula Services Implementation Evaluation: To align with later implementation date, TBL is proposed to extend the timeline of the Doula Stakeholder Workgroup (from April 1, 2022 until December 31, 2023) and to extend the evaluation of the doula benefit implementation in the Medi-Cal program (from April 1, 2023 until June 30, 2025).  

Medical Interpreter Pilot Program: Through TBL, the May Revision proposes to extend the expenditure authority of the Medical Interpreter Pilot Project for 12 months, from June 30, 2024 to June 30, 2025.  

988 Update: The May Revision includes a one-time augmentation of $15 million for a total of $19 million, from the 988 State Suicide and Behavioral Health Crisis Services Fund for California’s 988 centers. This increase will support workforce expansion to handle increased answered call volume, extensions of service hours, and the availability of chat and text options for callers utilizing the 988 services.  

BH-CONNECT Demonstration (formerly referred to as CalBH-CBC Demonstration): The May Revision includes an update to the BH-CONNECT Demonstration to include a new Workforce Initiative and includes $480 million in funding for each year of the five-year demonstration period ($2.4 billion total funding and no General Fund).  

CalRX and Reproductive Health: The May Revision includes TBL and $2 million one-time General Fund reappropriation from the Capital Infrastructure Security Program and allows the use of these funds for reproductive health care if necessary. 

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The May Revision includes additional funding to support the implementation of the CARE Act. Compared to the Governor’s Budget, the annual increase is between $43 million and $54.5 million to account for refined county behavioral health department cost assumptions, additional one-time $15 million General Fund for Los Angeles County start-up funding. The May Revision also includes an additional $16.8 million in 2023-24, $29.8 million in 2024-25, and $32.9 million ongoing to double the number of hours per participant for legal services from 20 hours to 40 hours. 

HOMELESSNESS

The May Revision preserves the full $3.7 billion in funding for homelessness programs, as committed in previous budgets, including $1 billion for the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention grant program. 

May Revision Adjustments:  

Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program: $500 million one-time Mental Health Services Fund in 2023-24 in lieu of General Fund. This investment eliminates the January Budget proposed delay of $250 million General Fund to 2024-25 and restores the $1.5 billion commitment funded in the 2022 Budget Act for the program. 

HOUSING

While the May Revision reflects a steady commitment to Homelessness investments, the May Revision also culminated in a weakening of housing investments totaling $17.5 million in General Fund reductions and $345 million in deferrals related to housing programs. Funding for housing programs remains at approximately 88% of the allocations made in 2022-23 and proposed for 2023-24 ($2.85 billion). This outlook could change if there are sufficient General Fund dollars in January 2024. If that occurs, the Governor has committed to restoring $350 million of these reductions. Overall, the proposal includes $500 million continued annual investment in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, $225 million for the Multifamily Housing Program, and $100 million for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program. These programs have a proven track-record of addressing housing affordability and homelessness across California. 

May Revision Adjustments: 

Foreclosure Intervention Housing Prevention Program: Provides funds to various non-profit organizations to acquire foreclosed property and operate as affordable housing. Deferral of $345 million of the $500 million one-time General Fund over four fiscal years—for a revised allocation of: $50 million in 2023-24, $100 million in 2024-25, $100 million in 2025-26, and $95 million in 2026-27 

Downtown Rebound Program: Funds adaptive reuse of commercial and industrial structures to residential housing. Reverts $17.5 million in unexpended funding that remained in this program after the Notice of Funding Availability. 

In contrast, the Senate’s Budget Plan, which was released two weeks ago, both prevents funding cuts and delays, and builds on our progress by including ongoing investment in homelessness and resources for key housing production programs. Notably, that Plan provides $1 billion in ongoing funds to support the Homeless Housing Assistance, and Prevention Program, $1 billion towards the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, and an additional $300 million flexible allocation towards affordable housing programs.  

Western Center is a proud member of a coalition of California’s leading affordable housing, homelessness, and housing justice advocacy organizations championing a comprehensive coalition investment strategy for affordable housing production, preservation, and tenant stability. While the May Revision falls short of our requests to meet the housing and homelessness crisis at scale, we look forward to continuing our budget advocacy and encourage the Governor and Legislative leadership to finalize a budget that includes ongoing, significant resources like those included in the Senate budget plan and our coordinated housing budget letter. 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE  

CalWORKs Grant Increase: The May Revision reflects a 3.6-percent increase ($111.2 million in 2023-24) to CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment levels, effective October 1, 2023. These increased grant costs are funded through the Child Poverty and Family Supplemental Support Subaccount.  

Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): The May Revision continues to include an 8.6% increase in funding for the SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program providing a $3.6 billion from the general fund. This allocation provides recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month and $1,928 per month for couples. 

California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Expansion Update: The May Revision moves up the issuance of food benefits for older undocumented immigrants to start October 2025, instead of the January Proposal that delayed it until 2027, which we appreciate but we still need Food4All regardless of age and immigration status. 

Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program: The May Revision includes $47 million ($23.5 million General Fund) for outreach and automation costs to phase in a new federal Summer EBT program for children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals beginning summer 2024.  

Safety Net Reserve: The May Revision withdraws $450 million (half of $900 million) from the Safety Net Reserve. The reserve is intended to maintain existing Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program benefits and services when program cost may increase due to economic conditions, which may occur if recession occurs, so we argue it is prudent to not draw from Safety Net Reserve until those conditions are met. 

Services for Survivors and Victims of Hate Crimes Augmentation: The May Revision includes an additional $10 million General Fund to support services for victims and survivors of hate crimes and their families and facilitate hate crime prevention measures in consultation with the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs. 

For questions, contact: 

  • Health: Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]wclp.org 
  • Housing and Homelessness: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org 
  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org 

CalKids College Savings Account: a first step in building generational wealth

We are in a student debt crisis. Our national student debt stands at around 1.75 trillion dollars. President Biden proposed a policy last year in the fall that would cancel $10,000 for non-Pell grant recipients and $20,000 for Pell grant recipients that are low income. It has been met with legal challenge after legal challenge since it was proposed and has been paused and unpaused more times than my non-lawyer brain can process. While this plays out the racial wealth gap that many low-income Californians experience grows wider.  

Student debt and financial access to education are some of the many obstacles that communities of color face in our state. Student debt is a lifelong burden that impacts generational wealth. One study shows that after 20 years, Black borrowers still owe 95% of their original loans.  

Last Fall, California launched a program called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings program (CalKids) that will invest in low-income students by providing an initial seed deposit for them to save for college. 

All children born on or after July 1, 2022, can receive up to $100 in a college savings account. Additionally, eligible low-income public school students can receive up to $1,500 in a college savings account.  

With so many other trends happening with higher education this is positive news for low-income communities and communities of color.  

Many students rely heavily on loans to finance higher education due to sharp increases in costs for state and private universities. Whether it’s the culture of granting Wall Street size compensation to administrative positions like university presidents or the growing financial dependency of state universities on private donors rather than public funds, all these factors contribute to the priorities of higher education institutions.  

It’s long past time we focused on making higher education affordable and accessible to all. CalKids is a strong first step in addressing the financial barriers many low-income Californians face when deciding to pursue higher education and all its costs beyond tuition, like housing, food, textbooks, and more. No one should go into debt to get a degree.  

The CalFresh Hunger Games: Free falling into food insecurity with no rescue in sight.

“For politicians our hunger is a game, they want to see you starve to death before they help and say, ‘I saved these people’s lives and I took action to stop hunger in our community,’” Jesus Zavala reflects. Jesus Zavala and Alicia Zavala are both retired seniors living in East Los Angeles. They are also my parents. And after working in difficult environments their entire lives, I had hoped they could settle into an easy retirement. Instead, they have faced hardship, including constant food instability in recent years, an uneasy retirement.

 

Before coming to the United States, my father and mother worked the fields of Alta and Baja California. When they moved here with my grandfather, who came to the U.S through the Bracero Program after World War II ended, my parents naturally found work throughout the Imperial Valley right over the border from Mexico. Eventually they migrated north to the neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles where they have lived ever since.

 

Like many retirees, my parents were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated existing economic inequity. During the pandemic, they rushed to sign up for SNAP/CalFresh. Thanks to this cushion of federally funded emergency allotments, they have managed to get by.

 

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture over 80% of SNAP beneficiaries across the country are working class families, people with disabilities, or seniors. Individual SNAP recipients on average received around $100 dollars while families received benefits based on their household size during the pandemic.

 

Although the federal government has extended the public health emergency until early May, it has stopped all funding for food stamps that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

As of March 2023, food benefit amounts are now based on household income rather than the size of a household. This means that right now these federal funding cuts to CalFresh are tearing through the food security of nearly 3 million households in our state. 

 

“We lost $160 in food benefits, which leaves us with $250 to eat for the rest of March,” shares Alicia. She is a retired Teamster School Bus Driver. She smiles as she greets the adversity she is sharing with the hope and grit you find in strong union mujeres.

 

Jesus adds, “Picture this… we get around $1,900 collectively from Social Security, our mortgage is around $1,700 that leaves us with $200 cash to survive with, plus car payments, car insurance, gas, and other expenses that we all know too well.” He has worked on classic cars since he arrived in Los Angeles. He learned the trade of building muscle car engines under direction of famed hot-rodder John Geraghty.

 

He continues “At this point I have knee issues, it’s difficult to work the same way I did 30 years ago and even if I could work on classic cars on the side, the government would automatically take any current food benefits I have. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

 

More changes to SNAP programs are sure to come when the federal public health emergency ends on May 11, 2023, especially with SNAP benefits being eyed for potential federal cuts in the ongoing debt limit debate in Congress.

 

While politics are at play on the national scene, in our state there are some legislative efforts forming to respond. A bill was introduced in the California legislature on February 15 that would establish a minimum benefit in the CalFresh program by January 2025.

 

Jesus and Alicia are getting by with a tight budget. They budget in the face of rising inflation where prices on milk, eggs, and bread are skyrocketing. For them community driven food banks have been a blessing. “This is the reality for many Californians, we are doing our best to get by, our neighbors who are also retired are in a similar situation, others we know live in a house or apartment where multiple families are living in under one roof, it is the only way to survive, but we are running out of time,” says Jesus. 

 

For many time has run out, these are difficult times for far too many people in California whether we are talking about the unhoused, low-income, people of color  or working-class communities. Californians are falling off a hunger cliff at this very moment and there are no permanent policy solutions to address the food insecurity many in our state are facing.  

 

As the contradictions of today’s financialized capitalist system unravel, we must imagine new ways to address this persistent economic bifurcation of a state of prosperity and a state of precariousness.We must address the growing gap between rich and poor that continues to spread under the contagion of monopoly-finance capital. 

 

Make no mistake the gilded facade of California is peeling, and we can not sweep the flakes under the rug. Californians in poverty need a New Deal, and they need it now. 

Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

March 6, 2023
Following is a list of bills to help secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for low-income Californians that will be sponsored or co-sponsored by Western Center on Law & Poverty during the 2023 legislative session.

Healthcare

AB 1085 (Maienschein): Medi-Cal: housing support services.
The bill would require the Department to seek federal approval to make housing support services a Medi-Cal benefit for Californians experiencing homelessness. Housing support services help people access housing, remain stably housed, and are essential for individuals experiencing homelessness to access meaningful care.
(Co-sponsored with Corporation for Supportive Housing)
Fact Sheet

AB 1094 (Wicks): Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act.
This bill will ensure that a pregnant or perinatal person provides informed consent prior to drug or alcohol tests or screens being conducted on them or their newborn.
(Co-Sponsored with Drug Policy Alliance, Black Women for Wellness, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers)

AB 1157 (Ortega and Wilson): Rehabilitative and habilitative services: durable medical equipment and services.
This bill would clarify that durable medical equipment is a covered essential health benefit in California-regulated health plans and policies when prescribed by a doctor for rehabilitative or habilitative purposes. The bill would also remove limitations such as annual caps on durable medical equipment coverage.
(Co-sponsored with National Health Law Program)
Fact Sheet

SB 595 (Roth): Minimizing gaps in health coverage.
This bill is follow-up legislation to ensure that last year’s SB 644, which required Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information about those who applied for income-replacing benefits with Covered California to allow Covered California to outreach and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California, is implemented timely.
(Co-sponsored with California Pan Ethnic Health Network and Health Access)
Fact sheet

Housing

AB 653 (Reyes): Department of Housing and Community Development.
This bill would create a program to pair housing navigation, incentives, and deposit resources with housing choice voucher tenants to find and secure a unit. The bill would also require housing authorities that have low successful placement rates to work with the Department of Housing and Community Development to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing CA, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of CA and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP))
Fact Sheet

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing credit.
This bill would limit rent increases in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-Sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

AB 920 (Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.
This bill would add housing status to the list of protected categories under California’s anti-discrimination statute in order to prevent the routine discrimination of unhoused people by public and private entities that receive state funding.
(Co-Sponsored with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Disability Rights California (DRC), Housing California, and Public Advocates)
Fact Sheet

AB 1082 (Kalra): Authority to remove vehicles.
This bill would prohibit towing or immobilizing a vehicle due to unpaid parking tickets, increase the number of unpaid tickets from one to eight before the DMV can place a registration hold, and improve the guidelines for parking ticket payment programs.
(Co-Sponsored with End Poverty in California (EPIC), FreeFrom, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR))
Fact Sheet

AB 1085 (Maienschein): Medi-Cal: housing support services.
The bill would require the Department to seek federal approval to make housing support services a Medi-Cal benefit for Californians experiencing homelessness. Housing support services help people access housing, remain stably housed, and are essential for individuals experiencing homelessness to access meaningful care.
(Co-sponsored with Corporation for Supportive Housing)
Fact Sheet

AB 1418 (McKinnor): Limiting Racially Motivated Crime-Free Housing Programs and Nuisance Ordinances.
This bill would limit local crime-free/nuisance ordinances (CFNH) housing programs and nuisance ordinances, which typically include harmful provisions such as requiring landlords to evict tenants for alleged criminal activity. Often touted as crime-fighting tools, these policies represent a new phase in the evolution of segregationist housing laws designed to exclude people of color from communities.
(Co-Sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Disability Rights California, National Housing Law Project, and Root & Rebound)
Fact Sheet
Register support here

ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right.
ACA 10 will recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Should the measure pass in the legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote to add this right to the state’s constitution, creating an obligation on the part of state and local governments to take meaningful action to fully realize the right.
(Co-sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Housing Now, ACLU California Action, Abundant Housing LA, National Homelessness Law Center, and PowerCA Action)
Fact Sheet
Register support here

SB 460 (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing.
The bill would establish the first statewide Fair Chance Housing Ordinance (FCH), which would provide a pathway for individuals with criminal records reentering society to access, obtain, and sustain housing. This bill would prevent rental housing providers from screening for criminal history of housing applicants during the advertisement, application, selection, or eviction process, unless required by federal law.
(Co-Sponsored with All of Us or None, Just Cities, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Root & Rebound)
SB 460 Fact Sheet
Register Support here

SB 567 (Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act.
This bill would close the gaps in existing law that leaves millions of California renters at risk of exorbitant rent increases and allows housing providers to abuse “no-fault” just cause eviction protections.
(Co-Sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, and Public Advocates)
SB 567 Fact Sheet
Register Support here

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 94 (Davies): Administration of public social services: blocked telephone calls.
This bill would prohibit county departments of social services to call recipients from a blocked phone number.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: eligibility: income exclusions.
This bill would exempt any grant, scholarship, loan, or fellowship as income for CalWORKs.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 310 (Arambula): CalWORKs.
This spot bill would provide various reforms to the CalWORKs program.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, GRACE/End Child Poverty California, John Burton Advocates for Youth, and Parent Voices)

AB 325 (Reyes): Human services: noncitizen victims.
This bill would provide social services to immigrants who have applied for humanitarian relief including applicants who have applied for Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and survivors of domestic abuse who have applied for relief through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 380 (Arambula): California Labor Trafficking Prevention Act.
This bill would establish a Labor Trafficking unit within the Department of Industrial Relations the Division of Labor Standards.
(Co-Sponsored with Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Loyola Law School)

AB 843 (J. Carrillo): Restoration of electronically stolen CalFresh benefits.
This bill would place into law that recipients of the CalFresh program who have been victims of electronic theft are able to have their benefits restored. Today electronic theft of public benefit programs has become rampant and lucrative for thefts as these programs lack adequate protections from these forms of theft.
(Co-Sponsor with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 964 (Ortega): Prevention of human trafficking through state contracts.
This bill would enhance prevention of human trafficking through state contracts by requiring awardees of state contracts to submit a human trafficking prevention plan.
(Co-Sponsor with the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Loyola Law School)

AB 991 (Alvarez): Modernizing public benefit communication.
This bill would allow recipients of public benefit programs to provide information that has been requested by county departments of social services via email.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 1094 (Wicks): Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act.
This bill would ensure that a pregnant or perinatal person provides informed consent prior to drug or alcohol tests or screens being conducted on them or their newborn.
(Co-Sponsored with Drug Policy Alliance, Black Women for Wellness, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers)

AB 1266 (Kalra): End Debtor’s Prison Act.
This bill will remove the possibility of bench warrants being issued for infractions. Today courts are able to issue bench warrants if someone fails to appear in court or doesn’t pay a fine.
(Co-Sponsoring with the Debt Free Justice Coalition, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area)

SB 36 (Skinner): Safe Haven for Abortion & Gender-Affirming Care Act.
This bill would strengthen our safe haven protections by making it illegal for bail agents or bounty hunters to apprehend people in California who have left another state to avoid criminal prosecution or imprisonment related to that state’s criminalization of abortion or gender-affirming care. The bill would also ensure that benefits such as CalFresh and CalWORKs would not be denied to individuals who left another state and traveled to California for purposes described above but would otherwise be eligible for such benefits.
(Co-Sponsored with Black Women for Wellness, Equality California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

SB 491 (Durazo): Access to Mail for Unhoused Californians.
This bill would create an option for unhoused Californians to pick up government related mail from a county department of social services such as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, election ballots, public housing waiting list notifications, student report cards, and much more.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

SB 727 (Limón): Forgiveness of coerce debt for survivors of human trafficking.
This bill would provide a pathway for survivors of human trafficking to have coerced debt forgiven that accrued during the time they were trafficked.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice)

Contact our Sacramento Advocates: For more information about Western Center on Law & Poverty and our advocacy priorities, go to www.wclp.org.

Health
Linda Nguy
[email protected]
916-282-5117

Sandra O. Poole
[email protected]
916-282-5141

Housing
Cynthia Castillo
[email protected]
916-282-5103

Tina Rosales
[email protected]
916-282-5118

Public Benefits and Access to Justice
Christopher Sanchez
[email protected]
916-282-5104

Hunger Relief Heroes Ensure Most Vulnerable Households Receive Critical Food Benefits

Three years out from the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, it easy to forget what it was like before vaccines when we worried about food shortages, long lines at the grocery store, washing the stuff you brought home from the store, or even if it was safe to leave our homes. In 2020, I worked at an online retailer and I was returning to that job but not until May. I needed a gig in the interim. Through my volunteer advocacy with the Food Bank, I got a contract job helping to organize an event called Hunger Action Day. I had just started when Covid hit and everything went into lockdown and shelter in place.

The event was canceled and without income, I applied for unemployment and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. I lived on my savings till those came through.

Congress passed relief measures to support people like me who were out of work due to the pandemic, increasing unemployment for example. Congress also authorized increased food benefits called Emergency Allotments for people on SNAP to help with the financial uncertainty and higher food prices. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture undermined this relief by saying that Emergency Allotments were only available to round people’s food benefits up to the maximum amount for their household size. That meant that people with little or no income, like me, who were already receiving the maximum would not get any additional help.

When I learned what the USDA did, I was angry and frustrated for a moment. Angry that it was unfair and frustrated knowing it’s just so typical of those who’ve made it their mission to attack safety net programs, especially SNAP. There’s so much dis-information about SNAP out there. Maybe the worst of myth is that SNAP covers a person’s food budget for the month for them or their family. It surely does not. People were receiving the maximum amount of SNAP because they needed it and qualified for it. And they needed the additional Emergency Allotments because of the pandemic—to deal with food shortages, higher prices, long lines, and living in lockdown—regardless of the amount of regular SNAP they were receiving. In those days, just being able to access food had a cost to it. But despite overwhelming bipartisan support for Emergency Allotments, the USDA and the Trump Administration were thwarting the intent of the COVID relief passed by Congress. They were playing politics with people’s hunger.

That is why I decided to take a stand and together with my co-plaintiff Robin Hall sue the USDA to make Emergency Allotments available for everyone. I first had to rely on CalFresh as a result of the Great Recession in 2008 and spending 2009 homeless. In my post-homeless life, for a number of years I was a volunteer at the Food Bank. I worked with a group of volunteers from the community all with some experience with food insecurity, who would advocate mostly on the policy side on hunger and poverty issues. That work was very gratifying and there were many successes. Things stayed shut down for months, when they came back, they came back slowly and different from what they were. I was thinking about how I could continue somehow as an anti-hunger advocate when the opportunity to participate in our lawsuit with the Western Center on Law & Poverty and The Impact Fund.

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