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Roughly a quarter-million Californians might not qualify for food stamps under a new proposal by the Trump administration, opponents of the proposal said the move will affect families who already struggle financially.

…Jessica Bartholow is the lead Anti-Hunger Policy Advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, she said about 250,000 Californians will lose their Cal Fresh assistance.

“They will experience hunger,” Bartholow said. “The most recent proposal by the Trump administration would make the program more difficult to reach people who are working, people who have children in their household.”

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Western Center statement on Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

The Trump administration has announced a new rule on the issue of Public Charge; it is a blatant attempt to bar immigrants of color who are not wealthy from accessing pathways to lawful permanent residence, like obtaining a visa or green card.

Since our country’s inception, people from all over the world have come to the U.S. in search of better opportunity – including the Trump family. Historically, Public Charge has been weaponized against various immigrant groups to feed one of the most harmful American habits, which is to stoke an “us vs. them” mentality, rather than to harness our diversity to build stronger communities, and a stronger country.

The rhetoric and actions of this administration are wreaking havoc, posing physical and psychological threats to communities across the country. The publication of this rule further asserts the racist ideology that says this country should be accessible only to white, wealthy people.

To be clear: this is an attack on communities of color, and we will not stand for it.

As we laid out in our December comments opposing the rule, this move is not only harmful in the short run, it will also have detrimental long-term effects for individuals and entire communities, and will drive people “into the shadows, dramatically decrease public health and well-being, and destabilize families.” Additionally, “Western Center has never supported the concept of public charge due to its history in racial discrimination and because it exacerbates racial disparities, its devaluation of human dignity particularly of those who are aged or disabled, and its blatant bias against low-income people.”

By implementing this new, radical version of the Public Charge rule, the Trump administration is continuing its destructive path to harm not only immigrant families, but also the communities they are an integral part of. In a state like California, where immigrants make up over a quarter of the population, this rule all but ensures a weaker future, which is why we will move forward in court to stop its implementation.

At this point, it is beyond frustrating that we have to keep playing defense to such harmful, illegal actions by the Trump administration when we as a nation face so many existential challenges that require collective, focused action. The administration’s fixation on racist, classist, and divisive policies takes all of our attention away from what should be the united goal of building a healthier country for everyone who lives here. Since this administration is uninterested in real leadership that could actually “Make America Great,” we are proud to work with community leaders, state leaders, and in the courts to defend our vision for what this country can and should be.

NOTE: The final rule is not yet in effect. It will become effective this October, unless litigation succeeds in halting it. For more information, you can:

How Will Tightening Eligibility Standards For Food Stamps Affect Californians?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a new proposal that would change SNAP eligibility requirements — and some argue that it may have an outsized impact on Californians…


Angela Rachidi, research fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) whose expertise includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs

Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate for the LA-based Western Center on Law and Poverty, an advocacy organization for low income Californians; chair of the California Asset Building Coalition, a non-profit that aims to help Californians achieve economic self-sufficiency

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“We’re not going to be able to survive:” Why Californians could bear the brunt of Trump food stamp cuts

A Trump administration proposal would cut food stamps to 3.1 million Americans—largely working families with high housing, childcare and medical costs. That could hit hard in California, a state where both the cost of living and the minimum wage are on the rise.

…“It’s clear that states like California are a target on this,” said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Update on Western Center Cases

By Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation

The past month has seen a remarkable number of decisions in Western Center cases —  mostly good, some not great. Below is a rundown, from favorable to less favorable. To learn about more of our cases, take a look at our case docket.


Hernandez v. DMV­

BACKGROUND: The California DMV was automatically suspending driver’s licenses of low-income traffic defendants who were referred by courts for “willful” failure to pay fines, without determining their ability to pay.

DECISION: As this suit progressed, the Legislature abolished license suspensions for failure to pay, but DMV continued to insist for many months that existing suspensions would not be lifted.

A judge has awarded attorneys’ fees on the case.

IMPACT: The court awarded the fees for our advocacy on the issue, and hundreds of thousands of Californians have had their licenses restored.

Moncrief v. County of Los Angeles

BACKGROUND: Los Angeles County was illegally terminating Medi-Cal recipients from rolls because of a backlog in processing annual renewal forms.

DECISION: The County of LA has tentatively agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Board of Supervisors approval. In the underlying suit, the court ruled that the County could not terminate benefits for Medi-Cal recipients who had filled out their renewal forms in a timely fashion, deeming the County’s practice an “institutional failure.”

IMPACT: Thousands of LA Medi-Cal recipients restored to Medi-Cal rolls, restoring access to health care.

Thomas v. Kent

BACKGROUND: The State placed an arbitrary monetary cap on coverage for a program that keeps people with severe disabilities at home and out of institutions. We argued that the cap violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

DECISION: The State has agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Legislative approval.

IMPACT: The suit resulted in lifting of Department of Health Care Services-imposed arbitrary cost caps on people with major physical disabilities, which threatened institutionalization (much costlier than in-home care).

Rivera v. Kent

BACKGROUND: “The evidence presented in the trial court showed that, beginning in late 2013 and early 2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits. Evidence submitted by plaintiffs showed that, in some cases, delays in determining eligibility had severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care.”

DECISION: The trial court in Rivera ordered the Department of Health Care Services to decide all non-disability Medi-Cal applications within 45 days as mandated by federal law. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the State acts legally as long as it decides at least 90 percent of applications within the 45-day period. We are petitioning for review.

IMPACT: Thanks to earlier victories in the case, hundreds of thousands of applicants have received timely benefits.

Christensen v. Lightbourne

BACKGROUND: “CalWORKs applicant, Angie Christensen, lives with her husband and her children. Her husband is the noncustodial parent of additional children, and court-ordered child support is garnished from his income for the benefit of these children who do not live in the applicant’s home. Counting the garnished amounts as nonexempt income to the applicant’s family, San Mateo County determined the family’s income was too high to qualify for CalWORKs cash aid and denied the application.”

DECISION: The California Supreme Court held that for the purposes of determining CalWORKs (public assistance) eligibility, the State can count a husband’s wages and unemployment garnished to pay for children in another family as income in his current household.

IMPACT: This is a challenge for low-income households in California, because it bars access to CalWORKs for families whose incomes exceed limits before taking into account payments a parent makes to a separate household, which are resources children in the household where the parent resides can’t benefit from.

Soza v. Lightbourne

BACKGROUND: Petitioners had their welfare and CalFresh food stamp benefits electronically stolen while their benefit cards remained in their physical possession.  The State reimbursed loss of cash benefits, but refused to reimburse for CalFresh loss.

DECISION: A Superior Court judge has ruled that the CalFresh recipient, whose benefits were stolen electronically through no fault of his own, cannot recoup the value of his lost benefits. We are planning to appeal.

IMPACT: This decision leaves other food stamp beneficiaries vulnerable to the insecurity of being unable to recoup loss from electronic theft.

Strong Anti-Robocall Bill Clears House, Senators Feinstein and Harris Must Back Key Consumer Protections


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives struck a strong bipartisan blow today against robocalls that plague consumers, with a near-unanimous 429-3 vote to pass H.R. 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. The bill now heads to the Senate; Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris’ support of H.R. 3375 will be essential to stemming the tide of unwanted robocalls.

Robocalls plagued Californians last month, with 445.3 million calls made to local area codes in June, according to YouMail. Among the top sources of robocalls to the 213 area code were Hyundai Finance, Capital One, Wells Fargo, and other major corporations collecting debt. Dozens of organizations representing consumers across the nation signed a letter to House members urging their support for strong protections from unwanted robocalls.

“Robocalls are very problematic for low-income consumers who rely on their phones, with often limited minutes, to stay connected to safety nets and their families, find employment or housing, or to maintain their health and wellbeing,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Often times, they are getting calls from the county office or a potential employer and don’t have the luxury not to pick up a call from an unknown source. Reducing the impact of robocalls on all Americans, but especially low-income Americans, should be of urgent concern.”

The House bill builds on similar legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year, and was supported by Senators Feinstein and Harris. The House bill takes additional steps to curb abusive robocalling and adopts important new consumer protections that include:

  • Requiring the FCC to close loopholes to ensure that automated calls and texts cannot be made without the consumer’s prior consent. The bill addresses the technologies that enable unwanted calls and allows consumers to stop unwanted calls by withdrawing consent.
  • Requiring phone companies to provide effective call authentication capability, at no charge to consumers, to better identify and stop robocalling and texting that use deceptively “spoofed” phone numbers.
  • Strengthening FCC powers to impose forfeiture penalties for intentional violations.
  • Requiring creation of a database that robocallers can check to avoid making robocalls and texts to a telephone number that has been reassigned to a different consumer who has not given consent.

“If passed by the Senate, this bill will stop most, if not all, unwanted robocalls,” said Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. “It will force telemarketers, scammers, and debt collectors who harass us with these unwanted calls to ensure they have our consent for their automated calls. And if robocallers continue to call us when we say stop, the pending legislation will hold them accountable for violating the law.”

H.R. 3375 was introduced jointly by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), chair and ranking member of the Committee’s communications subcommittee.

Last year, Americans received nearly 48 billion robocalls, and as of June 2019, 29 billion were made this year. Many of these calls are made by debt collectors — in June 2019, they accounted for all of the top 20 sources of robocalls.

Robocalls surged after a 2018 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. that set aside a 2015 FCC order on the question of how to interpret the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s ban on autodialed calls to cell phones without the called party’s consent.


Western Center contacts:

Jessica Bartholow, [email protected] or (916) 282-5119

Courtney McKinney, [email protected] or (916) 282-5116


National Consumer Law Center contacts:

Stephen Rouzer, [email protected] or (202) 595-7847

Margot Saunders, [email protected]



For over five decades, the Western Center on Law and Poverty has advocated on behalf of individuals with low incomes in every branch of California government—from the courts to the Legislature. Through the lens of economic and racial justice, we litigate, educate and advocate around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration.


Since 1969, the nonprofit National Consumer Law Center® (NCLC®) has worked for consumer justice and economic security for low-income and other disadvantaged people, including older adults, in the U.S. through its expertise in policy analysis and advocacy, publications, litigation, expert witness services, and training.

Statement on Trump Administration’s Proposed Rule to Cut SNAP Food Benefits

In yet another blow to people experiencing poverty in the United States, the Trump Administration has proposed a new set of rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP food benefits).The rule targets low-income families by seeking to end a long-standing and widely adopted rule that eases the application and retention burden for families that qualify for other federal benefits, like CalWORKs in California, for SNAP benefits – reducing hunger for millions of Americans.

Western Center on Law & Poverty, California Association of Food Banks (CAFB), California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Inc. (CCWRO), and the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA) are, once again, prepared to engage against this attack on our public safety-net and the families it serves.

“This newest proposal is just one more in a long line by this administration that will remove food, housing and other basic needs assistance for people already struggling to get by,” said Jessica Bartholow of Western Center on Law & Poverty, and chairperson of the Lifting Children Out of Poverty Task Force Safety-net Committee. “No one in our country should go hungry, yet over 13 million children live below the federal poverty line and are in danger of going hungry every day. This policy makes hunger even more likely. It’s a step in the completely wrong direction.”

Current law includes a “broad-based categorical eligibility” option for states, which allows them to adjust SNAP eligibility to serve families with incomes modestly above 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), provided that their net income after shelter, childcare, and other basic expenses is under 100 percent of FPL. HHS currently lists its Poverty Guidelines at $21,330 annually for a family of three; since the actual cost of living across the country is significantly higher than the threshold, many states have chosen the categorical eligibility option, including California.

When California implemented the law in 2008, it had strong bipartisan support, and was enacted by Republican Governor Schwarzenegger with the explicit intent to improve nutrition and promote the retention and development of assets and resources for needy households who meet all other SNAP eligibility requirements. At the time, it was estimated that the law would result in an increase of approximately 6.2 percent of existing caseload.[i]

If we apply that rate to the current caseload, we can assume that the removal of categorical eligibility could impact over 120,000 California households living below 200 percent of FPL, most of whom are working.[ii] Additionally, California’s minimum wage increase puts more low-income families between 130 and 200 percent of FPL, which means the number of California households impacted by the rule could be much higher.

When analyzing the impact of implementing categorical eligibility, the Legislature also estimated an approximate increase of 170,000 children who would benefit from federally funded school meals as a result of direct certification[iii] due to broad based categorical eligibility.[iv]  Not only will the proposed rule change increase food insecurity and incidences of hunger among low-income working families with children, it will also exacerbate the “cliff effect” that forces families off of aid when they improve earnings before they meet their food needs.

The removal of the categorical eligibility option will also significantly increase states’ administrative costs and burden. It will require 43 states to restore an asset test for SNAP, which they had removed because it costs more to implement than it saves. Although SNAP asset tests are estimated to make one percent of applicants ineligible for the program, county administrators must apply the test to 100 percent of applicants and recipients.[v]

There is evidence that eliminating the SNAP asset test has helped states reduce churn in the program — processing repeat applications for a single household. The asset test and churn rates are believed to be linked because frequent asset fluctuations resulting from paycheck deposits can render participants temporarily ineligible.[vi]

While the existence of asset tests in SNAP have not been demonstrated to directly discourage savings since low-income families generally have too little funds to meet basic needs or to save, the tests do discourage savings for people who have fallen into poverty but have yet to spend down their savings to qualify for help. Forcing them to do so lengthens the time they will spend in poverty, and reduces the likelihood that they will chose to save money when they have it.[vii] It also further exacerbates income inequality by ensuring that people with low-incomes remain unable to build wealth, and has a harsh impact on seniors who have accrued modest savings.

Western Center, CAFB, CFPA, CCWRO, and CWDA will support efforts to respond to the proposed rule. If comments collected in the 60-day comment period fail to discourage the administration from publishing the final rule, we will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent hunger and protect the rights of low-income Californians.

For more information about the national response to the proposed rule, see statements made by the Food Research and Action Center and by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


About Western Center on Law & Poverty
For over five decades, Western Center on Law & Poverty has advocated on behalf of individuals with low incomes in every branch of California government—from the courts to the Legislature. Through the lens of economic and racial justice, we litigate, educate and advocate around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration. Learn more at
For more information about Western Center’s work to prevent hunger, contact:
Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 282-5119

About California Association of Food Banks
The California Association of Food Banks is creating a hunger-free California. By harnessing the voice of our 41-member food banks, we influence public policy, collaborate with local farmers, and educate hungry Californians about access to nutrition services.
Contact: Rachel Tucker, Senior Policy Associate
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (512) 569-8012

About California Food Policy Advocates
CFPA is a statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable food.
Contact: Jared Call, Managing Policy Advocate
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (323) 401-4972

About the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Inc.
CCWRO is a statewide, nonprofit organization that provides back-up services to qualified legal service field programs. CCWRO provides consultation, information, training, and representation on issues relating to public benefit programs such TANF and SNAP.
Contact: Kevin Aslanian, Executive Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 736-0616

About the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA)
The County Welfare Directors Association of California – CWDA – is a nonprofit association representing the human service directors from each of California’s 58 counties. The Association’s mission is to promote a human services system that encourages self-sufficiency of families and communities, and protects vulnerable children and adults from abuse and neglect.
Contact: Megan Gamble, Communications and Outreach Manager
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 443-1749


[i] Assembly Bill 191 (Fuentes, 2013) enacted categorical eligibility in our CalFresh Program by adding Section 18901.5 to the Welfare and Institutions Code. This Act was implemented by All County Letter

[ii] We assert that most families will be working because income from public assistance alone is not enough to put a family over 100% of the federal poverty line. Supplemental Security Income maximum monthly benefit is approximately 70% of the FPL and the CalWORKs maximum benefit is 42% of the FPL.

[iii] See FRAC’s resource on the connection between SNAP and school meals:

[iv] Assembly Bill 191 (Fuentes, 2013) California State Assembly Appropriations Analysis:

[v] States Rethink Asset Tests for People on Food Stamps (May, 2016):

[vi]Asset Limits, SNAP Participation, and Financial Stability (June 2016), Ratcliffe, C. et. al.

[vii] Ibid.

How LA can make an immediate impact on homelessness

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

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



New York State Follows California in Banning Hair Discrimination

The fight to legally protect black women and men with natural hair just gained another ally. On July 12th, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed assembly bill 007797to prohibit “race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles” in the state of New York.

…The Crown Coalition, which is comprised of the the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color Of Change, and Dove, hoped this would encourage other states to follow California’s lead.

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The Country’s First Child Allowance (Almost)

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

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

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