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Why flush California still takes child support from low-income families

“When the parent who is no longer living with the children makes a payment, which we all want them to do, the children don’t get the money,” said Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The public doesn’t understand this. People think that the reason we have a harsh child support system is so we can get money to kids, but actually it’s to get money to the government.”

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Western Center Roundup – February 2022

Western Center’s Legislative Agenda and Celebrating Blackness This Month and Every Month!


Our 2022 Legislative Agenda 

The bills are in, and 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, and here are a few of the highlights:

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. This bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness — 70 percent of people experiencing homelessness in California have a history of incarceration.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums (co-sponsored with Children Now) — Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families 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 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. Additionally, as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council points out, street vendors also “provide communities with delicious foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. In food desert communities – and particularly in the absence of healthy food retail development – fruit and vegetable sidewalk vendors can help to fill a void by providing fresh food to the local community that may struggle to access them otherwise.”


Black History All Day Every Day

As we come to the end of Black History Month, we want to reiterate that the celebration of Blackness does not end with February! We are here to celebrate, honor, and uplift Black people at all times, in all of our work. This country and state would not be here without the contributions of Black people, and as we head into March, we want to leave you with some Black excellence and history to explore!

  • First, in a historic moment for this country, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been nominated by President Biden for placement on the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman ever nominated.
  • In a huge step for racial justice in California, Bruce’s Beach, which was once a Black beach resort owned by Willa and Charles Bruce but was seized by the Manhattan Beach city council a century ago, will finally be returned to the Bruce family.
  • The Sacramento Bee published its ‘Top 25 Black Change Makers’ roster as part of its Equity Lab project, in partnership with the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Program. “These individuals stand out as innovative problem-solvers. They find solutions for critical issues in our communities through their respective lines of work. They are dynamic leaders who infuse history and culture in the work they do.”
  • Visit California shared ‘Black History in California You Don’t Know About,’ where you can learn about “lesser-known California tours, businesses, and stories that have played a momentous role in U.S. history and Black culture.”
  • The California Health Care Foundation recently released a report, “In Their Own Words: Black Californians on Racism and Health Care,” which is the result of phase one of its three-phase Listening to Black Californians study designed to better understand the health and health care experiences of Black Californians. The research was designed, conducted, and analyzed by EVITARUS, a Black-owned public opinion research firm in Los Angeles. Along with our community partners Dr. David Carlisle of Charles Drew University, Dr. Noha Aboelata of Roots Community Clinic and others, Western Center’s Executive Director, Crystal D. Crawford, is a member of the advisory group for this powerful study.

And In Case You Missed It…    

We love leaving you with a good Western Center read to round out the month, and today is no exception. In case you missed our latest blog post by Kathryn Evans, Western Center’s Associate Director of Individual Giving, check it out! Kathryn wrote the piece for World Day of Social Justice on February 20th, reflecting on the need for Californians to look close to home and explore the many ways to fight for justice and equality here in our own state.


U.S. infrastructure bill marks the beginning of a journey, not the end of a debate

Western Center’s Executive Director Crystal D. Crawford, JD, and Manal J. Aboelata, MPH, Deputy Executive Director at Prevention Institute and author of a new book, Healing Neighborhoods, reflect on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and what this once-in-a-generation public investment could mean for ensuring all Americans the human right to live in a healthy neighborhood.

As we reflect on the historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill President Biden signed into law at the end of last year, we’re acutely aware of the promise and peril this massive public investment holds for people in the United States. As residents and professionals who live and work in LA County, we witness firsthand the challenges and opportunities that arise when large sums of taxpayer dollars become available to improve neighborhood conditions.

In 2016, LA County voters got behind a series of ballot measures to fund high quality transportation, safe and well-maintained parks and open space, quality housing and supportive services, and storm water management systems—to the tune of $1.5 billion per year.

Our experience in LA has many lessons to offer. Just like now, the promise is a tremendous opportunity to direct public funds to where they are most needed and make a positive difference in people’s daily lives. The peril, like now, is a failure to reckon with the legacy of segregation and its far-reaching intergenerational effects on community health, safety, and well-being.

It takes years, if not decades, to see the impacts of infrastructure spending. Past measures show us that investing in the status quo can reinforce and exacerbate “winners” and “losers.” Public investments must proactively prioritize funding in the highest need communities and inclusive engagement processes.

We know that our most disenfranchised communities could immediately put government resources toward essential health-promoting infrastructure. And yet, there are few guarantees that public dollars will flow toward the communities that need them most without strategic advocacy, grassroots organizing, and sometimes litigation.

As hard as it was to secure 228 congressional votes from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, it’s no wonder President Biden, Vice President Harris, and House Speaker Pelosi hail the infrastructure bill as a major victory. But our experiences in LA demonstrate that the passage of the law is a beginning, not an end. The long road to equitable implementation lies ahead. Delivering on the full promise of this much-needed law requires a fair, just, and equitable distribution of these public resources.

From 2018-2020, as a Stanton Fellow of the Durfee Foundation, Manal embarked on a journey to better understand what it would take to proactively invest public resources in LA’s marginalized neighborhoods to improve conditions for health, safety, and well-being in Black and Brown communities. She documented her observations in Healing Neighborhoods, a groundbreaking new book that provides a framework and insights that resonate with the moment in which we find ourselves.

The “6 Levers for Tackling Inequities in Public Finance Measures” outlined in Healing Neighborhoods increase the likelihood that dollars will get to where they are needed most:

  1. Ensure clear funding guidelines, set asides, and earmarks to prioritize historically disinvested low-income communities and communities of color;
  2. Design and implement high quality technical assistance programs to proactively support and engage under-resourced Black and brown communities;
  3. Create funding programs that remove barriers to community-based organizations and low-wealth jurisdictions so that they can compete for public dollars;
  4. Include racially, ethnically and economically diverse community residents in the process using popular, multicultural and multi-lingual engagement strategies;
  5. Bake accountability and transparency measures into the system to ensure that taxpayers and lawmakers can see how money is spent, and make course corrections if gaps are not closing;
  6. Make data on all aspects of implementation available in timely and easy to understand formats.

As with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2008, there will be tremendous pressure to get shovels in the ground for shovel-ready projects. The risk of over focusing dollars on shovel-ready projects to show near-term results, however, is that ideas and places that already have less infrastructure capacity will continue to be left behind and public dollars will default to existing programs and traditional resource flows.

COVID-19 and the nation’s racial reckoning have made it clear that to thrive, our nation needs healthier, safer, and more equitable conditions and outcomes. To get there, we’ll have to spend in new ways, proactively driving dollars to the neighborhoods that need them most.

What we’ve learned in LA is that it is incumbent on all of us—residents, advocates, public health practitioners, racial justice leaders and social justice lawyers–to stay focused and vigilant in the days, months, and years ahead. Public money and public trust hang in the balance. We hope that when future generations look back on this historic bill signing, they recognize it as a turning point toward health equity, racial justice, financial security, and community stability in this country.

For more information about Healing Neighborhoods, or to print your own copy, go to: Healing Neighborhoods.

 

 

 

 

Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-2023 California Budget Proposal

Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2022-23 California state budget. In total, the administration projects a $45 billion surplus — a combination of higher revenue collections for the past two budgets and higher than anticipated revenue for the 2022-23 budget. As the governor noted in his press conference, if current economic trends continue, the surplus could grow even more by the time the proposed budget is revised in May. The budget includes a record $36 billion reserve.

SUMMARY

The governor’s proposed budget includes a historic investment in health care by expanding Medi-Cal eligibility for those currently excluded from the program due to immigration status, and by eliminating Medi-Cal premiums for children, pregnant people, and people with disabilities. It does not eliminate the burdensome “share of cost” that many people on Medi-Cal still pay as a monthly deductible.

The budget also includes expanded funding to house people experiencing homelessness, a large investment in health care related workforce development, and an expansion of proposals intended to reduce poverty such as increasing CalWORKs grants, passing on all child support to families formerly on public assistance, and expanding the state child tax credit to households with no reported income. The budget also proposes to fund 36,000 new childcare slots for working families, but this means approximately 150,000 families will remain on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, this proposal misses an opportunity to build on significant progress made through existing poverty-reduction initiatives. Despite the expiration of the very effective federal child tax credit increase, the governor’s proposed budget does not backfill that lost income for California families. It also fails to fund more stimulus payments for Californians with low incomes. Additionally, it does not provide a cost-of-living increase for the SSI/SSP grant as required by state law, and it does not accelerate the SSI/SSP grant restoration scheduled for January 2024.

The need for rental and utility assistance in California has greatly outpaced federal funds allocated to the state. While California was recently allocated an additional $62 million in federal funds to address the growing need, the state needs about $2 billion. The governor missed an opportunity to supplement the federal dollars with surplus from the General Fund. However, California will continue to advocate for additional funding from the federal government.

Despite the large surplus and number of proposed initiatives, the governor’s proposal uses just $20 billion for the needs of Californians. More than half of the surplus is being used to fund reserves and to pay off long term debt. Of the $20 billion being spent, the governor proposes to use 86 percent for one-time expenditures. The reluctance to invest in ongoing needs means proposals that could make a major impact, like funding a broadly available rental assistance program, are not part of the discussion. The legislature should review the governor’s budget with an eye toward meeting more of the short- and long-term needs of all Californians.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s proposal expands Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status. This would make California the first state in the nation to cover all adults, and together with the recent increase in the income level for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as the scheduled elimination of the Medi-Cal assets test by January 1, 2024, all adults under 138 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for free, full-scope Medi-Cal. The governor’s proposal also eliminates premiums for children, pregnant people, and the Working Disabled Program, and expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, there are affordability, provider payment, and workforce investments.

Medi-Cal

  • Health4All: The governor’s proposal expands full-scope Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 700,000+ undocumented adults ages 26 through 49, effective no sooner than January 1, 2024, with estimated costs of $819 million total funds ($614 million General Fund) in FY 2023-24 and $2.3 billion total funds ($1.8 billion General Fund) at full implementation.
  • Zero out premiums: The proposed budget includes $53 million total funds ($19 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $89 million total funds ($31 million General Fund) ongoing and trailer bill language to reduce premiums to zero for Medi-Cal and other Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs. This includes Medi-Cal premiums for children above 160 percent of the poverty level, the 250 percent Working Disabled Program premiums, as well as the premiums for pregnant women and infants under the Medi-Cal Access Program (MCAP) and County Children’s Health Insurance Programs (C-CHIP).
  • Justice-related initiatives: The proposal includes $50 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 to implement the CalAIM justice-related initiatives with implementation beginning January 2023. This includes pre-release applications, pre-release “in-reach” services, and coordinated re-entry. There will also be trailer bill language to extend the duration of suspension of Medi-Cal benefits when an individual is incarcerated to increase the likelihood that coverage is maintained.
  • Dental Lab Processed Crown (AKA Custom Crown) Coverage: The budget includes $37 million total funds ($13 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and trailer bill language to update adult coverage requirements to include lab processed crowns for posterior teeth, in place of stainless-steel crowns. Also related to dental, the administration proposes to extend dental managed care contracts and procure new contracts no sooner than January 1, 2024.
  • The governor’s proposal includes the following provider payment investments:
    • Proposition 56 Supplemental Provider Payment Backfill: To address declining tobacco revenue, the proposal includes an increase of $29 million from the General Fund to fully fund remaining Proposition 56 payments at their current level in FY 2022-23.
    • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventive, maternity, and behavioral health care measures and address gaps in care arising out of the pandemic, the proposal includes $400 million total funds ($200 million General Fund) in one-time funds, aligning with the goals of the Medi-Cal Comprehensive Quality and Equity Strategy.
    • Elimination of Certain AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions: The budget includes $20 million total funds ($9 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $24 million total funds ($11 million General Fund) ongoing to eliminate AB 97 payment reductions for nurses, alternative birthing centers, audiologists/hearing aid dispensers, respiratory care providers, durable medical equipment, oxygen and respiratory services, chronic dialysis clinics, non-emergency medical transportation, and emergency air medical transportation.
  • Discontinue Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP) and Expand Children’s Presumptive Eligibility (PE): The Department is proposing to sunset CHDP by July 1, 2023 via trailer bill language and replace with the Children’s Presumptive Eligibility Program, which will include all Medi-Cal providers.
  • Mobile Crisis Services: The proposal includes $108 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) and trailer bill language to add qualifying 24/7 community-based mobile crisis intervention services as a Medi-Cal benefit as soon as January 1, 2023. The benefit will be implemented through county behavioral health delivery systems by multidisciplinary mobile crisis teams in the community.

Other Health Proposals 

  • Office of Health Care Affordability: The proposal reappropriates funding for the Office that was originally included in the 2021 Budget Act (originally $11.2 million in 2020-21 and $24.5 million in 2022-23) and proposes statutory changes for its establishment. The Office is charged with increasing cost and quality transparency, developing cost targets for the health care industry, enforcing compliance, and filing gaps in market oversight.
  • Covered California: The proposal continues to deposit into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs the $333.4 million General Fund that would have been used for Covered California state premium subsidies (not currently needed due to American Rescue Plan Funds).  The administration intends to work with the Legislature to determine the best use of these funds based on the recent AB 133 affordability report produced by Covered California, after determining what ongoing federal support will be available. In addition, the proposal continues to include $20 million General Fund in 2022-23 to support the One-Dollar Premium Subsidy program, which zeros the cost of Covered California consumers for health plans due to federal policy concerning abortion coverage.
  • Behavioral Health Bridge Housing: The proposed budget includes $1.5 billion General Fund ($1 billion in FY 2022-23 and $500 million in FY 2023-24) for behavioral health bridge housing to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness with serious behavioral health conditions by purchasing and installing tiny homes and providing time-limited operational supports in various bridge housing settings.
  • Workforce Development: The proposal includes $1.7 billion in Care Economy Workforce investments, including $350 million General Fund to recruit and train 25,000 new community health workers as well as additional health care providers.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

In total, the governor’s 2022-2023 budget dedicates $9 billion for housing and $8 billion for homelessness. Largely building on last year’s efforts, this budget proposal attempts to chip away at the housing and homelessness crisis by streamlining production, increasing housing accountability, and funding homelessness solutions through a climate focused lens.

This “Housing as a Climate Strategy’’ focuses on preservation and production of affordable housing near schools, jobs, transit, density, and community hubs to fight climate change. Despite the well-placed investments in climate resilient housing, the budget falls short in supporting struggling Californians from eviction with the notable lack of state funding for eviction protection. The budget also proposes to battle the state homelessness crisis with an eye toward housing and behavioral health. While on the surface this plan addresses the long-standing need for better mental health for the unhoused community, it plays on the trope that all people experiencing homelessness have mental health conditions, rather than recognizing the very tangible fact that most Californians simply cannot afford the high cost of living, which has steepened since the start of the pandemic.

The governor is also increasing funding for “beautification” and “hazardous material removal” in encampments, which translates to increased sweeps, harassment, and further ostracization of people experiencing homelessness. With another budget surplus, we hope the budget’s May revision will use the additional funding to preserve and increase affordable housing, prevent needless evictions with increased funding for California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and provide tangle solutions to get people off the streets and into safe, stable, affordable, and permanent housing.

Affordable Housing and Climate 

  • $300 million one-time General Fund for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program to support land-use, housing, transportation, and land preservation projects for infill and compact development that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund to expand affordable housing development and adaptive reuse opportunities on state excess land sites.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund for adaptive reuse incentive grants to remove cost impediments to adaptive reuse (e.g., structural improvements, plumbing/electrical design, exiting) and help accelerate residential conversions, with a priority on projects located in downtown-oriented areas.
  • $500 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
    • $4.6 million in farmworker Housing Assistance Tax Credits.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) to provide loans to developers for mixed-income rental housing, specifically for households with incomes between 30 percent and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program to further preserve targeted units in downtown-oriented areas and continue increasing the state’s affordable housing stock.

Mobile Home Rehab

  • $100 million one-time General Fund for HCD’s Mobile Home Park Rehabilitation and Resident Ownership Program. These funds will finance the preservation and development of affordable mobile home parks.

Infill Housing

  • Infill Infrastructure Grant Program—$500 million one-time General Fund ($225 million in 2022-23, and $275 million in 2023-24).

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

  • California requested an additional $1.9 billion in federal funding to address the growing need for rental assistance and utility assistance for Californians. California was allocated an additional $62 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury. While grateful that California was allocated 30 percent of the total federal reallocation, this amount is woefully short of the need.  Currently, California needs almost $2 billion more than what we were originally allocated, and the need is growing. California will continue to advocate with the federal government to obtain additional rental and utility assistance.

Formerly Incarcerated Housing

  • $10.6 million one-time General Fund over three years to the Returning Home Well program that will provide transitional housing to parolees at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness.

Legal Services for Renters

  • $40 million investment in legal assistance for renters and homeowners.

Homelessness

  • $2 billion one-time General Fund, multi-year grant to cities, large counties and Continuums of Care working with the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal-ICH). Cal-ICH will work with grantees on their homelessness accountability plans.
  • $500 million one-time general fund dollars in housing encampment resolution efforts that will expand program jurisdictions investment in short- and long-term rehousing strategies for people experiencing homelessness.
  • $25 million in Clean California and $20.6 million for hazardous material removal at encampments.
  • $1 million investment in homeless youth programs.
  • $1.5 billion in General Funds over two years dedicated to resources to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing homelessness who have behavioral health conditions. This funding will be administered through DHCS’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure program to purchase tiny homes and facilitate bridge/transitional housing. Such funding can also be used for bridge housing including an expansion of Project Homekey Acquisition.
  • $5 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs Grants

The governor is proposing a 7.1 percent grant increase to CalWORKs grants starting October 1, 2022. The funding for the increase comes from Child Poverty Subaccount, a stream of revenue dedicated to CalWORKs grant increases. As a result of the 7.1 percent increase, maximum CalWORKs grants will equal 54 percent of the federal poverty level. For families not subject to sanctions, timed off aid or with an ineligible adult, the grant levels exceed the deep poverty level, which means a reduction in the well-documented, long-term negative impacts of deep poverty on children. Despite the increase in the grant level, the administration’s budget does not fulfill the commitment to increase CalWORKs grants so that no child is living in deep poverty. The so-called AU+1 approach requires significantly more investment than this budget provides. Below is a chart which shows current grant amounts, grant amounts with the 7.1 percent increase, the percent of the federal poverty level, what the grant would need to be to ensure an end to deep poverty, and lastly, the gap between the current grant and an end to deep poverty.

Workforce Development

The administration is proposing two major investments in workforce development. One is a $1.5 billion Proposition 98 General Fund effort to support the development of college and career pathways focused on education, health care, technology, and climate-related fields. Promoting pathways that allow students to move seamlessly from high school to college and career will improve the number of students who pursue and achieve post-secondary education and training.

The governor is also proposing to invest $1.7 billion over three years in care economy workforce development—across both the Labor Agency and California Health and Human Services Agency—that will create more innovative and accessible opportunities to recruit, train, and hire, and will advance an ethnically and culturally inclusive health and human services workforce, with improved diversity and higher wages. These programs will target students such as those in CalWORKs welfare to work.

Safety Net Reserve

The budget provides no increase in the safety net reserve, maintaining a $900 million level. While this amount represents an important safeguard against Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program reductions in lean budget years, the continuing growth in spending in both programs might require additional funds to preserve the effectiveness of the reserve.

Child Support Pass Through

The governor is proposing a major change to child support rules by allowing all child support paid by non-custodial parents to go to families formerly receiving CalWORKs or Medi-Cal. For decades it has been state policy for the state to retain any child support for the state to pay off the cost of providing welfare and medical benefits. In short, the state has reimbursed itself and made the families live with less income. When fully implemented, these families are estimated to receive an additional $187 million. While the idea of passing through all child support is certainly welcome, it is notable that the administration is proposing to do this only for families no longer receiving government assistance. The governor chose not to allow a 100 percent pass through to families currently on aid. The legislature may wish to consider expanding this proposal to pass through all child support to all families.

SSI/SSP Grants

The administration did not propose an increase in the SSI/SSP grants for 2022-23 budget, citing last year’s agreement to a two-step increase in SSP funding to restore grant cuts made by the state in the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The first of these grant increases went into effect on January 1, 2022, and in conjunction with a federal cost of living increase for the SSI portion of the grant, SSI/SSP grant levels went from $954 a month up to $1,040 a month for a single individual. The second step of grant increases is set to go into effect in January 2024.

In 2018, the legislature and then Governor Brown agreed to provide a state cost of living adjustment on the SSP portion of the grant beginning in January 2023. While that agreement is subject to funding in the budget, the administration chose not to include it in the January budget. As it currently stands, SSI recipients would not see any increased state funding for two years. The legislature may wish to consider whether to accelerate the second SSP increase to 2023 or to provide a cost-of-living adjustment.

Home Visiting

The administration proposes to increase funding for Home Visiting by $50 million ongoing for the Department of Public Health (CDPH) to expand the California Home Visiting Program and the California Black Infant Health Program, serving approximately 6,000 additional families over five years on top of 3,700 currently served by the Home Visiting Program and 1,650 served by the Black Infant Health Program. The administration does not propose increased funding for the CalWORKs Home Visiting program, which was cut in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. The budget proposes greater flexibility for home visiting models offered to meet the diverse needs of families across the state, expands home visiting services to additional counties, and makes them accessible to families with the highest need. Additionally, this proposal will support early literacy by including books and early literacy programming provided by home visitors, and will be further supported by a $350 million General Fund investment to recruit, train, and certify new community health workers.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The administration is proposing to allow families with zero reported income to be eligible for the $1,000 state child tax credit so long as the family would otherwise be eligible. The concept of a zero-earnings tax credit potentially opens the door for allowing people receiving SSI, SSDI, and Social Security to get the same state assistance that families receive from the state EITC and Child Tax Credit.

Civil Assessments

The administration is proposing to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income Californians by reducing civil assessments from a maximum of $300 to a cap of $150. Civil assessments are imposed on people in criminal and traffic courts when they fail to appear for a hearing, or they fail to pay a fine in a timely fashion. Legal service advocates tell us that many clients receive multiple civil assessments that increase the amount they owe and make it even harder to pay court ordered fines and fees. While this proposal goes part way in meeting the goals of legislators and advocates, as proposed, civil assessments would still impact Californians with the lowest incomes most, and leaves open the question of whether retroactive civil assessment debts would continue to be subject to collection.

California Food Assistance Program

The administration proposes phasing in the expansion the California Food Assistance Program to all Californians ages 55 and older, regardless of immigration status. This year’s budget proposal includes $35.2 million for initial planning phases of the expansion and allocates $113.4 million annually starting in the 2025-26 budget year for the full expansion.

Golden State Stimulus/Grants

The administration chose not to provide another round of pandemic stimulus payments. These payments, which went out to low- and moderate-income households, were instrumental in allowing families and individuals to absorb some of the costs of the pandemic and to give breathing room in household budgets. The grants were also a method for the state to reduce state expenditures below the Gann Limit, which caps the amount the state budget can increase from year to year. The governor noted in his press conference that the door is not closed on this and it may be under consideration for the May Revise.

For questions, contact:

  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy – mherald[at]wclp.org
  • Food Access: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org
  • Health Care: Jen Flory, Policy Advocate – jflory[at]wclp.org; Linda Nguy, Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org
  • Housing: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

Following lawsuit, SB County makes it easier for those in extreme poverty to access cash aid

“The dollar increase is significant for people who rely on this program, as is the increased ease of access,” said Richard Rothschild, director of litigation at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “$500 can make a big difference for someone experiencing homelessness. It’s a stepping stone for finding housing, getting a job and becoming an integrated member of the community.”

Following lawsuit, SB County makes it easier for those in extreme poverty to access cash aid

PRESS RELEASE: After Lawsuit, San Bernardino County Removes Barriers to Cash Aid for Residents in Extreme Poverty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The county has agreed to implement several policy changes to make General Relief easier to access in the settlement of a 2019 lawsuit

SAN BERNARDINO – A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed against San Bernardino County, resulting in several changes to the county’s General Relief program that will help more people in extreme poverty access vital financial assistance. General Relief is the program administered by California counties that provides cash assistance to adults who do not have any other income or resources to meet their basic needs.

The suit was filed on behalf of two county residents in December 2019 by Inland Counties Legal Services, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Public Interest Law Project. At the time, San Bernardino County had an extremely low number of General Relief recipients. Data from July 2018 through April 2019 shows the County denied 2057 out of 2245 applicants — nearly 92% of applicants.

The evidence indicated that the numbers were the result of the County’s unlawful restrictions on GR eligibility and onerous application process. The County also paid a much lower monthly grant than required by statute—a single individual could only receive a maximum of $280 per month. Among other restrictions, the County terminated benefits to homeless recipients who could not find housing within the first 30 days of getting benefits.

With the changes made by the County, Inland Counties Legal Services attorney Anthony Kim expects more residents will secure General Relief benefits and have an easier time maintaining them going forward.

“The people who need general assistance are often homeless and disenfranchised to the point where receiving any help is difficult, so these changes to the program are huge. The less hoops residents need to jump through, the easier it will be for them to get the assistance they need and are legally entitled to,” Kim said.

One of the biggest changes from the suit is the dollar increase in assistance, including annual increases over the next five years. The County has already increased the grant amount to $332 per month for an individual, and it will be $504 beginning in 2026.

The County’s Transitional Assistance Department, which administers the program, implemented several other significant changes in response to the lawsuit. They eliminated the requirement for applicants to attend an in-person orientation before applying for General Relief, and they began accepting applications online and via mail or drop box. They also eliminated the former policy of terminating General Relief to homeless recipients who did not secure housing within their first 30 days of receiving assistance.

“The dollar increase is significant for people who rely on this program, as is the increased ease of access,” said Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “$500  can make a big difference for someone experiencing homelessness. It’s a stepping stone for finding housing, getting a job, and becoming an integrated member of the community.

Other changes to the program include: paying full General Relief benefits amount to all eligible recipients regardless of housing status; paying General Relief benefits back to the date the person first applied; reducing the recertification requirements for people who receive General Relief; increasing the resource limits for cars and other vehicles, especially for people who use their vehicles for shelter; providing a pre-termination notice and an opportunity to appeal before ending someone’s benefits; and decreasing job search requirements for “employable” recipients from 20 contacts a week to 10.

“This is an incredible victory for people in San Bernardino County,” said Melissa A. Morris, Staff Attorney at Public Interest Law Project. “These systemic changes to the County’s General Relief program will potentially benefit thousands of low-income people throughout San Bernardino County, and we appreciate the County’s willingness to work with us to make these improvements.”

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