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IRS tells parents still waiting for their $500 stimulus child benefit it won’t arrive until next year

“Parents are really going to be devastated to learn they may not get the payments for their children, said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate with Western Center on Law & Poverty in California.

“Five hundred dollars is a lot of money and could provide a lot of emotional and financial relief,” Bartholow said. “Right now is a moment in which we have to believe in government and we have to believe that it can work. So as disappointing as all of this is, I also really still believe in the IRS to do the right thing, to find a way to get these families the $500 per child as soon as possible.”

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STATEMENT: California Garment Workers’ May Day Statement – Protection, Income, Accountability

The Garment Worker Center released the following May Day statement, in coalition with Western Center, Bet Tzedek, and the California Labor Federation. These May Day demands are essential for protecting and supporting workers. Western Center’s co-sponsored bill, SB 1399 (Durazo & Gonzalez), is intended to continue that charge as well. SB 1399 would expand wage theft liability in the garment manufacturing industry so retailers can’t use layers of contracting to avoid legal responsibility.

 

California Garment Workers: May Day Statement

May 1, 2020

International Workers’ Day, or May Day, is always a significant day for garment workers. For nearly two decades, organized garment workers and allies have gathered in Los Angeles and marched with thousands of fellow workers from a broad array of industries. We unfurl banners and wave picket signs lifting up worker demands for transformative change, dignity, and respect. This year, we cannot march together as we shelter at home from the coronavirus. But workers’ voices and calls to action are needed now more than ever.

Garment workers around the world, and here in LA, have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. As non-essential businesses are closed, the majority of the workforce is left without employment and without any certainty about when jobs will return. Fashion brands have pulled their orders, many without paying for production already in progress or even completed, leaving workers down the supply chain without their final wages. Corporations that are far better positioned to weather the financial impact of these times have nonetheless washed their hands of accountability for the rights and well-being of the workers who produce their products.

The factories that remain open have switched over to PPE production, making face masks and other medical apparel. Workers are reporting minimal protections for their health.  They describe receiving face masks only every 2-3 days, cramped conditions that undermine social distancing, no routine sanitizing of workstations, and a lack of handwashing stations. Thus, as they labor to create critically needed equipment to protect the public, they remain unprotected themselves. Workers tell us, however, that when the choice is between no income for their food and shelter and an unsafe workplace, they must choose to place themselves at risk.

These conditions are not new or Covid-specific. Rather, they are business as usual. Garment workers typically earn an average of $6.00 per hour, primarily through the use of a piece rate system. And though studies show that well-known fashion brands create poverty wages by paying too little for their orders, they consistently evade legal responsibility. Garment factories have always been unsafe, dirty, and cramped workplaces where a workers’ body and health were disregarded.

Yet, in the face of these realities, garment workers demonstrate strength and resilience. They organize and demand their rights be upheld. This year, they brought forward a policy proposal, SB1399 Garment Worker Justice Bill, to guarantee their wage rights by expanding liability along the supply chain to the fashion brands and by banning the use of the exploitative piece rate system. And now, they demand that if they have been elevated to essential workers, their health and labor rights should also be essential and protected.

On May Day, we are all called upon to stand with workers and lift up their demands. California’s garment workers call for:

  1. Strong and robustly enforced protections for their health and wage rights in PPE producing factories. #EssentialWorkers #EssentialProtection
  2. Income replacement for unemployed, undocumented workers. #SafetyNet4AllofUs
  3. Accountability for workers’ wage rights from the factory floor to the fashion brand. #SB1399 #PayUp
  4. Ban the piece rate in California’s garment industry. #SB1399 #OneLegalWage

Quienes Somos?! Fuertes Trabajadores de la Costura!!

Democrats Roll Out Bill to Let Restaurants Accept Food Stamps

“Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty — a California-based support group focused on legal advocation of people in poverty — said in an email Wednesday her organization has worked for years to expand the Restaurant Meal Program’s reach. Working with state representatives, the organization has helped lobby to change state laws through the Golden State’s Calfresh Restaurant Meal Program, helping to expand awareness and access to the program.

“Still, the federal law limits the ability of the state to serve all people who need it during the pandemic,” Bartholow said. “Also, other states which want to offer the program are limited in their ability to do so. California has asked for a waiver to allow the state to serve all SNAP recipients through RMP during the recession but the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] hasn’t approved it.”

Democrats Roll Out Bill to Let Restaurants Accept Food Stamps

As Jobless Claims Soar, More Restaurants Might Finally Be Able to Accept SNAP Benefits

“In a letter on April 2, Sen. Murphy called on USDA director Sonny Perdue to expand RMP participation to all SNAP recipients until the end of the COVID-19 emergency. So has the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which has advocated for SNAP RMP expansion for over a decade. But the USDA hasn’t budged. “It’s a failure to lead in a time of crisis,” says Jessica Bartholow, a WCLP policy advocate.

Now Murphy and Panetta hope to legislate the solution. The National Restaurant Association, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, and Congressional Hunger Center have all expressed support. “This is a private-public partnership that works,” says Bartholow. “We have food rotting in restaurants and workers that want to work and can’t.”

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Newsom throws financial lifelines to Californians during pandemic stay-at-home

“Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said she’s glad of the governor’s order – “to think this money was going to go to the pockets of some of the largest corporations in our country was nauseating,” she said.

Already, she’s had people calling her saying they are unable to access their stimulus checks. It’s not always been clear why banks freeze people’s accounts, she said. Debt collector levies could be one explanation, but so could overdraft fees, or because the check represents far more money than the individual has ever had in their account before. She said one woman had called in tears the night before. The woman had just moved out of a shelter with her daughter and needed the money from her stimulus check to pay for food and a microwave. The bank had frozen it, and she didn’t know why.

“Now we can let them know there are protections for them and their stimulus check will not be taken,” she said. “For those low-income people who do have a bank account, this is a lifesaver.”

Newsom throws financial lifelines to Californians during pandemic stay-at-home

PRESS RELEASE: Advocates Demand USDA Rescind Guidance That Strips Emergency Food Assistance From Californians With Greatest Need

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

USDA’s SNAP Emergency Allotment guidance goes against Congressional intent; may require legal action

SAN FRANCISCO — Western Center on Law & Poverty and Impact Fund have sent a demand letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, requesting the Department rescind guidance from March 20th and April 21st of this year regarding implementation of SNAP (aka food stamps) emergency allotments, which Congress provided as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The Act is intended to provide emergency allotments of food assistance to eligible low-income households. Emergency assistance is critical for Californians impacted by the COVID-19 health emergency and related stay-at-home orders, as the State and the Nation face increased food expenses and the loss of other food assistance on which residents normally rely.

USDA’s current guidance illegally denies emergency food aid to the poorest households, preventing California from providing emergency SNAP allotments to those most in need. In its initial application to USDA for emergency allotments, California disagreed with USDA’s guidance, stating that families receiving the regular maximum SNAP benefit should receive additional emergency aid. USDA denied the proposal, and told the State to submit a revised proposal for emergency allotments that leaves households most in need – those receiving the pre-pandemic maximum SNAP benefit – without any emergency assistance.

“It is not only cruel and absurd that the poorest families are denied emergency aid during an unprecedented national emergency, it is also contrary to Congressional intent,” said Alexander Prieto, a Senior Litigator for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “By asserting this harsh and indefensible interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, USDA is needlessly imperiling the health of countless communities for dubious reasons.”

Families with the lowest incomes face the greatest risk of hunger and food insecurity during the COVID crisis. They are less likely to have food reserves for sheltering-in-place, and more likely to rely on food banks and other emergency channels for food distribution, which are currently overextended and under-resourced. Even if households locate a food bank, they are less able to access this resource due to the increased risk of COVID exposure they face when leaving home. Additionally, these households are more likely to include young children, as well as seniors or people with disabilities.

“USDA refuses to acknowledge the disproportionate impact this crisis is having on the ability of at-risk families to meet their basic needs,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at Impact Fund. “Before COVID, wealth and income inequality punished thousands of Californians who could barely get by. Now is not the time to further exacerbate that trend. We are simply asking USDA to ensure that everyone has food to eat.”

Western Center and Impact Fund are prepared to take legal action to protect the rights of California’s low-income SNAP recipients if USDA does not rescind its current guidance by April 29, 2020.

Contact:

Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org, (214) 395-2755

Teddy Basham-Witherington, twitherington[at]impactfund.org, (415) 845-1206

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Clinics Help Protect State Families from Debt Collection During COVID-19 Crisis

“This policy victory would have never happened without the Policy Advocacy Clinic. When impacted community members dedicate their lives to undoing the injustices they have experienced, they deserve the best teammates to support them in achieving big goals, not half-a-loaf solutions,” says Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty and a clinic client. “The clinic shows up to be that partner every time and the Franchise Tax Board action was a perfect example of how magical the combination of deep partnership and strategic preparation can be.”

Clinics Help Protect State Families from Debt Collection During COVID-19 Crisis

Pilot Program for California SNAP (CalFresh) Online Food Purchases to Begin Next Week; UFCW and Western Center Applaud Steps and Urge Further Action

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Even with this step, many SNAP recipients will be without social-distancing grocery options; and many delivery drivers are paid too little to afford food without SNAP

 

Sacramento, CA – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council and the Western Center on Law & Poverty applaud California’s Department of Social Services (DSS) to be the first state to achieve federal government approval for an emergency request to expand a pilot program permitting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase grocery and food delivery online. This option will be available for SNAP, known as CalFresh in California, beginning April 28th.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing issues around access to food and other basic necessities. While this new option will help some families living in poverty access food while abiding by federal, state and local emergency orders to shelter in place during the pandemic, there are only two approved retailers – Amazon and Walmart. What’s more, both retailers have established a minimum benefit threshold for purchase of $35 and are charging delivery fees, so it will not offer solutions for everyone.

Since last week’s approval for California, other states have also received approval for SNAP recipients to make purchases online: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Pilot programs began last year in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington State.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), even though not all states and only a couple of retailers will be able to participate in the online purchase pilot, they recommend states and retailers not in the pilot utilize other options already available to retailers hoping to serve their customers in ways that support safe social distancing policies, such as “Pay at Pick-up” (also known as “Click and Collect”), where SNAP cardholders can shop online and then pay for their purchase using their EBT card at pick-up. In a statement issued today, USDA says, “Grocery pickup is already an option that these retailers offer beyond SNAP so they are already thinking through how they can provide a safe environment to do so with the growing concerns around social distancing.”

UFCW and Western Center continue to push for expansion of the program beyond Amazon and Walmart and their third-party grocery delivery, and are requesting that other retailers in California’s grocery industry consider “click and collect” options for curbside pick-up and home delivery.

“Allowing CalFresh participants to use their benefit to purchase food online is a positive step toward reducing the unequal access to food and safety during the pandemic,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate, Western Center on Law & Poverty. “However, we can’t stop there. We have one of the most inclusive EBT systems in the country and we shouldn’t stop working on this until we have expanded online purchase and click-and-collect options are available to all current recipients through all participating retailers. If we don’t get more vendors participating in the online purchasing and ordering options during the pandemic, the result could be more food deserts in communities that desperately need greater access.”

CalFresh provides monthly benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need to maintain adequate nutrition. A single person is eligible for CalFresh if they make $2,024 a month, which is less than what a $13 an hour job pays for 40 hours a week – $2,080. As companies rely on essential delivery workers to prevent hunger and the spread of COVID-19, we encourage them to consider appreciation pay, and wages that would prevent workers from having to rely on safety-net programs.

“It will be a shame if this program, intended to expand options for communities in need, has the effect of eliminating good union jobs and directing more dollars into the pockets of CEOs at Walmart and Amazon. These giant corporations pay wages so low that many of their own workers qualify for Cal-Fresh and would face hunger without these benefits,” said Andrea Zinder, president, UFCW Western States Council and UFCW Local 324. “Expanding the pilot program to include companies that pay their employees living wages and promote workers’ rights and preventing participating companies from contracting with third party distributors is necessary to prevent the loss of good paying jobs with benefits. This also ensures CalFresh recipients are not held responsible for spoiled or damaged food because if a food delivery goes bad, they would not be able to have those benefits refunded to them.”

As local, state, and federal governments work quickly to address needs related to the pandemic in real time, we must be vigilant that the solutions proposed now do not cause more damage in the future. Opening the online purchase pilot program to more vendors and supporting them to establish “click and collect” options for curbside pick-up and home delivery will create the kind of competition and opportunity for fair wages necessary for communities to be well in the current economic climate.

CONTACT:

UFCW Western States Council: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, jenna[at]paschalroth.com

Western Center on Law and Poverty: Jessica Bartholow, 916.400.1948, jbartholow[at]wclp.org

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council is the regional coordinating body of 11 UFCW local unions representing over 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. The Council is a part of the 1.2 million member strong UFCW International Union. UFCW members are standing together to improve the lives of workers, families, and communities.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.