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California Still Struggling with Nation’s Worst Poverty Rate

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Stubborn poverty continues to plague the Golden State, which maintains the worst poverty rate in the nation, with 14.3 percent of residents, and almost 20 percent of children, living below the federal poverty line.

However, the new Census numbers on poverty do show that the state is a bit better off than last year. The state’s median annual household income of $67,000 dollars is about $10,000 higher than the national average, but that money doesn’t go very far because the median price we pay for a home is more than twice the national average.

Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says the cost of living here is a huge problem.

“With high rent prices, a low vacancy rent on rental housing, you’re starting to see that really hit our supplemental poverty rate,” she explains. “And we know that the lack of affordable housing is the number one reason why we are in this spot that we’re in now.”

California’s supplemental poverty rate, which takes the cost of living into account, is above the national average. San Francisco has the highest median income in the nation, at more than $97,000, but the state also has a very large gap between rich and poor.

The state legislative session ends tonight at midnight, and lawmakers still are working on a package of housing bills that would create more affordable units and prevent rents from spiking.

Bartholow says a lot also depends on the federal budget and the GOP push to repeal Obamacare and slash Medi-Cal.

“We’re hoping that the federal government takes heed of these good numbers and doesn’t make drastic changes to either the economy impacting low-income workers or the safety net,” she says.

Anti-poverty groups also support bills that reduce fines and fees in the criminal-justice system and one that would prevent debt collectors from using bank levies to wipe out people’s last dollar.

 

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Fees for parents of incarcerated youth could end with proposed CA bill

Currently, families of incarcerated youth are required to pay numerous fees to counties holding their children; however, if SB 190, which was presented to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, is signed, these payments would be eliminated.

Families can be charged for investigation reports, drug testing, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, public defenders and their children’s detentions in juvenile hall. These fees can cost families between $513 and $6,000 per incarcerated child, according to a press release issued by State Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who drafted the bill with State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

UC Berkeley School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky recently wrote an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee in support of the bill, detailing how these fees can hurt families through debt, garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds and legal action. These fees disproportionately impact families of Black and Latinx children, who represent more than 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system, according to Chemerinsky.

Incarceration fees may increase the rate of youths returning to the juvenile justice system, according to a Berkeley Law report.

Additionally, according to Estevan Ginsburg, a Senate fellow in Mitchell’s office, most of the money earned through the fees is spent collecting them in the first place.

Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, or PAC, represented a coalition of advocacy groups supporting SB 190, said PAC director Jeff Selbin. PAC looked into the fiscal impacts of juvenile justice fees on families and the state.

PAC students wrote evidence-based reports and gave recommendations to advocacy groups, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The passing of SB 190 in the State Senate and Assembly was a “hard-earned victory for students,” Berkeley Law spokesperson Susan Gluss said in an email.

According to Ginsburg, what catalyzed the bill were stories from families affected by the fees. Maria Rivera, the mother of a incarcerated youth, sold her home and filed for bankruptcy when Orange County charged her over $16,000 for her son’s detention and lawyer, according to a Berkeley Law article.

Nine counties have already stopped charging some or all fees, according to Ginsburg.

Selbin said such fees “undermine both rehabilitation and safety,” which he said are the main goals of the juvenile justice system. Selbin said he believes this is why the bill passed with bipartisan support — 37-3 in the Senate and 57-9 in the Assembly.

According to Selbin, Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill. In the case that Brown does neither, SB 190 will pass by default.

If SB 190 becomes law, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

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