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Should both the rich and poor in California receive $400 gas tax rebates?

“Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, sees the fairness question differently.
 
The price of gas is the same for everyone, even as incomes vary, he said. While some living in poverty cannot afford to own a car, low-income Californians are less likely to have an option to work from home during the pandemic, and a car is a lifeline.”

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Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Agenda  

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.

HOMELESSNESS

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. The bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness – 70 percent of Californians experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration.

AB 2230 (Gipson) – CalWORKs: Temporary Shelter and Permanent Housing Benefits

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will make significant improvements in the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) to minimize homelessness that CalWORKs families experience by repealing the limitations for receiving assistance through HAP. HAP is meant to assist families who have become unhoused and need immediate assistance. It is Western Center’s firm belief that families should not be burdened with additional program requirements to receive critical assistance for the health and safety of their family.

AB 2339 (Bloom): Emergency Shelters

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Public Interest Law Project)

There are upwards of 160,000 people experiencing homelessness in California, and 72% are completely unsheltered. While some California localities provide enough shelter beds, in others, there are either no shelter beds or only a small number. AB 2339 strengthens housing element law to ensure that zones identified for shelters and other interim housing are suitable and available. The bill also requires jurisdictions to demonstrate sufficient capacity on the sites to meet the identified need for interim housing for those experiencing homelessness.

SB 1017 (Eggman): Keeping Survivors Housed

(co-sponsored with California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, Dr. Beatriz Maria Solis Policy Institute – Women’s Foundation of California, Family Violence Appellate Project)

This bill allows domestic violence survivors who are tenants to maintain their current housing and avoid eviction by expanding allowable documentation for lease termination policies, allowing survivors to use eviction protections when the abusive person is on the lease but no longer residing in the residence, and by allowing survivors who live with an abusive person to remain in the unit on the same lease terms while removing the abusive person.

California Emergency Rental Assistance Program

While not a bill, Western Center and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation are working to obtain an extension of the current eviction protections implemented in response to the pandemic. To prevent mass evictions, displacement, and economic instability, the state must extend these protections as hundreds of thousands of tenants wait for rental assistance from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

HOUSING

AB 1911 (Gabriel): Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit

(co-sponsored with California Housing Partnership, California Coalition for Rural Housing, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and San Diego Housing Federation)

AB 1911 creates an Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit to support the preservation of tens of thousands of affordable housing units at risk of converting to market rate housing or displacing low-income tenants. California cannot afford to lose tens of thousands of affordable housing units in the midst of our current housing crisis. A targeted tax credit that encourages property owners to sell to affordable housing developers committed to long-term affordability would allow thousands of lower-income households to stay in their homes.

AB 2597 (Bloom, E. Garcia): Cool and Healthy Homes

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Inner City Law Center, Leadership Council, Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP)

AB 2597 will address a long-standing issue that is rapidly exacerbated by human-induced climate change: the safety of renters in their homes when outdoor temperatures rise. Excessive heat has a negative impact on health and quality of life and leads to an increasing number of deaths. State law has long required that rental units be able to maintain a safe indoor air temperature when it’s cold outside, but there is no analogous requirement that applies when the weather is hot. This gap leaves many renters living in homes that reach unhealthy and often dangerous temperatures indoors and disproportionately impacts low-income households and people of color. AB 2597 will update the state’s habitability standards to ensure that all rental units have a means of maintaining a safe indoor air temperature regardless of the temperature outside.

AB 2713 (Wicks): Tenant Protections: Just Cause Termination: Rent Caps

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

This bill cleans up loopholes in AB 1482, California’s first statewide just cause eviction protection and anti-rent gouging law. Since AB 1482 was enacted in 2019, several key loopholes (owner move-in, substantial renovation, and intent to remove the unit from the rental market) have been exploited by landlords attempting to evict vulnerable tenants. This law will require owners attempting to evict tenants for owner move-in to move into the unit within 90 days and stay at the unit for a minimum of three years. For owners attempting to evict based on substantial renovation, it will require owners to obtain the necessary permits for the renovations and justify why the improvements cannot be completed with the tenants in place. For evictions based on withdrawal from the rental market, the owner will be required to clearly explain in the notice to the tenant what the alternative use of the property will be and the necessary permits to convert the unit to the intended use. If the landlord does not meet those conditions post eviction, the tenant has the right to rent the unit under the previous terms of the agreement.

SCA 2 (Allen, Wiener): Public Housing Projects Two-year bill

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Coalition for Rural Housing, California Housing Consortium, California Housing Partnership, California Association of Realtors, California YIMBY, Housing California, Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, and Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing)

SCA 2 will place the repeal of Article 34 of the California Constitution on the ballot. Passed by voters in 1950, Article 34 requires a majority approval by the voters of a city or county for the development, construction, or acquisition of publicly subsidized housing. For decades the requirement has stifled the development of subsidized housing creating and perpetuating racially and economically segregated communities. The passage of SCA 2 would give voters an opportunity to eliminate an obstacle, enshrined in our Constitution, which currently undermines the ability to address California’s acute housing and homelessness challenges.

HEALTH CARE

AB 470 (Carrillo): Eliminating the Non-MAGI Assets LimitTwo-year bill

(co-sponsored with Justice in Aging)

This bill will clean up code for when the Medi-Cal assets test is eliminated on January 1, 2024, following the 2021 budget agreement that also raises the asset limits effective July 1, 2022.

AB 1355 (Levine): Expanding Independent Medical ReviewTwo-year bill

This bill will ensure more fairness in the Medi-Cal appeals process by expanding Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal members and services, and by standardizing the process state departments must follow when alternating judges’ decisions in fair hearings. Independent Medical Reviews use medical professionals with expertise in the medical service at issue, resulting in more favorable and clinically sound outcomes for patients than plan appeals and state fair hearings.

AB 1900 (Arambula): Share of Cost Reform

(co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Disability Rights California, Justice in Aging, and Senior and Disability Action)

This bill will make the Medi-Cal Share of Cost program more affordable by updating the maintenance need levels to 138% of the federal poverty level. Today, older adults and people with disabilities who are just $1 over the free Medi-Cal limit are forced to pay over $800 of their monthly income on health care and are expected to survive on just $600—the maintenance need level—to pay for rent, food, utilities, and all other expenses.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums

(co-sponsored with Children Now)

Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families already 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 644 (Leyva): Connecting Unemployed Individuals to Covered California & Medi-Cal

(co-sponsored with Health Access and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network)

This bill will require the Employment Development Department (EDD) to share with Covered California contact and income information about people who have recently applied for or lost unemployment, state disability insurance, paid family leave, and other EDD programs. This will allow Covered California to reach out and help enroll individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

SB 923 (Wiener): Access to Gender Affirming Care

(co-sponsored with Break The Binary LLC, California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, California TRANScends, Equality California, Gender Justice LA, National Health Law Program, Orange County TransLatinas, Queer Works, Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance, San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives, The TransPower Project, TransCanWork, Trans Community Project, Transgender Health and Wellness Center, Tranz of Anarchii INC, Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC), and Unity Hope)

This bill will improve access to gender affirming care for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people by mandating health plans require TGI cultural competency training for contracted providers, their staff, and the staff of health plans. It would also require plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 1820 (Arambula): Labor Trafficking

(co-sponsored with Loyola Law School, SJI Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative)

California has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation, yet only two state agencies, the Department of Justice and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, are responsible for prosecuting human trafficking cases. This bill will provide the Department of Industrial Relations with statutory authority to investigate and prosecute claims of human labor trafficking. This a priority for Western Center because many workers who are victims of labor trafficking are exploited because of poverty.

AB 2052 (Quirk-Silva): CalWORKs Child Education Act of 2022

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

The pandemic has impacted the timeliness with which some children can complete high school. This bill will allow children receiving CalWORKs to obtain aid until age 20 if they are attending their last year of high school.

AB 2300 (Kalra): CalWORKs and CalFresh: Work Requirements

(co-sponsored with Legal Aid at Work, Women’s Foundation of California, and WorkSafe)

This bill will expand good cause exemptions for the CalWORKs welfare to work program to allow parents with children under two years old not to participate in welfare to work for up to 12 months. This bill incorporates many legal protections created by the legislature, like the Crown Act and domestic worker protections, into CalWORKs.

AB 2277 (Reyes): CalWORKs for Survivors of Domestic Violence

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will remove barriers for accessing the CalWORKs program a critical social service that assists families in financial need, by waiving program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. Currently, counties have the authority to waive CalWORKs program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. However, despite their ability to do so, many counties do not. This bill will require counties to waive the requirements.

SB 996 (Kamlager): CalWORKs Asset Test and Work Limit

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organization)

This bill will eliminate the eligibility requirement for CalWORKs families to prove that they have less than $10,211 in their possession, and the 100-hour rule which requires parents to work no more than 100 hours to qualify for the program. Removing these archaic requirements will ensure that all eligible CalWORKs families can access the social service.

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.

SB 1200 (Skinner): Enforcement of Judgments: Renewal and Interest

This bill will reduce the interest rate on unpaid debt from 10 percent annually to 3 percent annually. New York became the first state to reduce the interest rate on debt and California should follow the example.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

AB 1792 (Ward): Diversification of Grand Juries

Grand Juries play a critical role in the lives of Californians involved in the legal system — particularly people of color and those living in poverty who are over-policed. Currently, juries are disproportionately made up of retirees who can afford to take time off to serve. AB 1972 will diversify grand juries in California so they are representative of their populations and will ensure people are fairly compensated when they serve so jury duty is more accessible for Californians with low incomes.

 

 

 

 

BenefitsCal – A New Way to Get CalFresh, Medi-Cal, & Cash Benefits

There’s a new way to apply for and keep your public benefits!  BenefitsCal helps people with CalFresh, Medi-Cal, County Medical Services Program (CMSP), CalWORKs, General Assistance/Relief (GA/GR), and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI).

You can use BenefitsCal to:

  • Apply and renew benefits
  • Appoint an authorized representative
  • Upload documents
  • Report changes
  • Contact your caseworker
  • And more…

Read on for important details, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions.

When are BenefitsCal changes happening?

BenefitsCal is starting in phases depending on the county you live in. Here are the important details:

System downtime:  Visit this website for the latest status on system downtime.

*Tip: You can still access CalFresh applications at GetCalFresh, Medi-Cal applications at Covered California, and all other services by calling your county (search for phone number under “Apply by Phone” here). For Medi-Cal under new “accelerated enrollment” rules that can get you covered quickly, apply at Covered California.

  • September 27, 202139 counties started to use BenefitsCal instead of the old website (C4Yourself). At the same time, county eligibility workers started using their new computer system (CalSAWS).
  • April 25, 2022 – Los Angeles County started to use BenefitsCal instead of the old website (Your Benefits Now, or YBN). County employees will continue to use CalSAWS.
  • October 2022 to October 2023 – The remaining 18 counties in six waves will start using BenefitsCal instead of the old website (MyBenefits CalWIN). County employees will also start using CalSAWS. You may need to wait for these changes in your county:
    • October 31, 2022 (Wave 1) – Placer & Yolo Counties
    • February 27, 2023 (Wave 2) – Contra Costa, Santa Clara & Tulare Counties
    • April 24, 2023 (Wave 3) – Orange, Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties
    • July 3, 2023 (Wave 4) – San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Cruz & Solano Counties
    • September 4, 2023 (Wave 5) – Alameda, Fresno & Sonoma Counties
    • October 30, 2023 (Wave 6) – Sacramento, San Francisco & San Luis Obispo Counties

How can applicants and beneficiaries access BenefitsCal?

When you first visit BenefitsCal, click on the “Log In” button at the top right. That will take you to a page that looks like this:

Then click “Create Account.” After you enter your information, BenefitsCal will gather information about your case from the old websites (C4Yourself & Your Benefits Now). Your login information from the old websites will not work in BenefitsCal.

Between October 2022 and October 2023: If you live in one of the 18 counties making changes during this time, you have to wait for your county to start using BenefitsCal in the six waves above. Once your county makes the change, you can create an account in BenefitsCal. Your login information from MyBenefits CalWIN (MBCW) will not work in BenefitsCal.

*Tip: Check out these helpful YouTube videos on how to create an account, apply for benefits, report a change, upload documents, reset your password, and more! Until BenefitsCal creates videos in languages other than English, use YouTube’s subtitles to select another language.

*Tip: These Quick Reference Guides include screenshots and step-by-step instructions (in English only) on how to apply for benefits, request an appointment, upload documents, and more! We await CalSAWS translating these guides into other languages.

Do I need to answer all of the questions in BenefitsCal?

Most BenefitsCal questions are not required. They are optional unless they include “(required)” in the question. Click the NEXT button to skip optional questions and continue with your application or request.

How can application assisters & community-based organizations (CBOs) access BenefitsCal?

BenefitsCal functionality for application assisters and CBOs will be limited at first. Assisters/CBOs can submit applications, upload documents, export & view reports (see more about this below), and check limited application status information (but not whether applications were approved or denied). More features will be added soon, possibly in September 2022. Assister/CBO accounts will allow users to handle applications in all 58 counties by October 2023.

What if I do not already have a CBO account?

If you do not have an account, you can request a new BenefitsCal login by selecting “Log In” and then “Register Your CBO Account.” Counties will approve CBO registrations. For more information, check out this YouTube video and this reference guide for CBOs.

How does a CBO account in BenefitsCal work?

CBO accounts in BenefitsCal will be set up with a “manager” role. This CBO Manager Account will be able to create assister accounts/logins for other people in their organization. They can also track and manage applications developed by the assister accounts that they create.

There is no limit to the number of CBO Manager Accounts and assister accounts, but CBOs should be strategic in how many accounts they set up. Organizations with multiple locations can choose to have combined or separate accounts. Counties are expected to have their own processes for managing and monitoring CBO Manager Account creation (to prevent duplication).

*Tip: Learn more about the CBO accounts in this Quick Guide.

What should I do if I have a problem with BenefitsCal?

Applicants should contact their county for help. Find your county’s contact information here and here. You can also report problems directly to BenefitsCal by submitting an online inquiry: visit CalSAWS.org, select the green “Ask CalSAWS” button at the top right, and submit your information.

BenefitsCal and CalSAWS have set up a “Command Center” to support county employees. Counties can contact office-level support staff, Change Network Champions, Technical Points of Contact, and other resources to get answers to functional questions and report challenges.

You can also contact an advocacy organization to help you navigate an issue and get a resolution. Here is a list of organizations and contacts that may be able to help you:

What are some limitations with BenefitsCal?

BenefitsCal will get better with time. Some features are still unavailable. Advocates are pressing BenefitsCal to fix them soon. Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. BenefitsCal sometimes asks questions that are not needed. Especially for questions about immigration status and people not applying for benefits, some questions are irrelevant. You can click the “NEXT” button to skip optional and irrelevant questions.
  2.  Applicants should contact their counties for language assistance. (County contact information here and here).
  3. While the questions will be available in multiple languages, BenefitsCal only allows consumers and assisters to enter English-language letters and characters into the system. BenefitsCal will not accept other letters and characters (ñ, é, ó, Հայերեն, 한국어, русский, 中文, Tiếng Việt, ລາວ, etc.). In BenefitsCal, you will need to use English-language letters.
  4. The “Do I Qualify” and “See If You Qualify” chatbot screener may ask unnecessary questions. Remember you can always submit an application – even if the chatbot screener says you may not qualify.
  5. At different parts of the application, BenefitsCal will ask you for personal information, like your race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These questions are optional. Your answers do not impact your eligibility for benefits. Counties will only use the answers for civil rights statistics.
  6. If you are only applying for Medi-Cal, you do not need to confirm that your shots (vaccines) are up to date. This is only required for CalWORKs applicants under age 6. BenefitsCal will remove the question for Medi-Cal applicants soon.
  7. If you are only applying for Medi-Cal, you do not need to answer the question “Is anyone on strike?” This question should not be in the application.
  8. BenefitsCal may ask you to upload documents that are not required, including for people that are not applying for benefits. If you are nervous about submitting documents, you can ask county workers to confirm which documents are required to process your application.
  9. BenefitsCal did not develop an integrated Release of Information (ROI) for assister/CBO accounts to access case information. This is a pending request that will be resolved later in 2022. Since there is no way to grant permissions within BenefitsCal, only limited information is available on the website for assisters/CBOs. You can still have applicants sign an ROI and send it to the county to get information directly from a county eligibility worker.

If there are other suggestions you have for improving the BenefitsCal website, you can submit them through the BenefitsCal website at https://benefitscal.com/public/HPAOS.

Where can advocates learn more about BenefitsCal and CalSAWS?

Consumer advocates have been working for years to make BenefitsCal work. And we still have a lot of work to do! If you want to join our effort, check out this advocate toolkit and recorded training. For more information, please contact David Kane at dkane[at]wclp.org or the CalSAWS Advocate Co-Leads:

Jennifer Tracy: jennifer[at]jenntracy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.