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California Still Has The Nation’s Highest Poverty Rate (Blame Housing Costs)

By many measures, California’s economy is doing great. State unemployment is at a record low. Nearly 3 million jobs have been created since early 2010. If California were its own country, it would have surpassed the UK earlier this year to become the world’s fifth largest economy.

But still, nearly one in five Californians live in poverty. That includes 7.5 million residents, more than in any other state. According to statistics released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, no other state has a higher poverty rate than California’s. Only Florida and Louisiana come statistically close.

But how can so much poverty exist in such a booming economy? The long, complicated answer has to do with the federal government’s different methods for measuring poverty. The short answer? California’s high housing costs.

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San Francisco just got rid of unfair criminal justice fees. Other counties should do the same.

San Francisco resident Mary Vandigriff remembers when her life fell apart at age 19 and she began a 20-year struggle with addiction and cycling in and out of jail.

Since Vandigriff last left jail in March 2017, she got a job at a San Francisco nonprofit, got clean and is repairing her relationships with her kids. But she still struggles, particularly with the thousands of dollars in administrative fees she owes from her time in the criminal justice system.

In San Francisco, people can be charged a $50 monthly probation fee; $1,800 is typically charged up front since probation usually lasts for three years. They can be charged as much as $35 a day for an electronic ankle monitor, and other fees to pay for reports, collection costs or tests. These fees exist in every California county, and are among the highest in the country.

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California Hospitals Must Cough Up Millions To Meet Charity Care Rules

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has ordered three California hospitals to pay out millions of dollars to local nonprofits, declining their requests to be freed from charity obligations required under state law.

The hospitals, based in the Central Valley and Los Angeles, argued that there isn’t as much need to support charity care because millions more people have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and therefore don’t need as much financial help to pay medical bills.

Becerra’s refusal signals his agreement with health consumer advocates, who argue that patients still are struggling to pay their bills, even when they have insurance. While it applies to just a few hospitals, the decision sends a message to hospitals around the state, some of which want similar relief.

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California Schools To Target Parents For School Lunch Debt, Not Kids

A new California law will put an end to shaming students for unpaid school lunch fees.

Michele Stillwell-Parvensky knows firsthand about school lunch shaming. When she was a kid in third grade she was denied meals for several days because the cafeteria records showed her mom hadn’t paid the lunch fee.

“I was probably hungry those days,” Stillwell-Parvensky said. “But what I remember the most vividly was being very embarrassed, thinking that I had done something wrong but not knowing what it was.”

It turned out to be a misunderstanding.

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San Diego Unified Has Slashed Its Busing Program

Buses no longer run from Michelle Huffaker’s neighborhood in University City to the magnet school her daughter attends, more than 20 miles away in Paradise Hills. So in the mornings, Huffaker drives her daughter two miles to Clairemont, where she catches the bus to school.

Now, on top of the $500 bill she pays to the school district for busing each year, she also pays bus fees for the MTS bus her daughter has to catch when neither parent is available to pick her up from school. Those cost $2.50 a ride, or $36 for a monthly pass.

“It’s not free and equal access to education if you can’t afford to get your child to school. Part of going to school is getting to school,” Huffaker said. “It should be illegal to charge for that.”

Bus fees are fairly common in California, one of 12 states that allows school districts to charge parents fees for the school bus. San Diego Unified started charging in the 2010-2011 school year.

The district provides free transportation to students who have disabilities and those who qualify for free lunch – but that doesn’t mean any student who qualifies for free lunch qualifies for free transportation. It means they qualify where busing is available.

For an increasing number of students, buses aren’t available to take them to school at all.

In the past seven years, the district has slashed its busing options.

In 2010-2011, the district ran 2,300 bus routes and transported 17,500 students daily. This year, it’s down to 1,439 routes moving 9,330 students a day. And the district continues to cut.

Last year, for example, the district stopped busing new students who needed transportation out of schools in Program Improvement, a program created under No Child Left Behind that gave students the right to transfer out of struggling schools. Program Improvement will no longer be a consideration for busing, but the district said it will continue to offer transportation to students already being bused under the program.

In 2011, the district increased the distance magnet school students had to walk before they qualified for busing. Where busing is available, magnet students used to qualify for transportation if they had to walk two miles to get to school. Now, they don’t qualify unless they have to walk five miles or more.

Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Policy, said she’s concerned to hear that students are not only losing access to buses, but that the district is charging fees and sending parents to a collections agency if they can’t pay on time.

“I’m horrified to hear that a school district is bilking parents for school bus fees. California’s Constitution says that children have a right to a free public education and this practice undermines that fundamental right.”

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Kids with School Lunch Debt Still Face Lunch-Shaming, Despite Outrage

A review of school districts’ policies finds slow and inconsistent change in ending lunch shaming.

When New Mexico passed the first comprehensive law banning lunch shaming last April, the state made visible what anti-hunger advocates, school food professionals, and lower-income families have known for decades: Children with school-meal debt can be stigmatized in the cafeteria.

If social media is any guide, the idea of singling out kids with unpaid balances—by making them do chores, denying them a meal, serving them a cold cheese sandwich, or stamping their arms or hands—has been met with almost universal disapproval.

And while the recent coverage has lead to an apparent uptick in private philanthropy efforts to cover families’ meal debt—including one to honor Philando Castile’s legacy by paying off the lunch debt at his school—the question remains: Has the moral outrage by politicians, celebrities, and ordinary citizens done anything to meaningfully curb lunch shaming?

A recent survey of 50 large districts by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), an anti-hunger advocacy group, showed no significant sea change, even though districts were required for the first time to put their meal debt policies in writing by July 1.

Of the 40 districts surveyed that have written policies in place, only 13 have a policy requiring schools to serve school meals to all children regardless of ability to pay. The remaining 27 districts take a variety of approaches to meal debt, with 10 denying meals to high school students as soon as they have an outstanding balance—and some of those to middle school students as well. And 17 districts reported placing a cap on the number of regular meals served before a meal is denied, with some imposing the cap only on older children and taking a more lenient stance with those in elementary school.

The FRAC survey also found that when districts do provide meals to students who can’t pay, in many cases it’s still a cold, alternate meal such as a peanut butter sandwich. And when it comes to especially stigmatizing practices such as the use of hand stamps or wrist bands, FRAC found that “most school districts do not mention shaming acts in their policy [and] only a few have explicit language that prohibits the stigmatizing of children who cannot pay for their meals.”

FRAC reported that one district’s policy even states that kids with debt can only get a meal “in exchange for the student performing chores in the kitchen. The student must first apply and be accepted to work in order to receive the meal.”

“The more we learn about how kids are treated when their parents owe lunch money, the more obvious it becomes that national standards banning school lunch shaming are needed,”

said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which conducted similar meal debt policy research to support anti-shaming legislation in California.

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Gov. Brown signs bill to end ‘meal shaming’ in schools

Students in California whose families owe money for school lunches will no longer be given only a snack — a cheese stick, an apple and a glass of milk — or nothing at all, until they’re all paid up. They’ll get the same meal as all the other students.

That’s because Gov. Brown signed SB 250, authored by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles.  The law will ensure that children are not denied a full lunch because of their parents’ debt.  The bill will also end “meal shaming,” the practice used in some districts across the nation of verbally reprimanding students in the lunch line or stamping children’s hands as a reminder to their parents they owe money.

Seeing legislation coming, this year Elk Grove Unified ended its policy of giving kids in debt only a cheese sandwich. Michelle Drake, director of Food and Nutrition Services for the district, told the Sacramento Bee that food service workers encouraged the switch. “It’s just not good for our children and it’s difficult on the staff. The last thing they want to see is a 3rd-grader and 4th-grader with that look on their face. We have changed it up for this school year.”

Districts typically charge a fixed price for meals for students from families who don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies. Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free school meals through the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal program, according to the School Nutrition Association.  Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals. For the 2017-18 school year, 130% of the poverty level is $31,960 for a family of four and 185% is $45,510.

A survey by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supported Hertzberg’s bill, found that many districts didn’t post their policies for students whose families are in arrears in paying for the meals.  Of those that did, several dozen served less than a fully nutritional meal to those children. Torrance Unified, for example, provides “a snack consisting of crackers, a milk and fruit/veggies when a middle or high school student reaches zero balance.” For elementary students, they are allowed to overspend by $12.  These policies only apply to students whose families don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies

The law specifically says that districts are not required indefinitely to give parents a pass on not paying. Instead it requires that districts do all they can to enroll families in the federally subsidized school lunch program and also to notify families  — not bill collectors — of unpaid balances as soon as they are 10 days behind.

Brown signs legislation to end school meal shaming

California school districts will no longer be able to deny students food or give them smaller meals of fruit and milk if they have unpaid lunch fees, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill 250, authored by Sen. Robert M. Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), officially ends this process of “meal shaming,” or punishing students in an effort to get parents to pay for their meals and settle their debts with school districts.

“We must stop school lunch shaming and create a different approach for tackling lunch fee debt,” Hertzberg said in a statement.  “We want to make sure that kids, no matter how poor their families may be, get a nutritious lunch and the energy they need to succeed in school.”

Also known as the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act, the bill requires schools that provide meals through the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program to ensure that students are not shamed, treated differently or served different meals if they have unpaid school meal fees.

It also requires schools to notify parents or guardians of the negative balance on their meal account no later than 10 days after the negative balance appears and requires districts to publish their policies to collect debts from parents who have not paid their meal fees.

If it is later determined that a student is eligible for free or reduced-price meals, then the school district will be reimbursed for the cost of those meals through a state-mandated local program, according to SB 250.

Supporters of the bill argued that the bill will help remove barriers for children who are below the poverty line and who go hungry in schools.

“Our research found that policies which shame children with unpaid school lunch debt are more common in California than we could have ever imagined,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Center on Law and Poverty which supported the bill, in a statement.  “We commend districts that have taken action to end these policies voluntarily, and we thank Governor Brown for signing SB 250 to ban these practices throughout the state.”

In the Santa Clarita Valley, four of the area’s five school districts—Castaic, Newhall, Saugus and Sulphur Springs—receive meal services from the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency (SCVSFSA).

“We don’t turn anyone away or take any meals away,” Lynnelle Grumbles, Chief Executive Officer of SCVSFSA, told The Signal in August. “It certainly is our position that we want every child to eat every day and we feel that the meals we provide helps them learn in the classroom.”

SCVSFSA’s policy, however, does offer reduced meals after a student has received three full, unpaid meals. Then students are told to eat from the salad bar and receive a carton of milk.

“On the fourth meal they can eat from our salad bar,” Grumbles said.  “They don’t get a full meal but they can take as much as they want off the salad bar and they get a carton of milk.”

When this occurs, SCVSFSA employees and volunteers encourage the students to call home and allow parents to make automatic payments online.  They also offer to assist parents or guardians with completing an application for free or reduced-price meals if they need it.

The agency did not take a position on SB 250 before it passed through the legislature and signed by Brown.

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California Passes Law Ending ‘Meal Shaming’ In Schools

The law will ensure that children are not denied a full lunch because of their parents’ debt

Students in California whose families owe money for school lunches will no longer be given only a snack — a cheese stick, an apple and a glass of milk — or nothing at all, until they’re all paid up. They’ll get the same meal as all the other students.

That’s because Gov. Brown signed SB 250, authored by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles. The law will ensure that children are not denied a full lunch because of their parents’ debt. The bill will also end “meal shaming,” the practice used in some districts across the nation of verbally reprimanding students in the lunch line or stamping children’s hands as a reminder to their parents they owe money.

Seeing legislation coming, this year Elk Grove Unified ended its policy of giving kids in debt only a cheese sandwich. Michelle Drake, director of Food and Nutrition Services for the district, told the Sacramento Bee that food service workers encouraged the switch. “It’s just not good for our children and it’s difficult on the staff. The last thing they want to see is a 3rd-grader and 4th-grader with that look on their face. We have changed it up for this school year.”

Districts typically charge a fixed price for meals for students from families who don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free school meals through the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal program, according to the School Nutrition Association. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals. For the 2017-18 school year, 130 percent of the poverty level is $31,960 for a family of four and 185 percent is $45,510.

A survey by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supported Hertzberg’s bill, found that many districts didn’t post their policies for students whose families are in arrears in paying for the meals. Of those that did, several dozen served less than a fully nutritional meal to those children. Torrance Unified, for example, provides “a snack consisting of crackers, a milk and fruit/veggies when a middle or high school student reaches zero balance.” For elementary students, they are allowed to overspend by $12. These policies only apply to students whose families don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies.

The law specifically says that districts are not required indefinitely to give parents a pass on not paying. Instead it requires that districts do all they can to enroll families in the federally subsidized school lunch program and also to notify families ― not bill collectors — of unpaid balances as soon as they are 10 days behind.

The state PTA and the California Teachers Association were among organizations backing the bill. There were no registered opponents.

This story originally appeared on EdSource.org

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Parking ticket payment plan for low-income Californians now state law

For low-income Californians, a parking violation will no longer mean breaking the bank.

On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 503, which will create a parking ticket payment plan for low-income drivers.

“It’s shocking how many Californians owe hundreds of dollars in parking ticket fines and late fees that they have no ability to pay,” the bill’s author Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said in a statement to The Signal Monday. “This new law is all about making sure that all drivers are able to responsibly pay their debts.”

Cities will now be required to offer monthly payment programs and reduced fines before the Department of Motor Vehicles can withhold low-income individuals’ car registration.

Prior to the bill’s passage, unpaid parking tickets could accumulate into hundreds of dollars in fees and prevent drivers from registering their cars if their fines went unpaid.

The DMV was previously required to refuse vehicle registration renewal to someone with unpaid penalties.

This legislation was “long overdue,” according to Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“Just because someone is on a fixed income or low income shouldn’t be a barrier to registering their car as long as they are making payments on the ticket,” Herald said in a statement in June.

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