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PRESS RELEASE: LA County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Emergency Food Assistance to Eligible Households

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.

Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

The lawsuit—filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days.

“CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food,” said Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles. “When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.”

“Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic,” said Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN). “These county delays make it harder for people—especially houseless people—to access food and take care of their health.”

In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering,” said Western Center on Law & Poverty attorney Alex Prieto. “Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.”

“The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.”

Read the full complaint here.

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Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County.   Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

 

 

 

Want Equity? Start when kids learn how to read.

I am a parent in the process of looking for the best education path for my son. As an attorney at Western Center who often works on issues pertaining to child welfare, I am also interested in advocacy around access to and quality of education – especially for kids of color like mine. A lot of what happens in education is a direct reflection of our nation’s “commitment” to racial equity issues (which is to say, we’re not that committed), and to science. For those committed to racial equity and ending the school to prison pipeline, there is no other option but to be interested in and committed to this issue.

To make a long story short — there is well-researched scientific evidence about how people learn to read, usually distilled into what is called the “Science of Reading,” which has been around for 20 years. There are plenty of news reports, research papers, podcasts, social media groups, and conferences devoted to discussing the “Science of Reading” and best practices in reading instruction. Bafflingly, most school districts do not use curriculum that aligns with the science of reading. This partially contributes to 83% of Black kids and 60% of white kids not being proficient readers by the 4th grade. Unfortunately, the most recently released National Assessment of Education Progress “NAEP” scores show startling declines in math and reading proficiency among our nation’s youth, and widening gaps for Black and Latinx youth.

Change is on the horizon, however, in part because of books like “The Knowledge Gap” and other forms of advocacy, but it’s surprising that it has taken so long to catch on. As a nation, we have a lot of problems when it comes to listening to science. We blame Black and brown children for failing to meet reading proficiency standards despite evidence that we are not teaching them based on scientifically sound methods. We are wasting public funds, resources, and most importantly, human potential.

San Francisco Unified School District adopted a curriculum that is not at all aligned with the science of reading, which was actually banned in Berkeley as a result of a lawsuit because it does such a poor job of teaching kids to read. Meanwhile, in places like Milwaukee, parents have successfully advocated for more science-based approaches to learning. Colorado, Arkansas, Mississippi, and other states already have laws on the books requiring science of reading based approaches, which have achieved positive results.

From my view as an advocate and parent, the science provides a clear call to action for helping our kids reach their potential: (1) reading instruction should be part of general education through 5th grade and likely through middle school; (2) schools should be required to use curriculum aligned with the science of reading; (3) teachers should be trained in college on the science of reading, which would require new legislation in several states including California; (4) early childhood education students should be trained on early science of reading methods and how to spot early signs of reading difficulties.

Reading proficiency is fundamental in this society – especially when we talk about lifting families out of poverty. It’s a relatively easy intervention, we just need a commitment to following proven methods for teaching kids how to read. Sticking our heads in the sand when the evidence is clear is a disservice to children, families, and their communities – our systems of education must adjust to meet the needs of our kids.

EPIC News – October 2021


Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up

The California legislative season is over, and many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen to become law. Our 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up includes Western Center’s collection of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year. Highlights include:

  • SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act: Seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.
  • SB 65 – The California Momnibus: an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close the existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state.

Garden Party Success! 

A huge thank you to everyone who attended and supported this year’s Garden Party, our signature event highlighting Western Center’s ongoing efforts to fight poverty in California. Special thanks to this year’s incredible honorees and sponsors. If you were unable to attend Garden Party but still want to contribute, you can do so here. We need your help to reach our fundraising goal!

If you would like to see a snippet from Garden Party, check out our We Are Western Center video!


Meet Western Center’s Newest Team Members 

We are excited to introduce our newest team members, Lorraine López, Kathryn Evans, Abraham Zavala, and fellow Liv Williams! Find out more about Lorraine, Kathryn, Abraham, and Liv here.


Latina Equal Pay Day

October 21st was Latina Equal Pay Day, marking the number of days into 2021 Latinas had to work to catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made last year. Overall, Latinas make 57 cents to a white man’s dollar, if they are mothers, that number goes down to 46 cents. Latina Equal Pay Day marks the final Equal Pay Day of 2021 — Latinas must work the most to get paid the least.

Latinas are the foundation of so many communities, and ultimately, this country and many others. In the conversations about what work is considered essential, Latinas are often mentioned, yet they are hardly compensated accordingly. That is why Western Center worked so hard as part of the coalition that got SB 62 signed into law this year to protect California’s garment workers – many of whom are Latinas making well below minimum wage despite their critical role upholding the fashion industry. It is our hope that SB 62 sets a standard not only for how Latinas are treated and paid in the garment industry, but also that it continues conversations about reforms needed in other sectors.


Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up 

The  2021 California legislative season is over, and Governor Newsom has signed the bills that will become law. Many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen, including groundbreaking legislation like SB 62, which makes California an international leader in the fight to end exploitation of people working in the garment industry, and SB 65, which implements proven interventions to lower California’s unacceptably high mortality rate for Black and Indigenous people who give birth here. 

Below is our slate of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year.


HIGHLIGHTS

SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.  

SB 65 – The California Momnibus is an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state. 


FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 461 – CalWORKs Self Employment: Creates a more accessible pathway for CalWORKs recipients to choose self-employment as a work activity. This bill is timely as the state begins to rebuild its economy, which will heavily rely on the talents and creativity of Californians with an entrepreneurial spirit. 


HEALTH

AB 326 – Removes the sunset clause to permanently extend the Consumer Protection Program, which awards advocacy fees to any person or organization that represents the interests of consumers and has made a substantial contribution on regulations, orders, or decisions, within the Department of Managed Health Care.

AB 1020 – Enforcement of the Hospital Fair Pricing Act: We hope that passage of this bill means patients no longer need lawyers to benefit from the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. This bill rose directly out of our legal services partners’ experience in trying to enforce the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. Major components include prohibiting hospitals from selling debt to debt buyers unless they meet all the current standards applicable to debt collectors and agree to take a bill back if the patient should have gotten financial assistance, Medi-Cal, or another payor for their bill; requiring debt collectors and debt buyers to also send patients applications for financial assistance; and increasing eligibility for patients for financial assistance from 350% of the poverty level to 400%.

AB 1355 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Expands Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries to ensure more beneficiaries can access medically necessary care. Also improves the state’s fair hearing process. 

SB 644 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Allows California’s unemployment department to share information with Covered California when someone applies for or loses benefits to help individuals apply for Covered California or Medi-Cal.


HOUSING

AB 832 – Extended the temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until September 31, 2021. The bill also created additional tenant protections in court that may halt an eviction if the tenant qualifies and has an approved application for rent relief. For more information, please refer to our COVID-19 tenant relief fact sheet. To apply for financial assistance please visit housingiskey.com.

AB 838 – Enforcement Response to Housing Complaints: Prohibits local code inspection agencies in California from implementing restrictions or preconditions before responding to tenant habitability complaints. The bill specifically prohibits code enforcement agencies from refusing to inspect a unit based on unreasonable conditions, including on the basis that the tenant is behind on rent, is alleged to be in violation of their lease, or is currently in an unlawful detainer (eviction) or other legal dispute with the landlord.

AB 1304 – Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Strengthens requirements for cities and counties to analyze and proactively address fair housing issues as part of their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The bill requires the housing element to include an analysis of how the jurisdiction’s inventory of housing affirmatively furthers fair housing; requires that in assessing contributing factors to fair housing issues, jurisdictions look through both a local and a regional lens, take race into account, and examine historical context; and requires jurisdictions to state explicit goals, objectives, and policies related to affirmatively furthering fair housing. 

SB 91 – Expanded protections provided by AB 3088 (2020) and established a statewide rental relief program that pays up to 100% of arrears, prospective rent, and utilities for households experiencing COVID-19 financial hardships. The bill also extended a temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until June 2021. SB 91 prohibited landlords from charging or attempting to charge late fees and explicitly prohibits the sale or assignment of any unpaid COVID-19 rental debt. 

Challenging Unjust Juvenile Fee Collection for Families in Riverside

Last month, Western Center filed a motion for class certification in our case, Freeman v. Riverside County, which challenges how Riverside County charged fees to parents and guardians whose children were involved in the juvenile legal system. The case was filed together with our co-counsel, the National Center for Youth Law.

Families were charged daily “costs of support” – $30 or so per day for each day their child was in detention. State law required the county to assess families’ ability to afford the costs, which were often thousands of dollars, and provide procedural due process before collecting. Riverside did nothing – just calculated the fees and sent the totals to collection. Our case seeks to shine a light on this abuse of government authority, and asks for a refund of illegally collected fees.

Fortunately, the authority to charge these types of juvenile fees has been eliminated in California, as well as counties’ ability to collect older fees. The story behind this case is important, not just for accountability in Riverside, but also because there are still many fees charged to overpoliced communities in California.

Cases like this one demonstrate why advocates are fighting for abolition of juvenile and adult criminal fees – not a reduction or ability to pay process. There are important racial equity principles behind that goal, because of who the juvenile and adult legal systems target. There are also common sense administrative policy reasons for fee abolition, mainly that ability to pay processes are inequitable and don’t work. Our case in Riverside shows that even when state law requires an ability to pay process, it is not followed, or it’s followed so ineptly or inconsistently that it becomes meaningless. Ability to pay processes also replicate racial bias in the courts and legal system.

As this case proceeds, I must share our appreciation and admiration for our clients who have worked with us on this case for over two years, and for their bravery in telling their stories. We are hopeful for a good outcome, and that the class data we may be able to obtain illustrates why shifting the cost of government onto individuals through user fees causes inequity, and in a nutshell, constitutes wealth stripping from low income communities and communities of color.

EPIC News – September 2021


Accessing Health Care in a Disaster

September is National Preparedness Month, so Western Center’s health team created a resource to help Californians access health care during a disaster, and condensed it into a blog post. Survivors of disaster have a right to health care when, where, and how they need it – unfortunately, they might have to fight for it. We recommend reading the full resource for detailed information about special rights and remedies available to survivors seeking prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment, physician and specialist care, eligibility and coverage, health plan enrollment changes and more.


Awaiting the Governor’s Signature

The California Legislature is out of session – now we have until October 10th for the governor to sign our bills to make them law. We will provide a full roundup of our 2021 legislative efforts after things settle next month. In the meantime, here are a few priorities we are working hard to get the governor to sign:

  • AB 1020 – Health Care Debt and Fair Billing: Ensures Californians don’t need a lawyer to get financial assistance for hospital bills, and that more people are eligible for help with medical debt, which is the largest source of debt collection in the U.S. and disproportionately impacts people of color.
  • AB 1461 – Benefits for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and Asylum Applicants: To offer access to critical state and local services for non-citizen survivors of domestic violence and parental mistreatment, children who are abandoned or neglected, and people who fear persecution.
  • AB 1487 – Homelessness Prevention Fund: Helps California tenants access legal representation during eviction. Western Center policy advocate Tina Rosales wrote an op-ed explaining why AB 1487 is necessary, drawing on her experience working as a tenant attorney in Los Angeles.
  • SB 65 – California’s Momnibus Act: Implements interventions to address race-related pregnancy and birthing mortality disparities for parents and infants in California. Western Center policy advocate Jen Flory and coalition partner Nourbese Flint from Black Women for Wellness wrote an opinion in CalMatters outlining the need for SB 65.

Native American Day in California

September 24th was Native American Day in California, which is home to the country’s largest Native population, and second largest number of tribes. Native American Day honors those who first lived in what is now California, and this year Governor Newsom signed a series of bills aimed at advancing equity and providing support for Native communities across the state. As with all days, weeks, and months of acknowledgement, there is still much to be done not only to repair past and present injustices, but also to incorporate Native wisdom into plans for a more inclusive, sustainable future. The federal Native American Heritage Month is in November.


Latinx/ Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th – October 15th is Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, when we recognize the incredible contributions, talent, culture, spirit, and diversity of Latinx/ Hispanic communities in the United States and beyond. Diversity is one of the most dynamic parts about the Latinx/ Hispanic experience, which is reflected in ongoing conversations about how people choose to identify. This piece from NPR provides context for the development of the term “Hispanic” in the United States, the history of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the ongoing conversations around it. And this piece from Human Rights Campaign does an excellent job explaining the rise of “Latinx” as a term that is more inclusive of gender non-conforming people.

With Latinx/ Hispanic people making up almost 20 percent of the U.S. population and close to 40 percent of the population of California, there’s a lot to do to achieve equity and much-needed representation for Latinx/ Hispanic people and communities. In 2021, Senator Alex Padilla became the first Latino Senator from California, despite the state’s high Latinx population. Padilla may be the first, but he cannot be the last.


“Party” With Us! 

Invitations are out for our annual Garden Party fundraiser on Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will honor five outstanding individuals whose work compliments Western Center’s mission, and there will be a special A-list musical performance just for attendees! It’s virtual, so join from anywhere. Get details and tickets here.


California voters rejected ‘zero bail.’ Now lawmakers weigh new overhaul of system

“Even with the changes this week, the legislation is supported by groups including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Californians for Safety and Justice.

“We strongly support SB 262 because it moves us closer to a pre-trial system that prioritizes public safety and not the size of a person’s bank account,” the three groups said in a statement. “We continue to champion the bill with its changes because it takes California further from its habit of perpetuating cycles of debt and poverty via incarceration — particularly in over-policed Black and brown communities.”

Read More

 

 

EPIC News – August 2021


Back to Session

The California Legislature is back from summer recess, which means it’s down to the wire for getting bills passed. The last day for each house to pass bills is September 10th. Check here for the status of Western Center bills as they reach the end of this year’s session.


Fighting to End Wage Theft in California’s Garment Industry

Earlier this month, to kick of the Legislature’s return, our partners at Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles loaded a bus at midnight, after a long day of work, to come to Sacramento to advocate for SB 62, The Garment Worker Protection Act, which seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages. We are co-sponsoring the bill with the Garment Worker Center for the second year in a row because California is home to widespread workplace injustice. In fact, Los Angeles is understood to be the sweatshop capital of the United States.

Currently, many brands producing in California (some selling $78 t-shirts) pay garment workers as little at 11 cents per piece – leaving wages well below the state minimum. California can and should do better to ensure economic dignity for the thousands of workers in its substantial garment industry by passing SB 62.

Check out the video from our day in Sacramento with the Garment Worker Center.


Big Win in Los Angeles for COVID Tenant Protections

Last week, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Los Angeles’ COVID tenant protections, which were challenged by The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. Western Center and our partners at Public Counsel, The Public Interest Law Project, and Susman Godfrey LLP represent two tenants’ rights organizations, ACCE Action and Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), who successfully sought to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ordinances.

The recent Ninth Circuit decision is an important affirmation of the ongoing need for COVID protections to protect public health and keep people housed.

Western Center senior attorney Nisha Vyas explains more about the case here.


Women’s Equality Day & Women’s Equal Pay Day

August 26th was Women’s Equality Day, the day we remember the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted some women in the United States the right to vote. Of course, back in 1920 there were plenty of other systemic barriers to voting, especially for women of color. Too much of that struggle still exists today, which is why we must remember the fights that brought us the rights we have now, as well as the work that remains. To that end, we hope every California voter reading this will cast a ballot in the Gubernatorial Recall Election on or before September 14th.

Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is coming up on September 8th; according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, Native Women earn approximately 60 cents on the dollar of white, non-Hispanic men. September 8th is the day Native women must work into 2021 to make what white men made by the end of 2020. The Equal Pay Day movement includes days of acknowledgement throughout the year that represent the dates women must work into a new year to be paid what men were paid the previous year.


Garden Party: Mark Your Calendar! 

Western Center’s annual Garden Party fundraiser is Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will highlight our work from the year and honor the amazing contributions of five stellar individuals. And since it’s virtual, you can join from wherever you are!

Get details and tickets here.


EPIC News – July 2021


Western Center Awarded $15,000!

Thank you for voting in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge! Because of your votes, we will receive $15,000 to support our advocacy. Thank you!


California Budget Update

The dust is mostly settled for the 2021-22 California budget; we break things down by Western Center priority area in this Budget Overview. There is a lot of good news in this budget, including the biggest investment in health care in California since the implementation of the ACA, as it becomes the first state to remove exclusions to Medi-Cal for adults 50+, young adults, and children, regardless of immigration status. The budget will also eliminate the draconian Medi-Cal assets test by 2024, and includes many priorities from SB 65, California’s Momnibus bill that we are co-sponsoring this year to close the state’s racial gaps in birth outcomes. While the budget includes many components of SB 65, we will continue to push the bill to further address the state’s disparate birthing outcomes.

After two decades of advocacy, this year’s California state budget also includes reparations for victims of forced sterilization in women’s prisons, making California the first state in the country to compensate survivors of state sterilization. Reparations are an important step in confronting California’s legacy of reproductive violence against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty, as well as for other reparations movements. PBS’ Belly of the Beast follows the historic movement for reparations for survivors of forced sterilization in California.


Emergency Broadband, Tenant Fact Sheet, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

Thanks to the advocacy of the National Urban League and other community partners, funds are now available to make the internet more accessible for households with low incomes. Each month, $50 will go directly to broadband providers on behalf of eligible customers. $100 is also available for purchase of new equipment, like a computer or tablet. Learn more here.

Alongside our coalition to keep Californians safely housed amidst the pandemic, we published an update to our California Tenant Relief Fact Sheet. Last month, California extended statewide renter protections and updated how California renters and landlords receive financial help; the fact sheet explains what it all means. The fact sheet is also available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Vietnamese.

August 3rd is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which, according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, is “the approximate day a Black woman must work into the new year to make what a white non-Hispanic man made at the end of the previous year.” Black women earn only 63% of what white men earn, so there is A LOT to do to reach pay equity. The Equal Pay Day movement also includes different days of acknowledgement for each BIPOC group — some earlier in the year, and some still to come. We must all keep working to uplift women of color, especially Black women, because as Malcolm X said, the lowest baseline this country has is for its treatment of Black women. If we can fix that, we can fix this country.

Assisting Vulnerable Populations: How providing medical records and completing medical certification forms can be life changing.

“Helen Tran, Rutzick’s colleague and an attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, was part of a team that advocated for Assembly Bill (AB) 2520, effective January 1, 2021, which was the bill that created this requirement for healthcare providers to provide a copy of a patient’s medical records at no charge to an employee of a nonprofit legal services entity that represents a patient, such as Inner City Law Center.”

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