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Western Center’s 2019 Budget & Legislative Victories

16 Western Center bills were signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this year, marking huge wins for California. Of note are two renter protection bills, AB 1482, now one of the nation’s most expansive anti-rent gouging and just cause for eviction laws, and SB 329, which prohibits discrimination against housing voucher holders.

For health care, SB 464 will require perinatal health providers to undergo implicit bias training to address the maternal mortality rate for black women in California, which is 4-5 times higher than it is for white women. For financial security, SB 616 outlaws the ability of debt collectors to drain people’s bank accounts, leaving them without funds for necessary day-to-day expenses. These legislative victories are in addition to big wins achieved in the state budget earlier this year.

See the full suite of Western Center’s 2019 budget and legislative victories below!

As CoveredCA Enrollment Opens, Groups Trumpet Progress in 2019

This has been a banner year for making health care more accessible and affordable in California, according to consumer and health advocacy groups.

The open enrollment period for CoveredCA, which started this week, was expanded significantly – so people can now sign up for subsidized coverage on the individual market through end of January.

The state also expanded Medi-Cal to all low-income people under age 26, regardless of immigration status.

… Linda Nguy, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, praises a new bill to require better data sharing and implicit bias training for health care providers, in order to reduce the mortality rates for black women in childbirth.

“We’ve seen in California that, while the state has drastically decreased maternal mortality, for black women, the maternal mortality rates remain three to four times higher than for other women,” she states.

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Statement on proposed state ballot measure to address homelessness in California

An initiative aimed at addressing homelessness in California has been submitted to the California Attorney General for the 2020 ballot, which purports “to get help for those who need it, and thereby also greatly reduce nuisance behavior on our streets.”

The initiative is an embarrassing attempt to make California more visually appealing to those who have no interest or knowledge in addressing the root causes of what is happening to people in our state and country. This proposal would take California back into the dark ages of mass institutionalization of people with perceived or real mental illness. This is not new. California has tried this before, and it didn’t work.

Western Center firmly believes this measure is illegal under a number of civil rights laws. Separate from the legal issues, there are a multitude of problems with the measure. This is not a moderate or compromise proposal, but rather, a return to the now debunked “broken windows” theory Rudy Giuliani used in New York City in the 1990s. Such zero tolerance approaches only exacerbate racial and class disparities through an overly aggressive criminal justice system.

In his letter introducing the initiative, its author, former State Assemblymember Mike Gatto, states, “One side primarily believes the government should be more aggressive in making our streets safer for all people. The other side thinks government should be more lenient, believing that economic hardships are the singular cause.” 

The idea that there are only two sides to this complicated issue is overly simplistic. Homelessness is the result of rapidly increasing income inequality, but it is also the result of years of government mismanagement of resources and funding, as well as institutionalized racism. Voters in Los Angeles just approved significant funding for homeless services, yet countless individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles continue to go without access to services.

Many of the people who currently live on the streets are victims of our foster-care system, or are veterans who served in one of this country’s numerous wars. In those situations, intervention of vital mental health services would have changed the trajectory away from the streets, but because of local and state government’s lack of implementation oversight or commitment to making sure people get the help they need early on, many of those people are left with only the street to turn to.

The State of California has not prioritized providing services or housing for the ~130,000 people experiencing homelessness here. The idea that the state would now have the resources and wherewithal to create and maintain the vast network of institutions this measure would require is absurd.

Gatto’s proposal would require courts to sentence people with substance use disorders or mental illness to maximum criminal sentences. It then allows courts to force people to serve those sentences in locked mental health or drug rehabilitation facilities. Once they have served those sentences, the court has the discretion to keep people locked in those same facilities. Upon completion of the sentence, courts then get to decide whether the individual’s criminal record can be expunged. This will, unquestionably, steer extremely low-income people into the criminal justice system.

The proposition also requires courts to help those without economic means to secure and access housing and other government services, yet it does not provide any funding mechanism to actually increase the services available. 

Institutionalization does not work; all one has to do is look at the massive failure that is America’s prison industrial complex. This measure will NOT end homelessness — it’s not even a workable band-aid. 

There are proven solutions that this initiative ignores. The state can ensure that the millions of dollars being allocated for homeless services actually get to the people who need them, where they need them. There have not been nearly enough good-faith efforts to make sure people receive the services needed to get back on their feet. 

Local and state governments should make sure people have easy access to mental health services when they are wanted and needed. This measure solely blames the victims, but does nothing to hold the systems accountable that put them there in the first place. Mass homelessness is a societal and government failure, and this measure lets government off the hook.

The state must also ensure that safe, stable, and affordable housing is available to everyone. Service delivery is infinitely more effective when people are housed. 

California purports to be a leader for the country and the world, but this measure is more in-line with the regressive policies coming from Washington DC than a state that claims to be on the path toward Governor Newsom’s “California For All.”

If #CaliforniaForAll is to be more than just a pithy hashtag, we absolutely cannot start involuntarily institutionalizing the victims of this country’s out-of-control economic system, failed health care system, centuries of legalized racism and discrimination, and never-ending wars.

If this initiative moves forward, Gatto and his supporters can expect a fight from Western Center and our allies. 

Western Center Submits Comments Opposing SNAP Categorical Eligibility Rule Proposal

The comment period has ended for the USDA’s proposed rule to end a long-standing and widely used rule that eases the application and retention burden for families in need of food assistance. If implemented, the change could impact over 120,000 California households, most of whom are working, by making them newly ineligible for SNAP food assistance.

An excerpt from Western Center’s comments:

The Western Center on Law and Poverty is deeply concerned by attempts to restrict food assistance to the individuals whom we and our partners serve in California. We strongly support the twin goals of preventing hunger and supporting economic mobility, both of which are best achieved when states can account for high housing, child care and health care costs, and help SNAP participants save money to weather financial setbacks. We believe that the Administration’s proposed changes to categorical eligibility will work in opposition to these goals. If the proposed rule goes into effect, it will cause an estimated 250,000 to 345,800 Californians, who are already struggling to meet their basic needs, to lose their SNAP benefits. Hunger does not help anyone exit poverty and, in fact, has been proven to do the opposite: to leave children and adults alike to experience long and short-term consequences of poor nutrition that undermines their wellbeing and economic security. We respectfully request that the Administration consider the comments in our letter and the information in the attached appendices, and that the Administration withdrawal the proposed rule from consideration.

Western Center’s full comments can be read here.

Lost in translation: Information for Medi-Cal’s beneficiaries

In this op-ed, Western Center health policy advocate Jen Flory and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network’s Kiran Savage-Sangwan explain the need for AB 318, a law awaiting signature by Governor Newsom. If signed into law, the bill will require native language speakers to workshop and approve Medi-Cal managed care plan documents for non-English speaking consumers. Right now, many of the translations patients receive have terrible translations – including large portions that are not translated at all. This bill would address that by ensuring translations, which are required by state law, actually make sense to the people who need them.

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No more waiting

More than two years after an independent audit raised alarm bells about special-ed classes, youth advocacy groups don’t see change coming without legal action.

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The California city where students with disabilities are ‘segregated’

In the Sacramento city school district, nearly half of students with disabilities are separated from peers. A lawsuit claims the district is violating federal law.

…Antionette Dozier, an attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of four legal organizations representing the students, said it is a familiar issue but one that is starkest in the state’s capital.

“This is a statewide problem. However, Sacramento is probably the most egregious in terms of racial segregation and the treatment of black students,” Dozier said.

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Advocacy groups file suit to block Trump’s new ‘public charge’ immigration rule

Several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Friday to block the Trump administration’s recently finalized “public charge” rule, which would make it harder for legal immigrants to stay in the country.

The National Immigration Law Center, Western Center on Law and Poverty, National Health Law Program and Asian Americans Advancing Justice filed the complaint in a California federal court.

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PRESS RELEASE – Western Center & Partners File Lawsuit to Stop Trump Administration “Public Charge” Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trump “Public Charge” Regulation Unlawful, Lawsuit Claims

Nonprofits aim to block policy targeting millions of families of color

 

SAN FRANCISCO — Nonprofits serving immigrant communities and advocates for racial equity, health, children, farmworkers, and working families today filed suit to block implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation, which threatens millions of immigrant families — disproportionally families of color. La Clínica de la Raza et al. v. Trump et al., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks the court to declare the regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unlawful and unconstitutional. DHS finalized the regulation on August 14, 2019.

“The public charge regulation is an attack on the culturally diverse families we serve, threatening their health and their very lives,” said Jane Garcia, chief executive officer of La Clínica de La Raza. “We will stand with our patients and their families and fight this.”

In addition to La Clínica de la Raza, the suit was brought by African Communities Together, the California Primary Care Association, the Central American Resource Center, the Council on American Islamic Relations – California, Farmworker Justice, the Korean Resource Center, the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and Maternal and Child Health Access. The plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the National Health Law Program and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The complaint argues that the regulation was motivated by racial bias against nonwhite immigrants and asks the court to strike it down as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As indicators of a motivating racial animus, the complaint cites the administration’s acknowledgement that the policy will have a disparate impact on families of color, President Donald Trump’s own racist statements, and his administration’s other racially-biased policies.

“Donald Trump pushed to execute innocent Black men wrongly accused of murder. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville ‘very fine people.’ He slurred Black immigrants from Haiti and Nigeria. And he froze or cancelled protected status for immigrants from majority-Black countries. Donald Trump’s words and his actions have consistently targeted Black families,” said Amaha Kassa, founder and executive director of African Communities Together. “When Ken Cuccinelli, the man who signed this regulation, goes on the radio and says ‘not everyone has the right to be an American,’ Black families know exactly who he’s talking about.”

“This rule change is a direct attack on communities of color and their families, and furthers this administration’s desire to make this country work primarily for the wealthy and white. Our immigration system cannot be based on the racial animosities of this administration, or whether or not people are wealthy,” said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“This expansion of the rule is part and parcel of the administration’s crusade to instill fear in immigrant communities of color,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA). “By including criteria such as English language proficiency as a negative factor for obtaining permanent residency, the administration is telling immigrants that they are not welcome here. This is unacceptable. Xenophobia has no place in our country, let alone our laws.”

Plaintiffs also assert that the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious. The complaint also argues that the regulation is invalid because the official who approved its publication, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, was appointed in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

More than 260,000 public comments were submitted on the draft regulation last fall, the vast majority in opposition. The regulation targets programs that serve whole families — Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Section 8 housing assistance — meaning its impact will extend well beyond immigrants directly affected. As a result, experts warn, the regulation will result in increases in hunger, unmet health and housing needs, and poverty. Because affected immigrants are overwhelmingly immigrants of color, the rule is also expected to widen racial disparities. Independent analysts estimate that the regulation threatens millions of people. A significant portion of those threatened by the regulation were born in the U.S., and nearly a third of those are children.

“This rule is a scare tactic designed to create fear and confusion in immigrant communities. The devastating effects will reach even further than the text of the rule itself, as immigrants and their families forgo vital food, housing, and health care services,” said Jane Perkins, legal director at the National Health Law Program.

La Clínica de la Raza and other plaintiffs are health care providers and other nonprofit organizations that seek to protect access to health care, nutrition, housing, and other government benefits for immigrants of color, regardless of their immigration status or financial means. The complaint asserts that the public charge regulation threatens their missions and the communities they serve.

“If the changes made to public charge are implemented, this will cause irrevocable damage to our communities. Deterring anyone from seeking public services that help them survive and support their families is inhumane,” said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association. “We have an obligation to our patients and our communities to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of immigration status, which is why we are suing to stop the implementation of this rule.”

“The Trump administration has deliberately designed this policy to target families of color, which is part of its overall blueprint to change the face of what we look like as a nation and who is considered worthy of being an American. It threatens immigrants of color with exclusion and Americans of color with deprivation or family separation. And it aims to deny working-class immigrants of color the ability to thrive in the land of opportunity,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We will not stand for it. We’re fighting back against this racist policy, and we’re going to win the fight to protect immigrant families.”

A recording the conference call regarding this filing is available at https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/public-charge-lawsuit-2019-08-16.mp3.

CONTACT

National Immigration Law Center: Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, media@nilc.org

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Courtney McKinney, 214-395-2755, cmckinney@wclp.org

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles: Alison Vu, avu@advancingjustice-la.org

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Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

California hospitals are providing significantly less free and discounted care to low-income patients since the Affordable Care Act took effect.

…Cori Racela, deputy director at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, countered that many people still need financial assistance because — even with insurance — they struggle to pay their premiums, copays and deductibles.

“The need for charity care has changed,” she said, “but it still exists.”

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