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Up-to-date COVID-19 information

OVERVIEW

FINANCIAL SECURITY

  • Several provisions of the Executive Order (EO) issued by Governor Newsom following the declaration of disaster due to the COVID-19 Emergency, which allowed recipients of safety net programs (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption or need for re-certification, expired in June. However, several others, like the stop in CalWORKs time clocks and the waiver of interview requirements, will continue as a result of a separate EO issued in June. For a comprehensive summary of that EO, click here.
  • Water and other utility shutoffs for homes and small businesses are suspended while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until April 2021.
  • Here is a Distance Learning Student Resource Guide from the California Department of Social Services. The guide includes information on free or low-cost internet, English language learning, adult education and workforce skills, video conferencing resources, and more.
  • The federal government sent Economic Impact Payments on a pre-paid card. The National Consumer Law Center has prepared this one-pager to explain how to use the card without incurring fees.

FOOD

  • CalFresh Emergency Allotments for September were issued on October 18th. October Emergency Allotments will be issued on November 15th.
  • Restaurant delivery service is available for older Californians. Information and sign-up details for interested participants and restaurants are available here.
  • The California Department of Education has created an app to help families locate meals. For the general CDE COVID-19 resource page, click here.
  • California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) can now purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.

HEALTH

  • Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.
    • If you have Medi-Cal, testing is free.
    • If you are uninsured, testing is also free. You will have to go to a state testing site or one run by your county. You can contact your county public health department, local clinic, and medical provider to receive information about your options for free testing.
    • If you have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan, if it is determined to be medically appropriate by your attending health care provider. This can be any health care professional who is licensed and responsible for providing medical care. Note, this applies to most but not all private health plans.
    • If you are an essential worker and have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan. You can contact your health plan, which will help you secure an appointment for testing. For the purposes of COVID-19 testing, an essential worker is someone who works in the following sectors: health care, home caregiving, congregate care facilities, manufacturing, emergency services, food services, agricultural and food manufacturing, public transportation, correctional facilities, and education.Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.

HOUSING

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More on Financial Security

Several provisions of the Executive Order (EO) issued by Governor Newsom following the declaration of disaster due to the COVID-19 Emergency, which allowed recipients of safety net programs (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption or need for re-certification, expired in June. However, several others, like the stop in CalWORKs time clocks and the waiver of interview requirements, will continue as a result of a separate EO issued in June. For a comprehensive summary of that EO, click here.

Water and other utility shutoffs for homes and small businesses are suspended while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until April 2021. To ensure households keep essential Lifeline wireless and home phone service, the California Public Utilities Commission has suspended its rule requiring people with low-incomes to re-enroll in the Lifeline program, also until April 2021.

Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order to expand child care for essential workers, and help prevent child hunger by taking steps to ensure a broad take-up of Pandemic EBT authorized by the federal Families First Act.

CalFresh Emergency Allotments for September were issued on October 18th. October Emergency Allotments will be issued on November 15th.

California Child Support Services is temporarily stopping the automatic placement of bank liens and suspension of drivers’ licenses, effective on March 17, 2020. Note that there may be instances where actions were already in the process and you will need to contact the agency handling your case. Additional resources and instructions for child support and child support collections during the COVID-19 crisis can be found here.

More on Health Care

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.

If you have Medi-Cal, testing is free. Applications for Medi-Cal will be accepted without proof of income documentation during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have documentation, you should provide it, but it is not mandatory at this time. This is also true for those needing to renew existing coverage – your Medi-Cal will not be cut off if you are unable to provide paperwork. 

If you are uninsured, testing is also free. You will have to go to a state testing site or one run by your county. You can contact your county public health department, local clinic, and medical provider to receive information about your options for free testing.

If you have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan, if it is determined to be medically appropriate by your attending health care provider. This can be any health care professional who is licensed and responsible for providing medical care. Note, this applies to most but not all private health plans.

If you are an essential worker and have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan. You can contact your health plan, which will help you secure an appointment for testing. For the purposes of COVID-19 testing, an essential worker is someone who works in the following sectors: health care, home caregiving, congregate care facilities, manufacturing, emergency services, food services, agricultural and food manufacturing, public transportation, correctional facilities, and education.Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.

Currently, there is a conflict between the California regulation governing health plans for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and federal testing requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act. This conflict in current law might result in a health plan billing you for testing. If this happens and you want assistance with reviewing the bill, please contact Helen Tran at htran[at]wclp.org or (213) 235-2638.

Everyone is encouraged to seek care if they are sick, regardless of income or immigration status. For more information about your right to health care, visit the Health Consumer Alliance’s COVID-19 information site.

More on Housing

Here is Western Center’s Know Your Rights toolkit for California tenants.

The Legislature and Governor announced a deal to temporarily stave off evictions for tenants who can’t afford to pay rent, and the Center for Disease Control issued a federal order stopping evictions for nonpayment until December 31, 2020. Read our analysis of how the laws are likely to interact here. These are not long term solutions. Western Center will be actively involved in the push for better, longer term protection for tenants.

Making Sense of New COVID Eviction Protections (AB 3088 and the CDC Order): Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney, Western Center on Law & Poverty 

Click image below to open in new tab and access hyperlinks

Another helpful resource from our partners at Legal Services of Northern California:

Additional Resources

 

 

 

 

Black Americans Deserve Reparations – California can lead the way

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, article after article has outlined the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black Americans. The information is staggering: according to the CDC, 30 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, though Black people are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. In California, more than 15 percent of people between the ages of 18-49 who died from Covid-19 were Black, but only six percent of Californians are.

Many explanations are offered, all of which undoubtedly play their role: Black Americans are more likely to be employed by public facing jobs that do not have a work from home option, offer little to no sick leave, and/or don’t offer health insurance. Black Americans are also more likely to live with chronic illness, instability in housing due to rental markets, and poverty. 

Although it’s impossible to pin down any one factor on which to direct laser focus, one thing is clear: the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on Black Americans mirrors the various forms of continued, systemic oppression this country has leveraged against Black people since the first person was forced here from Africa. Because of this, we can no longer ignore reparations as a plausible solution to remedy past wrongs.

In the time since slavery, decade after decade passes without repentance or repayment for that forced labor, but the American economy continues to benefit from the immeasurable contributions of people who were enslaved. Now, generations later, their descendants remain unable to reap the benefits of the American economy, and continue to be shut out from opportunities to thrive, and in many cases, survive. 

Western Center deals with the fallout of America’s anti-Blackness and legacy of slavery every day when we work to protect people impacted by poverty. We’re advocating for reparations because American racism still perpetuates disproportionately high rates of poverty among Black Americans, in addition to worse social outcomes by most measures — from COVID-19 death rates, to incarceration rates, to homelessness, to employment and education.

This is an American problem, so it’s a California problem; but it’s also a California problem because the same racist legal system created to enshrine white supremacy in the rest of America, which actively prohibits Black Americans from wealth building opportunities, also exists in California. In fact, many California homeowners can still find “racial covenants” in their home deeds, stating only whites should own the property. These deeds exist for homes across California – including some owned by a handful of Western Center staff. Racial disparities in income, access to credit, and wealth generation, even while controlling for factors like education, are still pervasive in American society, and in California.

It’s time to look to scholars and experts like Duke Professor William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, who have spent years researching and thinking through delivery systems and methods for reparations. AB 3121 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, which was signed into law by Governor Newsom, will use available expertise to form specific recommendations for the California Legislature on how we might move reparations forward as a state. 

America has not done right by the people who built this country. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for people to see how much neglect Black Americans face, but we’re here now. Western Center is not content to just see the numbers of Black Americans being killed by COVID roll in – we feel the pull to act.

Our support for AB 3121 in California is only one step. As an organization, we are reassessing all of our work to think through how we will be a part of the change that actively, finally, creates a state and country that is just for us all. 

Our complete Letter of Support for AB 3121 can be found here. An excerpt is available below. 

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Background

America’s history with slavery began in 1619, when “20 and odd negroes” were brought to what was then known as “Point Comfort” in Virginia. For 250 years after these first captives were brought to the North American continent, Black people were enslaved, facing the cruelest imaginable treatment, considered property, hardly better than livestock. They were regularly beaten and lynched for frivolous infractions, and enslaved women had no protections from rape or other forms of domestic cruelty. Slavery also disrupted families: one third of marriages were forcibly dissolved, and one in five children were separated from their parents. While people enslaved in America were finally officially emancipated in 1865, it would be an insult to claim they were truly freed. Instead, white supremacist ideology and infrastructures paved the way for generations of policies that have forced the descendants of people who were enslaved into abject poverty, treating Black Americans as second- or even third-class citizens.

Reparations are, plainly put, “the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” They are not new in American history: in fact, White people who enslaved Black people received reparations for the economic losses they were projected to face by voluntarily emancipating people who were enslaved prior to 1865. Reparations have also been provided to other non-Black ethnic minorities in the US: some Native Americans have received a portion of the land that was stolen from them, among other benefits and programs; Japanese-Americans interned during World War 2 have received financial compensation; the US helped ensure through the Marshall Plan that survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants received reparations from Germany. Black Americans who are descendants of people who were enslaved in this country should be afforded the same care and consideration when it comes to reparations. This amends should be made as compensation for the irreparable harm that 250 years of slavery, followed by an additional 150 years of racially discriminatory policies and institutions, have caused to fellow Americans.

The Intractable Black Wealth Gap

The impact of slavery and enduring contemporary racial discrimination on wealth inequality cannot be understated: Black Americans were, for years, specifically excluded from historic wealth-amassing government policies, including the Homestead Acts, the Federal Housing Acts, and the GI Bill. As a result, today Black American families possess less than 10% of the wealth white families possess. Even nominally mitigating factors such as education level, family dynamics, and conspicuous consumption do not eliminate the gap. Whites have more wealth than Black college graduates at all levels of education: even white high-school dropouts earn more than Black college graduates, and white college graduates have more than 7 times more wealth than their Black peers. White single-parent households are still more than twice as wealthy as Black two-parent households. Even when controlling for income, white households have more wealth than Black households with similar incomes, despite these white households spending more.

In California specifically, white and Asian families are more likely to own homes, an important component of wealth accumulation. According to the California Budget and Policy Center in the Los Angeles area alone, “the median value of liquid assets for white households in 2014 was $110,000, compared to $200 for US- born blacks.

This is not a matter of individual behavior or financial literacy. The explanation for this persistent gap can only be post-emancipation racially discriminatory policies, which have consistently prevented Black Americans from amassing wealth at even a fraction of the rate as their White peers.

Our Organizations Urge Support for AB 3121

California has been a national leader in the movement for rights of Black Americans, but this work is incomplete if it does not include a conversation about Reparations. AB 3121 will allow us to advance the conversation of Reparations and develop ideas for how to overcome logistical implementation challenges. This bill will make a significant contribution to a timely and important policy dialogue. Western Center is proud to support AB 3121 and urges your ‘Aye’ vote.

 

Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed

ACCESS TO JUSTICE & PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.

HEALTH

  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.

HOUSING

  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.

 

 

LA County Settles Mental Health Services Lawsuit for Foster Kids

“We have been working on this case for almost two decades now,” said Robert Newman, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based Western Center on Law & Poverty. “To end the lawsuit, the county has agreed to implement several new initiatives to ensure that foster children can remain in their current homes and communities.”

LA County Settles Mental Health Services Lawsuit for Foster Kids

PRESS RELEASE: Settlement Reached with Los Angeles County to Provide Foster Youth with Vital Mental Health Services

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Latest settlement comes 18 years after initial settlement of a lawsuit alleging the LA County foster system was not providing necessary mental health services for youth in its care

Los Angeles, CA — The County of Los Angeles has entered into a new settlement of a longstanding lawsuit, Katie A v. Bontá, where it has made a number of commitments to significantly increase intensive home and community based mental health services for thousands of children and youth involved with the County’s foster care system.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2002, is a federal class action lawsuit against Los Angeles County and its Department of Children and Family Services, as well as California’s Department of Social Services and Department of Health Care Services. The suit challenged the County and state agencies for neglecting their duties to provide necessary and legally mandated health care services to treat the mental health conditions of children.  Separate settlement agreements were reached with both the state and LA County in the case.

“We have been working on this case for almost two decades now,” said Robert Newman, an attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “To end the lawsuit, the County has agreed to implement several new initiatives to ensure that foster children can remain in their current homes and communities.”

The County first settled the lawsuit back in 2003 and agreed to provide mental health services, then a long monitoring process began. Over time it became clear that the County was not providing the services it agreed to, so Plaintiffs filed a successful motion in 2009 to enforce the original settlement provisions.st year, the County filed a motion to end the case.

“We have worked on this case for many years because it was clear that foster youth in LA County, especially those with serious mental disorders, were not getting the services they needed,” said Melinda Bird, Senior Litigation Counsel at Disability Rights California. “We had to keep fighting.”

Because of the lawsuit, the County has implemented a number of reforms since 2003 in the delivery of child welfare and mental health services. This week’s settlement focuses on foster youth who have more intensive but unmet mental health needs, such as those who have experienced placement disruptions, psychiatric hospitalizations, or have been placed in group homes, such as Short Term Residential Treatment Programs.

“The Katie A. case has led to tremendous reforms,” said Ira Burnim, Legal Director at Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “We are pleased that additional progress will be made before the case ends.”

The County has agreed to implement new measures to provide specialty mental health services, including Intensive Care Coordination and Intensive Home Based Services, over the next nine months. As this is a class action lawsuit, the settlement will require court approval.

“This new agreement with Los Angeles County specifically targets the outstanding actions needed to ensure children and youth get the services and supports they are entitled to and help them succeed,” said Kim Lewis, Managing Attorney for the National Health Law Program.

 

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org, (214) 395-2755

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Kamala Harris has a history of healthcare merger crackdowns

“Most hospitals aren’t held to a specific amount of charity care spending. However, California law allows the attorney general to put conditions on merger and acquisition approvals of not for-profit hospitals to ensure they continue to serve indigent populations and don’t cut off certain specialties. Harris was one of the first attorneys general to implement 10-year conditions, which was important to consumer advocates, said Jen Flory, policy advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

“It was something the purchasers did not like,” she said. “They were like, ‘Why is this going on for so long?’ But her staff was really attentive to all the details and the things that are going to matter to the community, whether it’s charity care or Medicaid managed care.”

Read More

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‘Extremely frustrating:’ How tech breakdowns are hurting Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus response

“Lawyers who work with low-income clients continue to hear from people who have lost coverage even after the counties were notified, said David Kane, a lawyer who works for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The state should be working harder to fix the problem, which is leaving vulnerable people without coverage in the middle of the pandemic, Kane said.

“It’s August, and they still haven’t completely fixed it,” Kane said.”

Read More

 

In the midst of the pandemic, California continues to strip assets from elders with low incomes in exchange for health care.

A California bill to fix the Medi-Cal assets test (AB 683 – Carrillo), jointly sponsored by Justice in Aging and Western Center, will not move forward this year.

The Medi-Cal assets rule limits the amount of assets an individual can have to $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple. While it does have exceptions (a home and one car), it still limits how much Californians can save to take care of themselves if they need help from Medi-Cal. Most Medi-Cal recipients don’t know about the exceptions, and don’t have access to financial advice to help save as allowed by the rule.

The real kicker, though, is that the assets test only applies to people over age 65 and some people with disabilities. How’s that for equity?

The test is not just some vague rule that only health policy advocates worry about. It’s an outdated measure of whether someone deserves health care that is even more strikingly anachronistic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what does this look like in the real lives of Medi-Cal recipients?

Alfred Calderón, 64, from Long Beach has been paraplegic since 1973. He’s been dealing with the ins and outs of both Medicare and Medi-Cal for some time since he is eligible for both programs. Medi-Cal is supposed to pick up where Medicare leaves off to cover premiums and high-cost sharing, which he can’t afford.

Like many Californians, Alfred’s family is spread out. His aging father lives on the other side of Big Bear, and his nieces and nephews live on the Pala reservation outside of San Diego. The only way for him to get around to visit family and friends is with a special van outfitted to meet his needs, but it’s impossible to save enough to buy such a van, since it would cost more than Medi-Cal allows Alfred to have as long as he wants to keep his health care. He says it’s hard to stay in community when there’s no way to visit his people.

Alfred is also unable to save for things like a comfortable bed, which would be helpful given his disability and age. While Medi-Cal pays for a basic hospital-type bed if medically necessary, he can’t save money for a bed that will ensure he can actually rest.

Alfred says he and his friends on Medi-Cal, “feel indentured – we need to ask for permission on how to live our lives.”

He’s right. While we have no problem with pandemic profiteering by California’s billionaires — who can’t possibly need another house, car, or luxury bed with personalized settings, the California public health care program is preventing Alfred from seeing people he cares about and getting a decent night’s sleep.

Beyond the comforts that make life feel more human and connected, the inability to save also puts many Medi-Cal recipients at risk of homelessness. When financial disaster happens – a layoff, an eviction, the car you need for your job breaks down, or the hot water heater needs replacing, a $2,000 cap on assets can make it impossible to bounce back.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 has shown just how easy it is for finances to be wiped out in the face of the unexpected. What’s worse, the Medi-Cal assets test rule targets those most at risk of COVID-19: elders with low incomes and people with disabilities who are also disproportionately people of color.

We need state policy that sets people up for success and treats them with the dignity that all Californians deserve. AB 683 would have corrected the most egregious parts of the Medi-Cal assets test: the low asset cap that hasn’t been updated since 1989, and the wonky rules only policy experts can explain.

But since the state won’t appropriately tax the rich, state leadership says we can’t afford to change these ridiculous rules – even though legislators across party lines agree it’s bad policy. So reports on health disparities and economic insecurity will keep coming, even when we know what fixes would make a difference. It is absolutely absurd that the state is stripping elders of what little assets they have to access health care, as it allows billionaires to hoard resources at unprecedented rates.

We’ll be back to get this bill through next year, but in the meantime, we hope state leaders reevaluate their priorities and actually commit to a more equitable California – rather than just saying they will.