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Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Agenda  

Western Center’s policy advocates are hard at work in Sacramento to pass this year’s slate of bills to make California better for everyone. Here is our full 2022 Legislative Agenda.

HOMELESSNESS

AB 1816 (Bryan): Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program

(co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership)

This bill will establish a funding source for permanent affordable housing and workforce development for formerly incarcerated people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. The bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness – 70 percent of Californians experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration.

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

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

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

AB 2339 (Bloom): Emergency Shelters

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

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

SB 1017 (Eggman): Keeping Survivors Housed

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

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

California Emergency Rental Assistance Program

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

HOUSING

AB 1911 (Gabriel): Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

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

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

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

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

HEALTH CARE

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

(co-sponsored with Justice in Aging)

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

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

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

AB 1900 (Arambula): Share of Cost Reform

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

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

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums

(co-sponsored with Children Now)

Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families already living on very limited incomes and create barriers in access to care and unnecessary breaks in coverage for eligible individuals. This bill will ensure pregnant people, children, and people with disabilities can access the health care services they need to stay healthy by eliminating their monthly Medi-Cal premiums.

SB 644 (Leyva): Connecting Unemployed Individuals to Covered California & Medi-Cal

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

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

SB 923 (Wiener): Access to Gender Affirming Care

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

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

FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 1820 (Arambula): Labor Trafficking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB 972 (Gonzalez): Street Vendors

(co-sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Power Collective, Inclusive Action for the City, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Public Counsel)

Street vendors are a part of California’s culture and have been for decades. In recent years, street vendors became part of the formal economy with the decriminalization of street vending in 2018. However, many street vendors who sell food are unable to obtain health permits from their local county health departments, so this bill will modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits. Creating this pathway will allow street vendors to further enter the formal economy and put an end to fines issued to these entrepreneurs with limited incomes.

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

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

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

AB 1792 (Ward): Diversification of Grand Juries

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

You can use BenefitsCal to:

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

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

When are BenefitsCal changes happening?

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

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

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

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

How can applicants and beneficiaries access BenefitsCal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if I do not already have a CBO account?

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

How does a CBO account in BenefitsCal work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some limitations with BenefitsCal?

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

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

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

Where can advocates learn more about BenefitsCal and CalSAWS?

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

Jennifer Tracy: jennifer[at]jenntracy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CA’s governor wants mental health courts for homeless people

“The Western Center on Law and Poverty pointed to a 2020 state audit that found many people put under conservatorship wound up with limited treatment and follow-up while the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office called the proposal a “band-aid” approach falling short of the fully funded mental health system California needs.”

Read More 

 

Western Center Roundup – February 2022

Western Center’s Legislative Agenda and Celebrating Blackness This Month and Every Month!


Our 2022 Legislative Agenda 

The bills are in, and Western Center’s policy advocates are hard at work in Sacramento to pass this year’s slate of bills to make California better for everyone. Here is our full 2022 Legislative Agenda, and here are a few of the highlights:

AB 1816 (Bryan): Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program (co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership) — This bill will establish a funding source for permanent affordable housing and workforce development for formerly incarcerated people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. This bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness — 70 percent of people experiencing homelessness in California have a history of incarceration.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums (co-sponsored with Children Now) — Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families living on very limited incomes, and create barriers in access to care and unnecessary breaks in coverage for eligible individuals. This bill will ensure pregnant people, children, and people with disabilities can access the health care services they need to stay healthy by eliminating their monthly Medi-Cal premiums.

SB 972 (Gonzalez): Street Vendors (co-sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Power Collective, Inclusive Action for the City, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Public Counsel) — Street vendors are a part of California’s culture and have been for decades. In recent years, street vendors became part of the formal economy with the decriminalization of street vending in 2018. However, many street vendors who sell food are unable to obtain health permits from their local county health departments, so this bill will modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits. Creating this pathway will allow street vendors to further enter the formal economy and put an end to fines issued to these entrepreneurs with limited incomes. Additionally, as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council points out, street vendors also “provide communities with delicious foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. In food desert communities – and particularly in the absence of healthy food retail development – fruit and vegetable sidewalk vendors can help to fill a void by providing fresh food to the local community that may struggle to access them otherwise.”


Black History All Day Every Day

As we come to the end of Black History Month, we want to reiterate that the celebration of Blackness does not end with February! We are here to celebrate, honor, and uplift Black people at all times, in all of our work. This country and state would not be here without the contributions of Black people, and as we head into March, we want to leave you with some Black excellence and history to explore!

  • First, in a historic moment for this country, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been nominated by President Biden for placement on the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman ever nominated.
  • In a huge step for racial justice in California, Bruce’s Beach, which was once a Black beach resort owned by Willa and Charles Bruce but was seized by the Manhattan Beach city council a century ago, will finally be returned to the Bruce family.
  • The Sacramento Bee published its ‘Top 25 Black Change Makers’ roster as part of its Equity Lab project, in partnership with the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Program. “These individuals stand out as innovative problem-solvers. They find solutions for critical issues in our communities through their respective lines of work. They are dynamic leaders who infuse history and culture in the work they do.”
  • Visit California shared ‘Black History in California You Don’t Know About,’ where you can learn about “lesser-known California tours, businesses, and stories that have played a momentous role in U.S. history and Black culture.”
  • The California Health Care Foundation recently released a report, “In Their Own Words: Black Californians on Racism and Health Care,” which is the result of phase one of its three-phase Listening to Black Californians study designed to better understand the health and health care experiences of Black Californians. The research was designed, conducted, and analyzed by EVITARUS, a Black-owned public opinion research firm in Los Angeles. Along with our community partners Dr. David Carlisle of Charles Drew University, Dr. Noha Aboelata of Roots Community Clinic and others, Western Center’s Executive Director, Crystal D. Crawford, is a member of the advisory group for this powerful study.

And In Case You Missed It…    

We love leaving you with a good Western Center read to round out the month, and today is no exception. In case you missed our latest blog post by Kathryn Evans, Western Center’s Associate Director of Individual Giving, check it out! Kathryn wrote the piece for World Day of Social Justice on February 20th, reflecting on the need for Californians to look close to home and explore the many ways to fight for justice and equality here in our own state.


California eyes end to Medi-Cal premiums for children, vulnerable adults

“For the working disabled, the premiums can be an extra hardship, said David Kane, senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is co-sponsoring Arambula’s bill. “Those are people who have a disability but still manage to get through things and find part-time work,” Kane said. “They are still low-income, have low resources and are having to pay a significant share of their limited income to have health care. They could use that money to meet other necessities.”

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Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-2023 California Budget Proposal

Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2022-23 California state budget. In total, the administration projects a $45 billion surplus — a combination of higher revenue collections for the past two budgets and higher than anticipated revenue for the 2022-23 budget. As the governor noted in his press conference, if current economic trends continue, the surplus could grow even more by the time the proposed budget is revised in May. The budget includes a record $36 billion reserve.

SUMMARY

The governor’s proposed budget includes a historic investment in health care by expanding Medi-Cal eligibility for those currently excluded from the program due to immigration status, and by eliminating Medi-Cal premiums for children, pregnant people, and people with disabilities. It does not eliminate the burdensome “share of cost” that many people on Medi-Cal still pay as a monthly deductible.

The budget also includes expanded funding to house people experiencing homelessness, a large investment in health care related workforce development, and an expansion of proposals intended to reduce poverty such as increasing CalWORKs grants, passing on all child support to families formerly on public assistance, and expanding the state child tax credit to households with no reported income. The budget also proposes to fund 36,000 new childcare slots for working families, but this means approximately 150,000 families will remain on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, this proposal misses an opportunity to build on significant progress made through existing poverty-reduction initiatives. Despite the expiration of the very effective federal child tax credit increase, the governor’s proposed budget does not backfill that lost income for California families. It also fails to fund more stimulus payments for Californians with low incomes. Additionally, it does not provide a cost-of-living increase for the SSI/SSP grant as required by state law, and it does not accelerate the SSI/SSP grant restoration scheduled for January 2024.

The need for rental and utility assistance in California has greatly outpaced federal funds allocated to the state. While California was recently allocated an additional $62 million in federal funds to address the growing need, the state needs about $2 billion. The governor missed an opportunity to supplement the federal dollars with surplus from the General Fund. However, California will continue to advocate for additional funding from the federal government.

Despite the large surplus and number of proposed initiatives, the governor’s proposal uses just $20 billion for the needs of Californians. More than half of the surplus is being used to fund reserves and to pay off long term debt. Of the $20 billion being spent, the governor proposes to use 86 percent for one-time expenditures. The reluctance to invest in ongoing needs means proposals that could make a major impact, like funding a broadly available rental assistance program, are not part of the discussion. The legislature should review the governor’s budget with an eye toward meeting more of the short- and long-term needs of all Californians.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s proposal expands Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status. This would make California the first state in the nation to cover all adults, and together with the recent increase in the income level for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as the scheduled elimination of the Medi-Cal assets test by January 1, 2024, all adults under 138 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for free, full-scope Medi-Cal. The governor’s proposal also eliminates premiums for children, pregnant people, and the Working Disabled Program, and expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, there are affordability, provider payment, and workforce investments.

Medi-Cal

  • Health4All: The governor’s proposal expands full-scope Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 700,000+ undocumented adults ages 26 through 49, effective no sooner than January 1, 2024, with estimated costs of $819 million total funds ($614 million General Fund) in FY 2023-24 and $2.3 billion total funds ($1.8 billion General Fund) at full implementation.
  • Zero out premiums: The proposed budget includes $53 million total funds ($19 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $89 million total funds ($31 million General Fund) ongoing and trailer bill language to reduce premiums to zero for Medi-Cal and other Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs. This includes Medi-Cal premiums for children above 160 percent of the poverty level, the 250 percent Working Disabled Program premiums, as well as the premiums for pregnant women and infants under the Medi-Cal Access Program (MCAP) and County Children’s Health Insurance Programs (C-CHIP).
  • Justice-related initiatives: The proposal includes $50 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 to implement the CalAIM justice-related initiatives with implementation beginning January 2023. This includes pre-release applications, pre-release “in-reach” services, and coordinated re-entry. There will also be trailer bill language to extend the duration of suspension of Medi-Cal benefits when an individual is incarcerated to increase the likelihood that coverage is maintained.
  • Dental Lab Processed Crown (AKA Custom Crown) Coverage: The budget includes $37 million total funds ($13 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and trailer bill language to update adult coverage requirements to include lab processed crowns for posterior teeth, in place of stainless-steel crowns. Also related to dental, the administration proposes to extend dental managed care contracts and procure new contracts no sooner than January 1, 2024.
  • The governor’s proposal includes the following provider payment investments:
    • Proposition 56 Supplemental Provider Payment Backfill: To address declining tobacco revenue, the proposal includes an increase of $29 million from the General Fund to fully fund remaining Proposition 56 payments at their current level in FY 2022-23.
    • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventive, maternity, and behavioral health care measures and address gaps in care arising out of the pandemic, the proposal includes $400 million total funds ($200 million General Fund) in one-time funds, aligning with the goals of the Medi-Cal Comprehensive Quality and Equity Strategy.
    • Elimination of Certain AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions: The budget includes $20 million total funds ($9 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $24 million total funds ($11 million General Fund) ongoing to eliminate AB 97 payment reductions for nurses, alternative birthing centers, audiologists/hearing aid dispensers, respiratory care providers, durable medical equipment, oxygen and respiratory services, chronic dialysis clinics, non-emergency medical transportation, and emergency air medical transportation.
  • Discontinue Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP) and Expand Children’s Presumptive Eligibility (PE): The Department is proposing to sunset CHDP by July 1, 2023 via trailer bill language and replace with the Children’s Presumptive Eligibility Program, which will include all Medi-Cal providers.
  • Mobile Crisis Services: The proposal includes $108 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) and trailer bill language to add qualifying 24/7 community-based mobile crisis intervention services as a Medi-Cal benefit as soon as January 1, 2023. The benefit will be implemented through county behavioral health delivery systems by multidisciplinary mobile crisis teams in the community.

Other Health Proposals 

  • Office of Health Care Affordability: The proposal reappropriates funding for the Office that was originally included in the 2021 Budget Act (originally $11.2 million in 2020-21 and $24.5 million in 2022-23) and proposes statutory changes for its establishment. The Office is charged with increasing cost and quality transparency, developing cost targets for the health care industry, enforcing compliance, and filing gaps in market oversight.
  • Covered California: The proposal continues to deposit into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs the $333.4 million General Fund that would have been used for Covered California state premium subsidies (not currently needed due to American Rescue Plan Funds).  The administration intends to work with the Legislature to determine the best use of these funds based on the recent AB 133 affordability report produced by Covered California, after determining what ongoing federal support will be available. In addition, the proposal continues to include $20 million General Fund in 2022-23 to support the One-Dollar Premium Subsidy program, which zeros the cost of Covered California consumers for health plans due to federal policy concerning abortion coverage.
  • Behavioral Health Bridge Housing: The proposed budget includes $1.5 billion General Fund ($1 billion in FY 2022-23 and $500 million in FY 2023-24) for behavioral health bridge housing to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness with serious behavioral health conditions by purchasing and installing tiny homes and providing time-limited operational supports in various bridge housing settings.
  • Workforce Development: The proposal includes $1.7 billion in Care Economy Workforce investments, including $350 million General Fund to recruit and train 25,000 new community health workers as well as additional health care providers.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

In total, the governor’s 2022-2023 budget dedicates $9 billion for housing and $8 billion for homelessness. Largely building on last year’s efforts, this budget proposal attempts to chip away at the housing and homelessness crisis by streamlining production, increasing housing accountability, and funding homelessness solutions through a climate focused lens.

This “Housing as a Climate Strategy’’ focuses on preservation and production of affordable housing near schools, jobs, transit, density, and community hubs to fight climate change. Despite the well-placed investments in climate resilient housing, the budget falls short in supporting struggling Californians from eviction with the notable lack of state funding for eviction protection. The budget also proposes to battle the state homelessness crisis with an eye toward housing and behavioral health. While on the surface this plan addresses the long-standing need for better mental health for the unhoused community, it plays on the trope that all people experiencing homelessness have mental health conditions, rather than recognizing the very tangible fact that most Californians simply cannot afford the high cost of living, which has steepened since the start of the pandemic.

The governor is also increasing funding for “beautification” and “hazardous material removal” in encampments, which translates to increased sweeps, harassment, and further ostracization of people experiencing homelessness. With another budget surplus, we hope the budget’s May revision will use the additional funding to preserve and increase affordable housing, prevent needless evictions with increased funding for California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and provide tangle solutions to get people off the streets and into safe, stable, affordable, and permanent housing.

Affordable Housing and Climate 

  • $300 million one-time General Fund for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program to support land-use, housing, transportation, and land preservation projects for infill and compact development that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund to expand affordable housing development and adaptive reuse opportunities on state excess land sites.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund for adaptive reuse incentive grants to remove cost impediments to adaptive reuse (e.g., structural improvements, plumbing/electrical design, exiting) and help accelerate residential conversions, with a priority on projects located in downtown-oriented areas.
  • $500 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
    • $4.6 million in farmworker Housing Assistance Tax Credits.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) to provide loans to developers for mixed-income rental housing, specifically for households with incomes between 30 percent and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program to further preserve targeted units in downtown-oriented areas and continue increasing the state’s affordable housing stock.

Mobile Home Rehab

  • $100 million one-time General Fund for HCD’s Mobile Home Park Rehabilitation and Resident Ownership Program. These funds will finance the preservation and development of affordable mobile home parks.

Infill Housing

  • Infill Infrastructure Grant Program—$500 million one-time General Fund ($225 million in 2022-23, and $275 million in 2023-24).

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

  • California requested an additional $1.9 billion in federal funding to address the growing need for rental assistance and utility assistance for Californians. California was allocated an additional $62 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury. While grateful that California was allocated 30 percent of the total federal reallocation, this amount is woefully short of the need.  Currently, California needs almost $2 billion more than what we were originally allocated, and the need is growing. California will continue to advocate with the federal government to obtain additional rental and utility assistance.

Formerly Incarcerated Housing

  • $10.6 million one-time General Fund over three years to the Returning Home Well program that will provide transitional housing to parolees at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness.

Legal Services for Renters

  • $40 million investment in legal assistance for renters and homeowners.

Homelessness

  • $2 billion one-time General Fund, multi-year grant to cities, large counties and Continuums of Care working with the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal-ICH). Cal-ICH will work with grantees on their homelessness accountability plans.
  • $500 million one-time general fund dollars in housing encampment resolution efforts that will expand program jurisdictions investment in short- and long-term rehousing strategies for people experiencing homelessness.
  • $25 million in Clean California and $20.6 million for hazardous material removal at encampments.
  • $1 million investment in homeless youth programs.
  • $1.5 billion in General Funds over two years dedicated to resources to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing homelessness who have behavioral health conditions. This funding will be administered through DHCS’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure program to purchase tiny homes and facilitate bridge/transitional housing. Such funding can also be used for bridge housing including an expansion of Project Homekey Acquisition.
  • $5 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs Grants

The governor is proposing a 7.1 percent grant increase to CalWORKs grants starting October 1, 2022. The funding for the increase comes from Child Poverty Subaccount, a stream of revenue dedicated to CalWORKs grant increases. As a result of the 7.1 percent increase, maximum CalWORKs grants will equal 54 percent of the federal poverty level. For families not subject to sanctions, timed off aid or with an ineligible adult, the grant levels exceed the deep poverty level, which means a reduction in the well-documented, long-term negative impacts of deep poverty on children. Despite the increase in the grant level, the administration’s budget does not fulfill the commitment to increase CalWORKs grants so that no child is living in deep poverty. The so-called AU+1 approach requires significantly more investment than this budget provides. Below is a chart which shows current grant amounts, grant amounts with the 7.1 percent increase, the percent of the federal poverty level, what the grant would need to be to ensure an end to deep poverty, and lastly, the gap between the current grant and an end to deep poverty.

Workforce Development

The administration is proposing two major investments in workforce development. One is a $1.5 billion Proposition 98 General Fund effort to support the development of college and career pathways focused on education, health care, technology, and climate-related fields. Promoting pathways that allow students to move seamlessly from high school to college and career will improve the number of students who pursue and achieve post-secondary education and training.

The governor is also proposing to invest $1.7 billion over three years in care economy workforce development—across both the Labor Agency and California Health and Human Services Agency—that will create more innovative and accessible opportunities to recruit, train, and hire, and will advance an ethnically and culturally inclusive health and human services workforce, with improved diversity and higher wages. These programs will target students such as those in CalWORKs welfare to work.

Safety Net Reserve

The budget provides no increase in the safety net reserve, maintaining a $900 million level. While this amount represents an important safeguard against Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program reductions in lean budget years, the continuing growth in spending in both programs might require additional funds to preserve the effectiveness of the reserve.

Child Support Pass Through

The governor is proposing a major change to child support rules by allowing all child support paid by non-custodial parents to go to families formerly receiving CalWORKs or Medi-Cal. For decades it has been state policy for the state to retain any child support for the state to pay off the cost of providing welfare and medical benefits. In short, the state has reimbursed itself and made the families live with less income. When fully implemented, these families are estimated to receive an additional $187 million. While the idea of passing through all child support is certainly welcome, it is notable that the administration is proposing to do this only for families no longer receiving government assistance. The governor chose not to allow a 100 percent pass through to families currently on aid. The legislature may wish to consider expanding this proposal to pass through all child support to all families.

SSI/SSP Grants

The administration did not propose an increase in the SSI/SSP grants for 2022-23 budget, citing last year’s agreement to a two-step increase in SSP funding to restore grant cuts made by the state in the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The first of these grant increases went into effect on January 1, 2022, and in conjunction with a federal cost of living increase for the SSI portion of the grant, SSI/SSP grant levels went from $954 a month up to $1,040 a month for a single individual. The second step of grant increases is set to go into effect in January 2024.

In 2018, the legislature and then Governor Brown agreed to provide a state cost of living adjustment on the SSP portion of the grant beginning in January 2023. While that agreement is subject to funding in the budget, the administration chose not to include it in the January budget. As it currently stands, SSI recipients would not see any increased state funding for two years. The legislature may wish to consider whether to accelerate the second SSP increase to 2023 or to provide a cost-of-living adjustment.

Home Visiting

The administration proposes to increase funding for Home Visiting by $50 million ongoing for the Department of Public Health (CDPH) to expand the California Home Visiting Program and the California Black Infant Health Program, serving approximately 6,000 additional families over five years on top of 3,700 currently served by the Home Visiting Program and 1,650 served by the Black Infant Health Program. The administration does not propose increased funding for the CalWORKs Home Visiting program, which was cut in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. The budget proposes greater flexibility for home visiting models offered to meet the diverse needs of families across the state, expands home visiting services to additional counties, and makes them accessible to families with the highest need. Additionally, this proposal will support early literacy by including books and early literacy programming provided by home visitors, and will be further supported by a $350 million General Fund investment to recruit, train, and certify new community health workers.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The administration is proposing to allow families with zero reported income to be eligible for the $1,000 state child tax credit so long as the family would otherwise be eligible. The concept of a zero-earnings tax credit potentially opens the door for allowing people receiving SSI, SSDI, and Social Security to get the same state assistance that families receive from the state EITC and Child Tax Credit.

Civil Assessments

The administration is proposing to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income Californians by reducing civil assessments from a maximum of $300 to a cap of $150. Civil assessments are imposed on people in criminal and traffic courts when they fail to appear for a hearing, or they fail to pay a fine in a timely fashion. Legal service advocates tell us that many clients receive multiple civil assessments that increase the amount they owe and make it even harder to pay court ordered fines and fees. While this proposal goes part way in meeting the goals of legislators and advocates, as proposed, civil assessments would still impact Californians with the lowest incomes most, and leaves open the question of whether retroactive civil assessment debts would continue to be subject to collection.

California Food Assistance Program

The administration proposes phasing in the expansion the California Food Assistance Program to all Californians ages 55 and older, regardless of immigration status. This year’s budget proposal includes $35.2 million for initial planning phases of the expansion and allocates $113.4 million annually starting in the 2025-26 budget year for the full expansion.

Golden State Stimulus/Grants

The administration chose not to provide another round of pandemic stimulus payments. These payments, which went out to low- and moderate-income households, were instrumental in allowing families and individuals to absorb some of the costs of the pandemic and to give breathing room in household budgets. The grants were also a method for the state to reduce state expenditures below the Gann Limit, which caps the amount the state budget can increase from year to year. The governor noted in his press conference that the door is not closed on this and it may be under consideration for the May Revise.

For questions, contact:

  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy – mherald[at]wclp.org
  • Food Access: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org
  • Health Care: Jen Flory, Policy Advocate – jflory[at]wclp.org; Linda Nguy, Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org
  • Housing: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

More Patient Protections for Hospital Billing in 2022

Many Californians, whether insured, underinsured, or uninsured, are carrying the burdens of medical debt in their lives. This year, Western Center co-sponsored AB 1020 (Friedman) to address this problem. AB 1020 strengthens the existing Hospital Fair Pricing Act, which requires California hospitals to provide free or discounted care to uninsured and underinsured patients who are low income; and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Fair Debt Buying Practices Act, which require debt collectors and debt buyers to follow fair debt collection procedures.

The amendments aim to inform more people of the availability of financial assistance when receiving hospital services and hold hospitals, debt collectors, and debt buyers accountable to this assistance. Since the Hospital Fair Pricing Act was passed 15 years ago, legal services advocates have navigated an opaque application process with their clients who should have qualified for charity care but never received notice or an application. Patients were left in murky negotiating situations when they had to deal with accounts that had been assigned or sold to debt collectors and debt buyers. Patients needed a clearer application process. AB 1020 does the following:

  • Requires hospitals to provide patients with notices about their charity care and discounted payment policies and actual applications at specific points in the billing and collections cycle;
  • Requires hospital contracts with debt buyers to include patient protection provisions;
  • Imposes additional requirements for collection of medical debt;
  • Authorizes the Department of Health Care Access and Information to penalize hospitals for non-compliance (coming in 2024); and
  • To keep up with the higher cost of living, increases the income eligibility threshold to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Our Health Care Practice Tip this month details these changes and more. One common unlawful provision found in many hospitals’ fair pricing policies is a specific time period to apply, often set at 150 days. These deadlines violate the Hospital Fair Pricing Act, which allows patients to apply for charity care or discounted payments at any time, without time limit.  Meanwhile, hospitals may still commence collection activity after the statutory time period has passed. The Health Care Practice Tip explains this issue.

Even in the pandemic, the accumulation and collection of medical debt have not stopped. Our state’s charity care and collections laws still require rigorous enforcement by advocates.

Here is the full report: Health Care Practice Tip – December 2021

EPIC News – November 2021

We’re headed into the last month of the year, which means this is the last EPIC Newsletter of 2021!
Keep your eyes peeled in December for our end-of-year message to round out 2021 and welcome 2022.


Latinx Families File Lawsuit Against Harbor Regional Center 

Western Center and Disability Rights California filed a lawsuit on behalf of a parent group in Torrance, CA to stop discrimination against Latinx families at Harbor Regional Center. The regional center is supposed to provide services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The parent group, Padres Buscando el Cambio, is comprised of families whose needs have been ignored, and who’ve faced explicitly discriminatory comments from Harbor Regional Center staff.

As a recipient of state funds, Harbor Regional Center’s actions are not only unfair, they are also illegal. Our lawsuit seeks to compel the regional center and state to deliver services that meet the needs of everyone the center serves.


L.A. County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Food Assistance

Western Center, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and The Public Interest Law Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh (aka food stamp) recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food, despite a state mandate requiring such benefits be distributed in three days.

The lawsuit demands that the county comply with its legal obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits for those most in need.


Giving Season is Here!   

Tomorrow, November 30th, is Giving Tuesday – a global movement to amplify the power of radical generosity. There are so many ways to participate in Giving Tuesday, from random acts of kindness, to telling a friend how much you appreciate them, to making a donation to Western Center – the goal is a day filled with giving and generosity. How do you plan to participate?

If you were unable to join us for this year’s virtual Garden Party event, or just want to re-watch the festivities, you can find the recording of the program here. It’s also not too late to make a donation to support the event! Click here to make a donation.


Native American Heritage Month  

November is Native American Heritage Month, which according to the National Congress of American Indians “is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum paid tribute to the traditions and ancestry of Native Americans with a collection of events and resources throughout November. PBS also offers a collection of film, documentaries, and programs to inform and celebrate the history, influence, and contributions of Native Americans.