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Western Center Reaction to Governor Newsom’s Proposed 2020-2021 Budget

First and foremost, Western Center is pleased that Governor Newsom’s proposed budget includes significant and innovative proposals to address the homelessness crisis in California, which will not only help the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness, but will also prevent more people from losing their housing. We are also pleased to see the Governor take another major step toward providing health care for all by expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults over age 65, and to see the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which makes our tax code more equitable for women, girls and young families.

We were hoping to see additional investments for CalWORKs and SSI grants in this proposal, since they are both crucial for lifting Californians out of poverty. We will continue to advocate for those increases in the final budget agreement.

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area. We will release an in-depth analysis next week.

Housing

The proposed budget appropriately treats the state’s homelessness crisis as an emergency. The proposal devotes additional resources to help people at risk of homelessness remain stably housed and to increase both temporary shelter capacity and permanent housing options for people already experiencing homelessness. We are pleased to see the Governor’s sustained commitment to addressing homelessness and look forward to working in partnership with his administration and legislative leaders to further develop effective, sustainable solutions to the crisis that prioritize residents living in poverty.

We agree with the Governor that the state must ramp up efforts to address the state’s shortage of housing, which is primarily a shortage at lower income levels. We are eager to work with the Governor to ensure that policies and programs to speed housing production prioritize the creation of units for households with the lowest incomes who are priced out of the rental market in every county in the state, protect low-income communities and communities of color from displacement, and increase access to high opportunity areas for our clients.

Financial Security

The budget includes funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through (read about it here). Currently, the first $50 of child support paid by a non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is kept by state and federal governments. In the Governor’s newly proposed budget, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support, beginning January 2022. It also includes funding to provide debt relief for child support owed to the government that is deemed uncollectable. We are grateful that the Governor has heard from parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children, and we are eager to see proposed associated trailer bill law changes for details. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

The budget also includes the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which will make our tax code more equitable, since taxes on period products and diapers are regressive to poor families and young people. We look forward to continuing work in the legislature to end unmet diaper need and period poverty in California.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders. We’re also happy to see that Californians with low incomes will soon be able to reduce the cost of their traffic fines and the overall impact of expensive traffic tickets, with this budget proposing to expand the traffic court ability-to-pay pilot program (currently operational in four counties) statewide over several years. The pilot has yet to be evaluated, so we look forward to details from the Judicial Council to see if the program’s reductions in fines and fees are adequate or need to reduced further.

Finally, to further enhance financial security for Californians, the Governor’s budget creates a new state version of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The proposed financial watchdog will hold banks and other financial firms accountable when they engage in unfair and abusive debt collection and banking practices. Medical, student loan, school lunch, and other forms of debt disproportionally burden people experiencing poverty; we expect this new agency to offer important protections for our clients.

Health Care

We applaud the Governor for continuing to move toward universal coverage by making California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors regardless of immigration status, taking a whole person approach to Medi-Cal, and cost containment with an eye toward quality and equity. We look forward to working with the administration and legislature to advance a budget that ensures equitable access to affordable, comprehensive, quality health care for poor Californians.

The Governor’s proposal also delays suspension of benefits and eligibility, by extending certain Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extending Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and expanding Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, all until July 2023.

 

Ballot measure would tighten up rules for dealing with bad street behavior

“The Western Center on Law & Poverty has said the arrest and rehab plan would “take California back into the dark ages of mass institutionalization of people with perceived or real mental illness. Such zero tolerance approaches only exacerbate racial and class disparities through an overly aggressive criminal justice system.”

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California curbs deferred-interest credit for veterinary care

“Few consumers understand that if they fail to pay the entire balance during the introductory period or if they make a late payment, they end up with an interest charge that can be larger than the remaining balance, according to state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, who co-authored the law, and Jen Flory, a health policy advocate with Western Center on Law & Poverty.”

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Western Center’s 2019 Budget & Legislative Victories

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

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

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

As CoveredCA Enrollment Opens, Groups Trumpet Progress in 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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Statement on proposed state ballot measure to address homelessness in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Center Submits Comments Opposing SNAP Categorical Eligibility Rule Proposal

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

An excerpt from Western Center’s comments:

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

Western Center’s full comments can be read here.

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

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

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