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EPIC News – August 2020

It’s the last week of session in California, and we have a couple of Western Center sponsored bills that could use your support…

AB 826 – Emergency food assistance: COVID-19 (Santiago): Thousands of Californians are facing food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic. Assembly Bill 826 would provide Californians in need with emergency food aid, because there is no excuse for anyone in this state (the world’s 5th largest economy) to go without food.

TAKE ACTION: If you’re on social media, please use this toolkit to let legislators know we need AB 826. Phone calls and emails also work well!

SB 1399 Employment: garment manufacturing (Durazo): Tens of thousands of garment workers in Los Angeles are being paid less than half of the minimum wage. Popular fashion brands profit off low wages and wage theft with no accountability. SB 1399 would eliminate the specific system that allows California garment manufacturers to pay less than minimum wage.

TAKE ACTION: Visit this link to sign the petition in support of the bill.

One of our high priority bills, SB 1290 (Durazo, Mitchell) – to end the collection of juvenile fees in California for good, has already passed out of the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor for signature!

In other productive news, thanks to action from Western Center and our partners, the California Department of Health Care Services has committed to fixing an issue we identified over the past several months — Californians getting kicked off or downgraded from Medi-Cal during the pandemic. We believe this means that several thousand people should have seen their Medi-Cal restored by August 24th, and soon will receive a letter informing them of their rights to get reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical costs while their Medi-Cal was cut off. Even more beneficiaries will avoid cutoffs on September 1st and throughout the COVID emergency.

Finally, we hope you will mark your calendar to join us on Thursday, October 8, 2020 at 6:00 PM for our virtual Garden Party! Tune in for an in-depth interview with our new Executive Director, Crystal Crawford, and meet our special guests on the forefront of racial and economic justice in California.

EPIC News – July 2020

Orange County Releases Juvenile Fees

Last week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors released millions of dollars in juvenile fees, freeing thousands of families with low incomes (many of whom are Black and brown) from oppressive, regressive debt. This is a big win led by our grassroots partners, and we could not be more proud to be a part of this movement. The next step is the passage of our co-sponsored bill, SB 1290, to release juvenile fees across California for good.

The Push to Tax Billionaires

California gained 11 new billionaires since the pandemic began (there are currently 165 in the state), 154 of whom increased their wealth by 25% in the first few months of COVID, as 1 in 5 Californians lost their jobs. Meanwhile, the final state budget deal between the California Legislature and the governor includes significant cuts that will harm middle and low income communities.

Western Center is part of the growing Commit to Equity movement to compel state leaders to increase revenue by taxing extraordinary wealth in California. We are calling on state lawmakers to put money where their #CaliforniaForAll rhetoric is by taxing extreme wealth so we can achieve true economic and racial justice. Learn more and find out how to get involved at the Commit To Equity website.

Upholding Emergency Tenant Protections

At the beginning of July, Western Center and our partners at Public Counsel and Public Interest Law Project (PILP) filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE Action) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), in Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) v. City of Los Angeles, to defend the city’s emergency eviction and rent freeze protections. AAGLA’s lawsuit seeks to void the city’s emergency ordinances, which would allow mass evictions in the midst of a global pandemic. We are intervening so that doesn’t happen.

EPIC News – June 2020

Engaging in the Movement for Black Lives, and How it Relates to Western Center’s Work

We are encouraged that so many people are looking for ways to get involved in the movement for justice and Black lives. There’s a lot to do. Below we’ve put together a list of action items and resources that we hope will serve as a catalyst for you. We are all undergoing a fundamental shift – it is not a short game, but a long one.

In case you missed it, you can find Western Center’s statement recommitting ourselves to the work of ending systemic violence and oppression of Black people here.

First and foremost, as individuals and as part of communities and networks, contact your local officials to demand change. Specifically, we need a fundamental shift of resources away from police, and toward community investment. When Western Center does our work to alleviate poverty, we always look for resources to support overall community health. Redirecting police resources will not only increase safety for everyone, it will increase health as well. In that way, the redirection of police resources to qualified workers and community programs is a crucial part of advancing the work of Western Center.

Right now, police act as mental health workers, homeless outreach, and school guidance counselors (to name a few), and departments are being funded that way – to the detriment of community health. Rather than giving such substantial resources to police departments to do things they are not qualified to do, funding must be funneled instead to qualified workers, and to communities that have been disproportionately harmed by police. Los Angeles has already announced a reduction (albeit small) in police funding; it’s a good first step in the right direction. Here are resources with background explaining what is happening in the movement to redirect resources from police:

LA Times: “Mayor Eric Garcetti said he will direct $250 million to youth jobs, health initiatives and “peace centers” to heal trauma and will allow those who have suffered discrimination to collect damages. The money will have to be cut from other city operations; Garcetti, backed by City Council President Nury Martinez and his new Police Commission president, said as much as $150 million would come from the Los Angeles Police Department.”

NPR: “One of the problems that we’re encountering here is this massive expansion in the scope of policing over the last 40 years or so. Policing is now happening in our schools. It’s happening in relation to the problems of homelessness, untreated mental illness, youth violence and some things that we historically associate police with.”

If you are in Los Angeles, our partner, Youth Justice Coalition, has these specific asks:

  1. A permanent ban on the use of gang databases and all “data-driven” policing technologies and databases (or predictive policing).
  2. Destroy military-grade weapons and tools, end the use of drones.
  3. DO NOT EXPAND Community Policing Partnerships, and instead redirect 5% more of the budget to Peacebuilders (street interventionists).
  4. Support the demand to remove LAUSD PD from schools in LA and replace them with youth workers and cultural workers from local CBOs.

Another important call-to-action from our grassroots partners, in support of defunding police and prisons here in California, is to help pass Senate Bill 144 (Mitchell) – a priority for the Legislative Black Caucus, and a Western Center co-sponsored bill. We invite you to take action in support of SB 144 to end fees charged to people in the criminal justice system, which disproportionately saddle people of color and women with overwhelming debt. SB 144 is an important step toward taking money away from the criminal justice system and putting it back in the hands of people with low-incomes and communities of color.

  1. Contact your state legislator.
  2. Submit a letter of support! We make it easy right here.
  3. Help us shape policy by sharing your experience and ideas. Take our survey at
  4. Connect with the SB 144 coalition on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at CaDebtJustice and share your support using #DebtFreeJustice.

The Center for American Progress has an opportunity for action to demand that state attorney generals be empowered to investigate, litigate, and resolve police misconduct.

If you are an attorney, volunteer for client intake and clinics at your local legal aid and encourage colleagues to do the same. This means lending time and expertise to representing clients on day to day matters, not just impact cases. Legal aids can’t provide representation in most cases because they don’t have enough staff.

Make sure you are engaging in continued, probably uncomfortable dialogue with friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. Examine your workplace, culture, practices, and clients. Racism is baked into American law and culture; we need all hands on deck to heal. Are there ways in which Black people and other underserved groups are silenced in your workplace and communities? Even more challenging, but part of the work, are there clients you serve or businesses you patronize that perpetuate poverty and white supremacy? Can you reevaluate those relationships?

Here is a working document of detailed anti-racist resources to aid as background for those conversations.

Here is homework to absorb, let sink in, carry with you, share with others, and sear into your mind:

ReadWhite FragilityThe New Jim CrowThe Fire Next TimeThe 1619 ProjectThe Case for Reparations, Between the World and Me (here is the article adaptation, but not a replacement for the whole book), How to Be an AntiracistSo You Want to Talk About RaceThe Color of Law

Watch: 13th (currently free to watch), Just Mercy (currently free to watch), I Am Not Your NegroWhen They See Us

Listen1619Ear HustleCode Switch

MOREA Guide to White Privilege

EPIC News – May 2020

Bleak State Budget Depends on Federal Help

Governor Newsom issued the May Revision of the 2020-21 state budget. Western Center’s analysis is available here. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the outlook is bleak, but not necessarily dire. Ironically, the biggest cuts are aimed at health care – particularly Medi-Cal for our state’s elders. Much of what will happen depends on the federal government, and the passage of the HEROES Act in Congress.

To help, contact your Congressional Representatives to demand more support for states during this time.

More Juvenile Fees Released in California

San Diego County voted unanimously to discharge more than $40 million in old juvenile fees for roughly 9,100 families – many of whom live at or below the poverty line. Only 18 of California’s 58 counties continue to seek payment from vulnerable families, with Orange and Tulare remaining the top holdouts, collecting almost $50 million combined.

Senate Bill 190, which Western Center co-sponsored, went into effect on January 1, 2018, and prohibited counties from charging families new juvenile fees, but it did not require counties to end collection of previously assessed fees. Most counties voluntarily discharged old fees, and our coalition advocacy continues to push counties that held out after SB 190 to discharge as well. We are co-sponsoring a bill in the California Legislature this year, SB 1290, which seeks to eliminate juvenile fees once and for all across the state.

Western Center Sues USDA Over Emergency Food Benefits

Western Center and Impact Fund sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for denying the lowest income SNAP food benefit recipients in California emergency food benefits, which Congress authorized in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The suit seeks an immediate injunction of USDA’s SNAP emergency allotment guidance. Our press release containing the complaint is available here.

EPIC News – April 2020

Western Center Continues to Lead Advocacy Response for COVID-19 Emergency

April has been an intense and busy month for Western Center, as our advocates work to protect the needs of those most impacted by COVID-19 and the parallel economic crisis.

Yesterday, California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) gained the ability to purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program, which is a result of Western Center’s sustained advocacy on the issue. We and our partners continue to push for further expansion of the program so that it reaches all Californians who need it, ensures diversity of purchase options, and protects consumer rights. We will also continue to support front-line delivery workers who deliver SNAP-purchased food to secure a living wage and worker safety.

Last Thursday, we sent a letter in partnership with Impact Fund to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding that the Department rescind its guidance that denies emergency SNAP food benefits to those most in need. If necessary, we are prepared to take legal action to protect Californians from hunger during the COVID emergency, and to uphold the intent of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Also last week, Governor Newsom announced an executive order requiring the exemption of federal, state, or local government financial assistance from debt collection and garnishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a result of our multi-year, successful advocacy efforts to prevent harmful debt-collection practices like wage garnishments and bank levies, and our coalition advocacy as a member and partner of the California Low-Income Consumer Coalition and California Asset Building Coalition.

Today (April 30th) at noon PDT, Western Center policy advocate Jessica Bartholow will be participating in a webinar hosted by the UC Student Association to discuss what can be done to ensure students’ basic needs are met in the wake of COVID-19. Registration is available here.

To stay current with Western Center news and updates, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Stay well, friends.

EPIC News – March 2020

Why Do We Work For a Strong Safety Net? Because of Times Like These.

COVID-19 has revealed how much we all rely on each other, and millions of Americans and Californians are stepping up to make sure others have what they need. Since our founding, Western Center has advocated for a strong social safety net. Our positions are often labeled progressive, but in this time of increased need, it has become clear that a strong safety net benefits everyone. What was deemed politically progressive months ago is now a new baseline for decent human society.

We are regularly updating our COVID-19 webpage with new information to help low-income Californians, and we are continuously working to make sure that the most vulnerable among us (a growing number) are protected.

In 2019, we advanced crucial legislation and litigation to position California to better serve people living in poverty – in good times and in hard times; our newly released annual report highlights those important victories. It is our intention that in this time of uncertainty, you can read our annual report and know that we are building on this work now more than ever, and we do not plan to stop.

Click below to read the full report.


FACT SHEET: California Anti-Hunger Leaders Support Pandemic EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer)

A well-tested solution to feed children during public health emergencies and school closures.

For a PDF of this document, click here.

As California braces for the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, many schools are making the difficult decision to close. While these decisions can slow the spread of the disease, the closures disproportionately impact low-income children who rely on free and reduced-price school meals to prevent hunger. California’s school nutrition personnel are working around the clock to find solutions. Thanks to the California Department of Education and USDA, California was approved for a waiver to establish non-congregate meal service during closures. However, the waiver still requires children to travel to meal service sites with a parent. This solution, though better than nothing, will not meet the needs of California’s poorest children who have no parent at home and no way to travel safely to meal sites. Pandemic EBT offers an effective solution to overcoming the multiple barriers that prevent children from benefiting from the waiver.

What is Pandemic EBT? Pandemic EBT, as introduced in H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, is a well-tested solution that delivers nutrition assistance on an EBT card that can be used to purchase groceries for families with school children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals when school is out of session due to a pandemic.

A Well-Tested Solution to Preventing Child Hunger during School Closures: Pandemic EBT is modeled off of Summer EBT, a well-tested federal nutrition program operating in multiple states. In its test phase, Summer EBT eliminated very low food insecurity by one-third, reached 75% of eligible children, and improved children’s nutritional intake.

How Would Pandemic EBT Work? At the State’s option, families with children eligible for free or reduced price meals at schools that have closed due to a pandemic would receive a pre-loaded EBT card in the mail for every eligible child in an amount no less than the value of school lunch and breakfast, and dependent on the amount of time their school will be closed. These EBT cards with pre-loaded food benefits could be used everywhere that SNAP EBT is used.

Is California Ready to Take Advantage of Pandemic EBT? Yes! California operates several successful EBT programs beyond just SNAP that provide recipients with a pre-paid debit card to purchase food at authorized retailers.

How Would Pandemic EBT Benefit School Nutrition Personnel? While many California employees are staying home for their safety, school nutrition personnel are being asked to continue to work so schools can offer meals during closures. School nutrition personnel are some of the poorest workers on school campuses, and tend to be workers of color and women. They are being forced to take the biggest risk. What’s worse, in California, according to SEIU California, these workers would continue to receive pay either way because it would be a declared disaster. Pandemic EBT would allow them to avert the danger of contagion and end the practice of asking them to come into work while their peers are able to remain safely at home.

California’s anti-hunger community is united in support of Pandemic EBT.

For more information about Pandemic EBT:

Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law and Poverty: jbartholow[at]

Andrew Cheyne, California Association of Food Banks: andrew[at]

Melissa Cannon, California Food Policy Advocates: melissa[at]

Kimberly Rosenberger, Service Employees International (SEIU) California: krosenberger[at]

California Should Have a Significant Homeless Vote. Here’s Why That Might Not Happen.

“The barriers to homeless people voting nationwide are particularly concerning because many of the issues at stake in this election — health care, affordable housing, wealth equality — are important to poor Americans, said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

“There’s a lot of stake for people who are unhoused right now in the presidential election,” Bartholow, based in California, said. ‘And yet there’s more effort now than ever before to undermine the effort of organizing people who are low-income and homeless.”

Read More



EPIC News – February 2020

Say it With Us: Homelessness is Not a Crime

As California struggles to help its homeless residents, some leaders are calling for an increase in forced institutionalization, as others find unconstitutional ways to dehumanize people living on the street. Not only are these actions inhumane, they are costly, inefficient, and not how we will solve this problem.

Our advocates work to protect tenants from losing their homes before they become homeless, and to pressure the state and local governments to invest in more permanent supportive housing and deeply affordable housing where people with very low or no income can live. Those are sustainable solutions that will lift us out of crisis. The criminal justice system will not.

Last week, Western Center’s Jen Flory wrote for CalMatters on why arresting people who are homeless will make a bad problem worse. Read here

“It doesn’t result in people stabilizing over the long term.”

That’s Western Center policy advocate Anya Lawler quoted in a Los Angeles Times editorial opposing a proposed ballot measure by former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, which would forcefully institutionalize people experiencing homelessness who are deemed mentally unwell. Read here

In a recent blog post, Western Center attorney Alex Prieto explains how we intervened to stop a local ordinance in San Clemente from forcing people experiencing homelessness to camp next to a waste treatment plant. He also explains why it’s more important than ever to ring the alarm against the growing interest among California leaders to criminalize homelessness. Read here

Help Spread the Word

Please talk to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors about holding California accountable for humane solutions to homelessness. If they’d like to learn more, encourage them to sign up for our newsletter on our website and follow us on social media.

EPIC News – January 2020

The Year Ahead: A Letter from the Executive Director

Unfaltering optimism and an exciting transition. Read here

Western Center Reaction to Gov. Newsom’s Proposed Budget

Overall, we are pleased with Governor Newsom’s proposed state budget, particularly the significant proposals to address the homelessness crisis in California. Read our initial reaction by issue area here

Our full, in-depth analysis of the Governor’s proposal can be viewed here

California’s Response to Homelessness in 2020

Our housing policy advocate Anya Lawler was on KPCC’s AirTalk with Larry Mantle to discuss Governor Newsom’s executive order to combat homelessness. Listen here

Our policy advocate Jen Flory was also on AirTalk to discuss why we think the proposed 2020 ballot measure, “California’s Compassionate Intervention Act,” is a bad idea. The main takeaway: we can’t arrest our way out of the homelessness crisis. Listen here