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Blocked calls may keep Californians from benefits they need. New bill would fix that.

When contacting people regarding social service programs, counties would not be able to use blocked numbers under a new bill proposed in the California Legislature this year.

From Assemblymember Laurie Davies, R-Laguna Niguel, the bill would require calls made by counties or on behalf of counties to an applicant or recipient of a social services benefits program to be made using a displayed number. A majority use blocked, or masked, numbers, her office said.

Davies said immigrants, people with disabilities and elderly residents, in particular, may not answer calls from a blocked number — and they could then be denied needed benefits.

Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2023-2024 California Budget Proposal

On January 10th, Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2023-24 California state budget. To address a projected budget deficit of $22.5 billion in 2023-24, the Governor proposes to delay funding for new programs, and in some cases ties new program implementation to future year revenue. The Governor’s proposal avoids major cuts, retains significant budget reserves, and maintains investments from previous budgets, including Medi-Cal expansion to all income-eligible adults regardless of immigration status effective January 2024, grant adjustments for CalWORKs and SSI/SSP, and many housing and homelessness investments. While not austere, the Governor’s budget is conservative in its ambition to meet the needs of low-income Californians.

Below is Western Center’s initial reaction to the proposed budget by issue area:

HEALTH CARE

Medi-Cal

· Maintains 2022 Budget Actions on Health4All, Share of Cost reform, and continuous eligibility: The Governor’s proposal maintains last year’s budget action to implement full-scope Medi-Cal coverage expansion to adults aged 26 through 49, regardless of immigration status, effective January 2024. In addition, there has been no change to last year’s budget deal to update the Medi-Cal Share of Cost so that seniors and people with disabilities can afford to access needed Medi-Cal services and continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children ages zero to five effective January 2025 with contingencies.

· Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The Administration proposes to enact a three-year MCO tax renewal effective January 2024 through December 2026, drawing down federal funding for estimated $6.5 billion (and potentially more) in General Fund savings in Medi-Cal.

· California’s Behavioral Health Community-Based Continuum (CalBH-CBC): The Administration seeks federal approval of CalBH-CBC Demonstration to expand behavioral health crisis, inpatient, and residential services through a staged implementation starting January 1, 2024. The fiscal impact for the Department of Health Care Services and Department of Social Services over the five years of the waiver is estimated to be $6.1 billion total funds ($314 million General Fund).

· Transitional Rent: The Administration seeks federal approval to fund up to 6 months of rent or temporary housing to individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness and transitioning out of institutional levels of care, a correctional facility, or the foster care system, and who are at risk of hospitalization. Not a statewide Medi-Cal benefit, counties may opt-in through CalBH-CBC and Medi-Cal plans may provide as optional community support service under CalAIM. The proposal includes $17.9 million ($6.3 million General Fund) in 2025-26 and up to $116.6 million ($40.8 million General Fund) at full implementation.

· Delays in Behavioral Health Bridge Housing and Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program (BHCIP) Funding: The proposal delays half ($250 million) of 2023-24 Bridge House funding until 2024-25 and delays the last round of behavioral health continuum capacity funding out one fiscal year.

· Designated State Health Program (DSHP) and Primary Care and Obstetric Rate Increase: The Administration requests federal approval to claim $646.4 million in federal funding over four years to support PATH program to build capacity to implement services under CalAIM. The DSHP proposal also includes 10% increase in primary care services, obstetric, and doula care for net impact of $22 million total funds ($152.9 million General Fund savings) in 2023-24.

Other Health Care Proposals:

· Delays healthcare workforce investments: The proposal defers $68 million in 2022-23 and $329.4 million in 2023-24 for certain Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) healthcare workforce programs, including community health workers, nurses, behavioral health, primary care and reproductive health, but these programs remain fully funded.

· Sweeps Covered California reserve fund to General Fund: Money deposited into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs totaling $333.4 million is proposed to be swept to the General Fund. This would be returned after federal subsidies end, which is scheduled in 2025-26.

 

HOUSING

Rising housing costs, stalled housing production, and shrinking housing affordable housing is crushing Californians. To alleviate the pressure on Californians, the 2023-24 Housing Budget Proposal aims to keep jurisdictions accountable for planning, zoning and permitting housing at all income levels and maintains all but three of the investments seen in the 2022 Budget Act. The proposal also includes a new legally binding statewide housing goal of building 2.5 million new units, of which 1 million units will be affordable to low-income people by the year 2030. Unlike last year’s budget, this proposal has no investments in the emergency rental assistance program or any programs to assist people struggling to pay their rent or utilities due to the pandemic but maintains last year’s budget investments including:

· $500M – Annual investment in state Low Income Housing Tax Credit program

· $225M – Multifamily Housing Program

· $225M – Infill Infrastructure Grant Program

· $250M – Adaptive reuse

· $100M – Portfolio Reinvestment Program

· $50M – Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program

· $50M – Affordable housing on excess sites.

The proposed budget cuts $350 million in housing programs that were included in last year’s Budget Act. Reductions will be restored in January 2024, if there are sufficient budget revenues. Cuts for this year include:

· Dream For All Program: The newly created program would provide shared-appreciation loans to help low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers achieve homeownership. The timeline for implementing the program will remain the same, but $200 million of the original $500 million will be reverted to the General Fund.

· CalHome: Last year’s budget included $350 million one-time General Fund ($250 million in 2022-23 and $100 million for 2023-24) for the CalHome program, to provide local agencies and nonprofits grants to assist low- and very-low-income first-time homebuyers with housing assistance, counseling and technical assistance. The proposal removes $100 million in 2023-24.

· Accessory Dwelling Unit Program: The proposal reverts last year’s budget investment of $50 million General Fund in 2022-23 for the California Housing Finance Agency’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program.

HOMELESSNESS

The proposed budget includes $3.4 billion in 2023-24 to maintain the state’s efforts to address homelessness. There are no proposed cuts to the $15.3 billion in existing homelessness investments, which include:

· $3B – Flexible aid to local governments

· $3B – Homekey

· $2.2B – Behavioral health continuum infrastructure (see health section for delay details)

· $1.5B – Behavioral Health Bridge housing (see health section for delay details)

· $860M – Community Care Expansion

· $750M ($400M in 2023-24) – 3rd round of Encampment Clean Up Grants

· $262M – Project Roomkey

· $1B – for a fifth round of Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP)

The proposed budget includes funding to allow up to six months of rent or temporary housing to eligible individuals (see transitional rent under health section for more details) and the Administration plans to work with the Legislature this year to advance homeless accountability legislation.

 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

· Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Fraud Mitigation: In recent years recipients of CalWORKs and CalFresh have become easy prey for scammers to electronically steal or “skim” cash benefits from due to the lack protections that are provided on current EBT cards. In this proposal, the Governor provides a $50 million allocation over three years to pursue security upgrades and EBT card technology enhancements. We applaud the Governor for recognizing the need to strengthen protections for CalWORKs and CalFresh recipients and look forward to working with the Administration to create these protections while ensuring recipients of these programs can access their benefits freely and uninterrupted.

 

· CalWORKs: This proposal increases CalWORKs maximum aid payment levels by 2.9%. This is on top of legislative wins that we and our partners secured last year including funding for AB 2277 (Reyes), which provides program waivers to survivors of domestic abuse, and SB 1083 (Skinner), which provided home visiting services to pregnant CalWORKs participants and updates the criteria for families to receive CalWORKs homeless assistance.

· Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): This proposal includes an 8.6% increase in funding for the SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program providing a $3.5 billion from the general fund. This allocation provides recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month for individuals and $1,928 per month for couples.

· Child Welfare: We appreciate that the Governor recognizes the importance of prioritizing the well-being of California children and their safety. This proposal provides $1.6 billion in funding to Child Welfare Services, Foster Care, Child Support Services and other programs and services. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislative leaders to ensure that any additional funding provided to prioritize the safety of children shall include the principle of keeping families whole. Far too often California families have been separated by Child Protective Services without seeking alternative options that are often at our fingertips to keep families whole and together.

· Fines and Fees: In recent years California has made significant strides to eliminate fines and fees that place Californians further into poverty, such as the civil assessment. We look forward to continuing our advocacy with our partners from the Debt Free Justice Coalition to continue to seek the elimination of unjust fines and fees.

· Migrant and Immigrant Communities: While we recognize that California is a leader in welcoming and integrating immigrant communities into our state, this proposal falls short of providing basic needs to many immigrant communities including new arrivals from the border. We believe that this proposal must build upon the investments the state has already made by including access to critical social services for migrants who are seeking humanitarian relief from the federal government including those seeking asylum, non-citizens who are survivors of domestic abuse and others. The answer from anti-immigrant states and policy makers has been to militarize the southern border and disregard the humanity of migrants who are fleeing violence. Our state’s response must be one that continues to show us as a global leader providing comfort to those in need. Additionally, we support our coalition partners’ efforts to expand and strengthen the state’s safety net this year to provide food for all Californians and access to unemployment benefits. Scheduled to implement this year, we are disappointed that the proposal delays the California Food Assistance Program expansion to all income-eligible noncitizens 55 years of age or older until 2027.

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The Governor’s proposal provides $215 million to implement the CARE Act, which creates a court-ordered treatment system that strips people with untreated schizophrenia and other psychotic spectrum disorders of their right to make their own decisions about their lives, so we along with other partners will be working to ensure there is sufficient funding to support legal counsel to CARE participants. This includes $23.8 million in 2023-24, ramping up to $68.5 million in 2025-26 and ongoing to Judicial Branch; $16.5 million in 2023-24, ramping up to $108.5 million in 2025-26 and annually thereafter to county behavioral health department; and $6.1 million in 2023-24, increasing to $31.5 million annually beginning in 2025-26, to support legal counsel to CARE participants.

 

A PDF of this analysis can be accessed here: WCLP Analysis of Gov January Budget Proposal 2023-24

For questions, contact:

· Health: Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]wclp.org

· Housing and Homelessness: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

· Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org

California Failed Tenants By Privatizing Rent Relief, but It’s Not Too Late to Fix the Program

“In January 2021, the State of California established the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to distribute billions in funds allocated by the federal government for those struggling to pay rent due to COVID-related illness or job loss. The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) was charged with administering the state program, with support from a network of local community partners. SAJE was one of the groups on the ground assisting tenants with applications. In March 2022, with little notice, the program stopped taking new applications. Even so, during the months ERAP was operational, over 600,000 renters applied for assistance, demonstrating the urgent need for this important social safety net in the pandemic. According to the State’s public program dashboard, over $4.4 billion has been paid out. But that number is still less than the need, and does not reflect the hundreds of thousands of tenants who were not able to apply or were denied. ”

Read More

Western Center Roundup – November 2022

New Blog Post: Voices From the Holiday Strike Line

Western Center’s Outreach and Advocacy Associate, Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez centers the voices and testimonios of workers on the frontlines of current labor strikes, as he joins their picket lines and bears witness to the organizing work of Starbucks and University of California employees in this latest blog post.

READ THE BLOG


Tomorrow Is Giving Tuesday: How You Can Support Our Work  

GIVING TUESDAY TOOLKIT



12/13 Meet the Advocates: Mike Herald Career Retrospective Conversation

Join us at noon on 12/13 for a special Meet the Advocates, featuring a career retrospective conversation with retiring Policy Director, Mike Herald and Western Center Policy Advocates: Linda Nguy, Christopher Sanchez, Cynthia Castillo, and Tina Rosales. You won’t want to miss out on this conversation exploring the major milestones of Mike’s advocacy career in Sacramento, the biggest wins, the bills that “got away,” the future of advocacy work to end poverty, and much, much more. Join us as we send Mike off to retirement with this special event to honor his transformational impact on California’s policy landscape.

RSVP TODAY


12/6 You’re Invited: Celebrate Mike Herald’s Retirement with Us!

Join Western Center on Law and Poverty as we celebrate the upcoming retirement of Policy Advocacy Director, Mike Herald! We will be toasting to Mike’s 19 years of service at Western Center and his decades of trailblazing work to transform California’s policy landscape.

December 6th 5:30-7PM at
Mix Downtown
1525 L St, Sacramento, CA 95814

RSVP TODAY


Join Our Growing Team

As Western Center expands to position itself for greater reach and impact in 2023, we have several new positions open: Director of Policy AdvocacyPublic Benefits AdvocateHealth & Public Benefits Policy Advocate or Senior AdvocateHousing Staff or Senior Attorney; & Senior Communications Specialist.

We encourage you to explore these opportunities and share them widely with your networks!

Voices From the Holiday Strike Line

Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, academic workers and food service workers in Los Angeles went on strike for fair treatment and better wages. I visited the UCLA campus and joined the picket line to speak with UC academic worker organizers to hear their struggles. Later that week, I visited a Starbucks in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and spoke to Starbuck Workers United workers where they shared the conditions they are facing in their own workplace. The workers I met with talked about their fight for a living wage, and how winning a dignified wage will help them stay housed throughout the ongoing housing crisis. These workers spoke about fighting for better health benefits for themselves and for their families. They shared how their employers have encouraged them to sign up for public benefits, how their contract negotiations are being stalled, and how they are experiencing union busting tactics throughout this journey. My conversations made clear that the only way these workers will access justice is by walking the picket line and striking for what they deserve.

The following two accounts will be center the voice of the worker. The value of this approach is to allow the narrative to speak for itself – we must listen to and understand how they live, feel, and navigate their workplace. In many ways this borrows from the tradition of the testimonio (testimony) not in the legal sense, but in how it was used as an instrument of liberation and truth telling during the fight for liberation throughout the Americas. It is in these stories that you hear the protagonists at the center of the narrative: working people. When we talk about poverty and the impacts poverty has on health, housing, public benefits, and access to justice, we are talking about the struggle of workers. If we are committed to ending poverty, supporting the right to organize a union and protecting the right to strike is essential. These are the mightiest tools working people wield to fight injustice and systems that sustain poverty.

 

The Grinch that stole union contracts: Starbucks Workers United’s Red Cup Rebellion

Thursday, November 17. 2022 

“We’re here to show Starbucks that if there is no contract, there is no coffee. If we don’t get it, we shut it down,” said Cypress Park Starbucks barista Veronica Gonzalez through a megaphone as she walked the picket line with her co-workers. On the morning of November 17, baristas across Southern California successfully went on strike and closed 10 stores down. The same day, over 90 stores throughout the country closed as part of the national strike, the Red Cup Rebellion.  “Why today?” I asked the strikers. Starbucks Workers United (SWU) organizers shared that today is Starbucks Red Cup Day, when loyal customers anticipate the release of the company’s annual Holiday themed cup. “It’s like a collector craze customers look forward to,” shared a customer walking by to take a selfie and to show workers solidarity.

Veronica and her co-workers picketed along the entrance where several cars tried to enter but supportively drove away once learning of the strike. SWU strikers are asking corporate representatives to come to the negotiation table and work towards an agreement in their fight to end what they feel are union busting tactics. Veronica  shared that “we’ve already gone through the unionizing process. We have a union in our store that we won in August, and yet, we still have no contract. Starbucks refuses to bargain in good faith, so we are here to make ourselves heard.”

SWU says that the National Labor Relations Board has issued 39 official complaints and 900 alleged federal labor law violations in response to union busting violations. Veronica’s store is one of the busiest locations in Los Angeles. “They don’t care if they are overworking us, they don’t care if they are understaffing us. If the numbers look good to them [management], they’re content with that. So if that’s the case, there goes their numbers – sorry we’re closed on the busiest day.” Veronica told me that “not anyone can do what we do. People want to say this is an unskilled job, but we are skilled workers making struggle [sic] wages.” She shared that many workers have families and live locally in Cypress Park, an area that has experienced gentrification and lacks quality, affordable housing. Many workers with families are getting by only with public benefits. “They cut our labor so short, only to make their profit margin larger. They’re making us struggle, they’re scheduling people under 20 hours, gas is $7 dollars, you still have to pay for food or apply for food stamps to pay for rent, nothing is getting cheaper, it’s unlivable conditions [sic],” feels Veronica. SWU organizers shared that they are not anti-Starbucks, but they are fighting to be seen as partners not just in words, but in dignified action. “Let’s get this contract going!” shouted Veronica.

 

UC Academic Workers Strike for better pay and health benefits for their families – Tuesday, November 15, 2022

“Union busting is disgusting,” roared a crowd of over one hundred or so academic workers as they picketed the UCLA campus. It is day two of this historic strike, which began on November 15, 2022. The picketers marched with resolve and their signs read, “UAW ON STRIKE: UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE.”

Around 48,000 academic workers across the University of California system are on strike as union leaders are asking the UC representatives to return to the negotiating table. UC officials are calling for a neutral mediator, while in several statements are claiming their offers to the union are reasonable. Workers leading negotiations shared with me that this is not enough. Their main demands are an increase in wages and expanded support to workers with families. On average, graduate students who tutor and labor as teacher assistants only earn around $24,000 annually. For academic worker organizers, this is about fighting for a living wage in the midst of unprecedented national inflation and an affordable housing crisis in California.

“All of us are student academic workers organizing. This is the time to take a stand,” said Stefany Mena who is an academic researcher in Psychology at UCLA. She argues the UC system incorrectly views them as part-time worker, while many average 60-hour work weeks. “We are severely rent burdened. Most of my salary goes back to rent for housing that the university owns.” Stefany says. Instead of being offered a raise, many academic workers are being encouraged to sign up for food stamps, she says. “During our orientation, they encourage us to sign up for public assistance… but U.C.’s shouldn’t be relying on these programs for workers to get by.” Some organizers have created mutual aid food programs to help fellow academic workers, she adds “these are amazing, but again, workers shouldn’t be struggling.” Strikers are also asking for free public transit passes. Stefany says that the rent is so high that they need transportation benefits. ” We are having to commute further and further away to find affordable rents.” Academic workers with dependents are also fighting to expand health coverage. “If you have children, it’s very difficult because it’s extremely expensive” she says.

The outcomes of this strike are still to be determined, but strikers here know that they will win what they are demanding. As they picket, they affirm, “if we don’t get it, shut it down!”

 

 

Western Center Roundup – October 2022

55 Years of Building a More Just California 

Western Center Kicks Off 55th Anniversary Year at Garden Party 2022 

On October 11th, Executive Director Crystal Crawford and event emcee Michael Tubbs kicked off Western Center’s 55th anniversary year of building a more just California at our annual Garden Party fundraiser. Paying homage to the Founders and past Executive Directors of Western Center (including the late Professor Derrick Bell) – the trailblazers upon whose shoulders we stand, Crystal shared, “We take very seriously our responsibility to challenge and transform broken systems. We are leaders and leaders challenge systems to say: ‘we can do better.'” In light of the Los Angeles City Council controversy, Crystal and Michael both addressed the need to stengthen alliances to address and root out racism.

We stand in solidarity with many of our partners, including Community Coalition in the call to do better in building the power and partnerships necessary to disrupt anti-Blackness in policies, laws, and institutions. In our milestone anniversary year, we will be spotlighting the ways in which we and our partners have transformed and dismantled oppressive systems and the accomplishments we have secured together to build a California where health care and housing are affordable, food is secure, and systemic racism is addressed. We invite you to follow us on social media to learn more about our history and mission to ensure all Californians have access to secure housing, quality affordable health care, and a strong safety net. 

As our team continues to grow, please share our open positions as we look for new folks to join us in this critical work. Also – we need your help to reach our Garden Party fundraising goal – click here to donate!

2022 Legislative Wins for Californians 

Western Center had an outstanding end to the 2022 legislative session, with 13 of our co-sponsored bills signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. Among the highlights were (SB972), a bill modernizing street vending licensing (SB 972) and (SB 923), a first in nation bill on gender affirming health care. We also passed bills to repeal failure to appear (FTA) license suspensions and repeal the use of license suspension for low-income parents in arrears on child support. Other wins included mandating counties waive work requirements for domestic violence survivors and expanded protections for low-income debtors from wage garnishments. READ MORE about these WCLP co-sponsored bills, two additional bills we provided support on: AB 2594 and AB 2746, what bills we opposed, and what bills we’ll be bringing back next session.

2022 Housing Summit: Keeping Californians Housed 

On October 20th and 21st, Western Center and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation hosted our biannual Housing Summit, bringing together housing advocates from legal services, organizing, and policy groups for the first time since the start of the pandemic to discuss regional housing issues, strategize on our collective work to keep Californians housed, and to build policy ideas and solutions to address our State’s housing crisis. Brandon Greene from ACLU Northern California provided a special address on California’s history of redlining and how the State’s Reparations Task Force is working to repair the harms of this history through housing policy advocacy.

Western Center Executive Director Crystal Crawford Joins CalNonprofit Board of Directors 

We are honored to announce that our very own Crystal D. Crawford was elected to serve on the board of directors of the California Association of Nonprofits – the leading voice of California’s nonprofit community. Two thirds of board members are elected by members, providing a statewide endorsement of leaders equipped to skillfully and thoughtfully advance our sectors’ needs. Crystal is joined by incoming board members: Le Ondra Clark Harvey, CEO, California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA) (Sacramento) and Malcolm Yeung, Executive Director, Chinatown Community Development Corporation (Chinatown CDC), San Francisco.

Organizing for Vendor Justice in California: New Blog Post 

Abraham Zavala, Western Center’s Outreach and Advocacy Associate shares about the history of community organizing for street vendor justice that led to the recent passage of SB972. “On the last Friday night of September, Mariachi Plaza was bursting with beautiful music and enticing aromas. It’s always bustling on a weekend, but this night was different. Hundreds of cheerful street vendors, advocates, and supporters were gathered to celebrate the signing of SB 972 by Governor Gavin Newsom, which modernized the California Retail Food Code to be inclusive of street vendors. This moment was special for street vendors in California. They made history by organizing, mobilizing, and fighting for their rights. This is a victory that will be retold alongside other stories of social justice movements, like the Justice for Janitors campaign and the United Farm Workers movement.” READ MORE.
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2022 Garden Party Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award Tribute

In the past fourteen years, the Equal Justice awards have been presented to a wide array of national, state, and local leaders in the legal aid world — from former U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder to California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to local leaders like Judge Terry Hatter and USC Law Professor Claire Pastore. This year, we finally realized we had been overlooking two legal aid stars in the Center’s own backyard. Those stars are the Center’s long-time Litigation Director Dick Rothschild and it’s veteran General Counsel, Robert Newman.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Yale University, Dick Rothschild attended USC Law school— graduating in 1975 where he was Order of the Coif, second highest GPA in his class and the Notes and Articles Editor of the Law Review. He then clerked for California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk. With that outstanding resume, Dick was a top prospect for the largest, most prestigious law firms in town. But that was not what he wanted to do as a lawyer and in 1976, he chose instead to sign on as a staff Attorney at the Western Center. By 1984 he was elevated to be the Center’s Director of Litigation, the position he still occupies nearly four decades later. In that role, Dick not only manages the litigation staff and all the Center’s major cases, but frequently is personally involved as lead or co-counsel in those cases.

Meantime, Bob Newman earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at Yale , finishing in 1977 and moving to Los Angeles in 1979. The next few years Bob developed a successful practice representing individuals who had suffered at the hands of government. During that time he won several of multi-million dollar judgments for victims of police misconduct. In 1986, he brought that expertise in major litigation and class actions to the Western Center when he joined the staff as its General Counsel. Over the past three and a half decades, often teaming with other Western Center lawyers, he has successfully litigated scores of major class actions and test cases establishing new legal rights and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of low income people. In addition, he shares his expertise and wisdom with other staff members when they face knotty problems in cases they are handling. While the rest of Western Center’s legal staff is unusually talented, they are even more productive and successful because the staff includes Bob and Dick with their deep reservoir of experience in complex litigation.

While this may be the first time Dick and Bob are receiving the Western Center’s Equal Justice Award, they have reputations in the legal aid and public interest community that range across the state and even nationally. This is evidenced by the many awards one or both of them have received from other organizations—among them the California Bar’s Loren Miller Award which Dick and Bob won in different years, the Lawyers’ Guild’s Robert Kenny Award which Bob received recently, and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s top award— the Kutak-Dodd Prize—which Dick earned a few years ago that goes to the outstanding legal aid lawyer in the country.

I am pleased, indeed honored, to add the Center’s Equal Justice Award to that list. It is especially meaningful for me because this time I have personally observed the contributions these two lawyers have made to the elusive goal of equal justice for all and to improving the lives of the poor and otherwise powerless. So I ask Dick Rothschild and Bob Newman to accept these Equal Justice Awards they have proven several times over that they have long deserved.

Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Wrap-Up

Western Center had an outstanding end to the 2022 legislative session, with 13 of co-sponsored bills signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. Among the highlights were (SB 972) modernizing street vending licensing and (SB 923), a first in nation bill on gender affirming health care. We also passed bills to repeal failure to appear (FTA) license suspensions and to repeal the use of license suspension for low-income parents in arrears on child support. Other wins included mandating counties waive work requirements for domestic violence survivors and expanded protections for low-income debtors from wage garnishments. Below is a list that includes WCLP sponsored bills and other bills of note that WCLP played a role in, such as AB 2594 and AB 2746.

 

PASSED BILLS

HEALTH

SB 923 (Wiener) – SB 923 WCLP co-sponsored this historic bill that creates a workgroup to establish first-in-the nation quality standards for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex (TGI) patient experience and recommends related training curriculum, mandates health plans to require TGI cultural competency training for their staff, and requires plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services.

SB 644 (Leyva) – WCLP co-sponsored SB 644 which requires EDD to share with Covered California contact and income information about those who have recently applied for or lost income-replacing benefits to allow Covered California to reach out and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

 

FINANCIAL SECURITY/FOOD ACCESS

SB 972 (L Gonzales) –SB 972WCLP co-sponsored this bill that modernizes vending policies and fully legalizes food street vending, providing pathways for vendors to obtain health permits and build their small businesses. You can learn more about the community organizing history and vendor led process to achieve this historic victory by watching our Meet the Advocates webinar on vendor justice as a food justice issue.

SB 1008 (Becker) – SB 1008 makes phone calls from prison and juvenile facilities free, keeping families connected. In partnership with co-sponsors and community groups, WCLP amplified the call to support this bill across our social media channels.

AB 2277 (Reyes)  –WCLP co-sponsored AB 2277 requiring counties to provide good cause to CalWORKs program requirements, including work participation, when a recipient identifies themselves as a survivor of domestic violence.

AB 2004 (C. Garcia) – WCLP co-sponsored AB 2004 which strengthens the California Dream Loan Program and establishes a loan forgiveness program for program borrowers.

SB 1200 (Skinner) – SB 1200 WCLP co-sponsored this bill to reduce the interest rate applied to unpaid government and private debt. The bill will reduce the interest from 10 percent annually to 5 percent. It also limits creditors to one renewal of a judgment against a debtor. There is currently no limit on how long creditors can try and collect old debt.

AB 2300 (Kalra) – AB 2300 – WCLP co-sponsored this bill that allows CalWORKs recipients to have good cause from not meeting work requirements if their employer violates state labor laws including the Crown Act, sexual harassment, and many other labor provisions.

AB 1686 (Bryan) –  AB 1686 establishes a presumption that, when a child is in foster care, requiring the parent or guardian to pay child support for the child is likely to impose a barrier to the family’s efforts to reunify.

SB 1055 (Kamlager) – SB 1055 WCLP co-sponsored this first of its kind in the nation bill to eliminate the use of license suspension when a low-income non-custodial parent is in arrears on making child support payments. The bill repeals license suspension for people with incomes at or below 70 percent of the area median income.

SB 1447 (Wieckowski) – WCLP co-sponsored SB 1447 which increases protections to income from wage garnishments to 48 hours times the minimum wage or 20 percent of disposable income.

AB 207 (Ting) – The Governor signed this budget trailer bill that included language approving full pass through of child support payments to CalWORKs children and mandates that CDSS form a stakeholder work group to evaluate whether there are any possible negative consequences from providing full pass through. The bill also requires CDSS to form a stakeholder work group to look at options for ending the TANF work participation pass-on penalty to counties that WCLP and CWDA have been urging repeal of the past two budgets. Lastly, the bill also mandates a stakeholder work group to come up with a proposal for implementing the child support Final Rule on determining how to establish child support orders. WCLP will be a participant in all three work groups.

HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS

SB 1017 (Eggman) – WCLP co-sponsored SB 1017 which expands the rights and protections of survivors of domestic violence in landlord/tenant proceedings, including clarifying when landlords can evict tenants if the perpetrator returns to the property.

AB 2339 (Bloom) –WCLP co-sponsored AB 2339 which strengthens housing element law to ensure zoning encourages and facilitates the production of emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing.

SB 1083 (Skinner)  –WCLP co-sponsored SB 1083 which makes numerous changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program including expanding the definition of homelessness to include an eviction notice and to reduce verification requirements for pregnant persons.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE/FINES AND FEES

AB 1355 (Levine)  – WCLP co-sponsored AB 1355, a bill that expands applicant protections related to alternating decisions in state fair hearings including requiring transcripts to be read before directors alternate and allowing additional evidence be entered after an alternated decision was returned to the ALJ.

AB 2746 (Friedman) – AB 2745 repeals the ability of traffic courts to suspend a driver’s license for failure to appear. 

AB 2147 (Ting) – AB 2147 reduces the use of jaywalking tickets by only allowing tickets when there is an imminent danger.

AB 2594 (Ting) – AB 2594 WCLP supported and negotiated this bill that makes numerous changes to toll agencies’ collection practices. It waives penalties on old violations, eliminates the requirement that a person must deposit all tolls and penalties in order to get an administrative review of a violation, and requires toll agencies to have payment plans for drivers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and caps payments for these plans at $25 a month and caps the maximum civil penalty for a violation at $100.

 

OPPOSED BILLS:

SB 1338 (Umberg and Eggman) – WCLP joined the opposition to this legislation, widely known as “Care Court,” sponsored by Governor Newsom. You can learn more about why WCLP opposed this bill by watching our Meet the Advocates webinar on this topic. The passed bill will only funds six counties (SD, SF, Riverside, Orange, Tuolumne and Stanislaus). It delays implementation of a second cohort of unnamed counties until December, 2024. The earliest Care Court can go live in the first six counties would be October 1, 2023. The bill includes language allowing courts to appoint counsel for the respondent from either a willing LSC program or a public defender.

SB 1133 (Archuleta) – WCLP opposed this bill that would remove price gouging protections during states of emergency – including rental caps. The successful defeat of this bill ensured that thousands of vulnerable Californians will continue to be protected against unjust housing price gouging during the declaration of an emergency – including wildfires, pandemics, and natural disasters.


DEFEATED BILLS TO BRING BACK NEXT SESSION:

AB 1685 (Bryan)- AB 1685 would have required local governments using DMV holds to collect parking tickets to forgive up to $1,500 in parking debt if they were homeless. 

AB 2775 (Quirk-Silva) – AB 2775, co-sponsored by WCLP would have allowed an unhoused person to not pay a registration fee on their vehicle.

SB 1140 (Umberg) – SB 1140, co-sponsored by WCLP would have codified the decision in Ortega vs Johnson that CalFresh benefits stolen electronically would have to be restored promptly.

BUDGET RE-CAP:

The governor and legislature reached an agreement on the 2022-23 state budget, which includes a historic $100 billion budget surplus. Amid substantial inflation and continued economic fallout from the pandemic, the reason for the massive surplus must be named. California has 189 billionaires and counting, and substantially more extremely high-income households that do not have the same economic burdens as the 1 in 3 Californians living near or below the poverty line. Only fundamental reforms, including for seemingly untouchable issues like discriminatory tax laws, can address the significant disparities in our state. One-time investments targeting people with low incomes during flush budget years are good, but ongoing, dedicated investments are the only way to make the state better.

Despite concerns that surplus revenue would make it difficult to fund General Fund programs, the budget deal includes substantial General Fund investments. The budget also provides tax rebates to millions of Californians, with the majority going to Californians with incomes below $75,000. Even with that spending and many other investments, the state will have a $37 billion reserve.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE/ FINES & FEES

Civil Assessments – The budget substantially reforms court practices that result in tens of millions of dollars in penalties imposed on people who fail to pay traffic and criminal court fines on time or who fail to appear in court. The current $300 civil assessment is being reduced to $100. The budget agreement also discharges civil assessment debt that accrued prior to the change in law. This means tens of thousands of people will no longer have to make payments on that debt or be harassed by bill collectors. The budget also shifts all future civil assessment revenue to the state General Fund rather than to the courts. The past practice led to lawsuits alleging that judges are incentivized to impose the maximum assessment to increase court revenue. The civil assessment language will be subject to completion in August via budget trailer bill.

Tax Intercepts – The budget includes a change to the longstanding practice by the state of intercepting Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and Young Child Tax Credits (YCTC) for unpaid debts. Going forward, the state’s Franchise Tax Board will no longer intercept such payments except in cases of child support or restitution.

FINANCIAL SECURITY/ FOOD ACCESS

CalWORKs – The CalWORKs budget provides a 21 percent increase in CalWORKs grants, the largest since the program began in 1998. It eliminates deep poverty for CalWORKs households of families of four or more. Deep poverty includes households with incomes below 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level by family size. For smaller families that get tax rebates, their income will also be above the deep poverty threshold. The increase will begin on October 1, 2022 for the next two budgets, but must be renewed in 2024 when an additional grant increase will also be under consideration. Below is an estimated chart of the grants starting in October.

Child Support Pass Through – The budget includes a major change in child support policy by allowing families that receive a child support payment to receive all of it and not have it re-directed to the state and federal government to reimburse the cost for public benefits. This will begin in 2025. Currently, a CalWORKs family only gets child support for the first $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children. The governor proposed to pass through all child support to former CalWORKs households in the January budget proposal, and the legislature succeeded in expanding that into a full pass through of all child support, making California the second state in the country to do so. It is estimated that this will result in $430 million in payments going directly to families.

Food for All – The budget includes an additional $35.2 million, increasing the total to $113.4 million to expand the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to all Californians 55 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status. California will become the first state to provide food assistance to ensure all residents 55+ can access food. We will continue to work with our partners, the governor, and the legislature in future budgets to ensure all Californians have access to food.

SSI/SSP – The budget includes another increase for the state SSP grant of approximately $37/month. This will begin in January 2023. When combined with the anticipated 8.6 percent increase in the federal grant, the total grant comes to approximately $1,149, an increase of $107/month. While this grant increase is substantial, the grant is still below the federal poverty level for one person at approximately 98 percent.

Tax Rebates – The budget provides $9.5 billion in tax rebates. For families with incomes below $75,000 and who file taxes, a single person will get $350, a two-person household will get $700, and households of three or more will receive $1,050. People using ITIN tax filer status will be eligible but people receiving SSI will not be eligible. Unlike the proposal by the governor to distribute tax rebates to registered car owners via the DMV, the agreement instead utilizes the Franchise Tax Board to distribute payments. Currently, it is projected payments should arrive by October. These funds will benefit families on CalWORKs, CalFresh, and Medi-Cal if they filed tax returns.

Universal School Meals – Building upon the state’s historic investment in providing school meals for all students in California, this year’s budget provides 700 million in additional dollars to support school meals for all, with a focus on best practices and kitchen infrastructure. This funding will contribute to California students getting access to healthier options for school meals.

HEALTH CARE

Medi-Cal Expansion – The budget agreement includes notable health care investments including expansion of Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status (Health4All), with an implementation date ‘no later’ than January 1, 2024. It’s estimated that the expansion will result in roughly 700,000+ people becoming newly eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal at ongoing cost of $2.3 billion.

Medi-Cal Reform – The budget also reforms Medi-Cal share-of-cost so elders and people with disabilities can afford necessary Medi-Cal services and provides continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children up to age five. Both reforms have a delayed implementation date of January 1, 2025 and are subject to a budget appropriation at that time. The budget also zeroes out Medi-Cal premiums, expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth, and increases the Medi-Cal doula reimbursement.

Additionally, the budget provides navigator funding, Covered CA state premium subsidy funding, and establishes the Office of Health Care Affordability. More details of this budget’s health care investments can be found at Western Center’s updated 2022 Health Budget Scorecard.

HOUSING

As California faces dwindling affordable housing stock, skyrocketing rent increases, and as thousands of Californians wait for promised rent relief via the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), state leaders mostly funded existing programs in this budget and failed to make housing investments at the scale needed to tackle the housing crisis.

Eviction Prevention – Billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance have been requested, but the legislature capped assistance previously promised in SB 115 at $1.95 billion, while increasing application denials for unclear reasons. As such, this budget provides $30 million in increased funding for legal aid eviction defense to represent the thousands of tenants who will likely face eviction due to the state’s inability to properly manage ERAP.

Homelessness – This budget will result in more displacement of people experiencing homelessness with increased funding for encampment sweeps: $300 million for 2022-2023 and $400 million for 2023-24. There are no meaningful investments in permanent housing for our unhoused neighbors. This budget also does not include investments for AB 1816 (Bryan) to go toward workforce development and permanent supportive housing for people who were recently incarcerated and experiencing or at risk of homelessness; rather, this budget funds temporary programs that often contribute to a revolving door of recidivism. However, this budget does finally invest in a program created nearly eight years ago for veterans and their families experiencing homelessness by allocating $50 million to Proposition 41 (2014).

Affordable Housing – This budget makes a $2 billion multiyear investment in affordable housing. The budget allocates $150 million over two years to preserve California’s existing highly prized and disappearing affordable housing stock. Since many Californians rely on mobile and manufactured homes for affordable housing, the budget invests $100 million over two years for mobile and manufactured homes. In an attempt to add to California’s affordable housing stock, the budget allocates $250 million for the Housing Accelerator Program to build affordable housing where builders can’t access tax credits, as well as $325 million over two years for the Multifamily Housing Program, two critical programs that deserve a larger investment. The budget allocates $425 million over two years for the Infill infrastructure grant program for capital improvement projects and $410 million over two years for Adaptive Reuse to convert buildings into housing, including a $10 million appropriation of existing funding. There is also an additional investment of $50 million for ADU financing on existing lots. While greatly needed, this funding should come with more requirements for the creation of affordable units for households with low and extremely low incomes.

Homeownership – Since homeownership is nearly impossible for many first-time homebuyers in California, particularly for non-white people whose generational wealth was stripped due to intentionally racist housing policies, this budgets makes a commitment to assist first-time homebuyers by establishing the California Dream for All program, providing $500 million to assist first-time homebuyers with lower down payments, more than 1/3 reduction in monthly mortgage payments, and $350 million over two years for the CalHome program.

Housing for Farmworkers – This budget invests in farmworkers, whose hard labor keeps many of us fed, by appropriating $50 million for the Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Housing Program. The program is intended to construct and rehabilitate housing for farm workers who often live in hazardous and uninhabitable housing conditions.

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For a PDF of this analysis, click here. For questions contact:

Access to Justice & Financial Security

Health Care

Housing & Homelessness

 

 

Western Center Roundup –September 2022

Ending Poverty and Advancing Healing and Justice 

2021-2022 Legislative Session Wins 

With just 2 days left for Governor Gavin Newsom to sign hundreds of bills on his desk, we are buoyed by the recent signing of several of our co-sponsored bills and the budget and administrative advocacy wins secured for Californians with low incomes. These latest advances move Californians closer to new, viable pathways to higher education and entrepreneurship, increased safety in their homes and places of work, and more economic security through an expanded safety net and reduction of oppressive fines and fees. Below are a few highlights –

SB972 (Gonzalez) – this bill modernizes California’s Retail Food code to be more inclusive of small scale sidewalk vending operations, making the permitting process more accessible for food-specific street vendors.This bill was shaped by street vendors, community leaders, and policy advocates, aligning the work of economic, racial, and food justice movements. Come celebrate this win with those who made it possible, this Friday from 5-9PM at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

AB 2004 (Garcia) – this bill strengthens the California Dream Loan program ensuring undocumented students receive the same financial education and loan assistance options that federal loan programs offer every other student to help achieve their higher education goals.

SB1017 (Eggman) – this bill closes a housing loophole that allowed survivors of domestic violence to be evicted due to incidents of violence in their homes. Two years in the making, this bill ensures survivors can stay in their homes while healing from trauma.

AB 2300 (Kalra) – this bill that allows CalWORKs recipients to leave their workplace and not lose their benefits if their employer violates state labor laws including the Crown Act, sexual harassment, and many other labor provisions.

Health4All Medi-Cal coverage for people ages 26 to 49: As a result of a groundbreaking advocacy campaign, Medi-Cal will begin covering undocumented adults ages 26 to 49 starting January 1, 2024. This is the final immigrant group that Medi-Cal will cover, as children, young adults (19-25), and adults older than 50 were included in prior Medi-Cal expansions.

Implementing AB 199: In our work to address Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty, this year, our budget advocacy resulted in several important victories: (1) discharging all unpaid civil assessment debt from prior to July 1, 2022 (which is hundreds of millions of dollars); (2) reducing the maximum civil assessment that can be imposed from $300 to $100; and (3) restructuring the use of civil assessment funds so that they go directly into the general fund.

Inspired by what we are working on? With the upcoming retirement of Mike Herald, our legendary Director of Policy Advocacy, we’ve opened the search for his successor. View the Director of Policy job description and please share widely with your networks. More Western Center employment opportunities can be viewed HERE.

Housing Justice and Trauma Informed Lawyering

As the housing crisis continues, eviction protections sunset, and the pool of available rental assistance winds down, housing attorneys and advocates are facing a historic demand for eviction defense and related services. In order to address the vicarious trauma the field experiences in representing tenants faced with the prospect of losing their homes, we developed a new partnership with Trauma Informed LA to provide a series of trainings focused on trauma informed lawyering, vicarious trauma and the impact of frontline housing work, and the tools available to promote regulation and self-care. The first session offered this month set the foundation for understanding trauma informed approaches to our work, how we hold trauma in our bodies, and the ways we can care for ourselves so we can care for others through our legal and advocacy practice. Future sessions will focus on vicarious trauma, integrating tools for regulation into daily work, and working with clients with trauma responses.
 

Garden Party 2022 is Just Two Weeks Away – Ticket Sales Close Next Week!

Join us on October 11th at the Wilshire Ebell for an indoor/outdoor event format as we celebrate our 55th Anniversary and our work to build a more just California. We are honored to recognize this year’s honorees: Maya Wiley, Tatyana Ali, Mayra Jimenez, Sarah Steinheimer, Richard Rothschild, and Robert Newman and toast Mike Herald’s upcoming retirement at a pre-event reception. It’s not too late to purchase a tribute ad or ticket! Ad sales close on September 30th and ticket sales close on October 6th. 

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California won’t forgive parking tickets for homeless after Newsom veto

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Thursday that would have required cities to forgive parking tickets for homeless Californians.

The move was a disappointment for anti-poverty advocates across the state — who have warned that parking-ticket late fees can lead to more debt for already low-income people — and a win for cities that receive revenue from those tickets.

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