Subscribe Donate

Category: Miscellaneous

Home | Newsroom | Miscellaneous

Western Center Roundup – March 2024

Celebrating Women’s History Month and Cesar Chavez Day

This month we pause to celebrate and recommit ourselves to centering racial and gender justice. We remain inspired by the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez, whose movement to center justice for farmworkers continues to inspire the work of Western Center and its allies in California and around the world. We also salute the trailblazers and history-making women we’re privileged to partner with every day in our fight for justice. Whether it’s leading the fight to protect access to affordable housing, ensuring all Californians have access to healthcare, or continuing to uplift and promote the CROWN Act, we honor all changemakers for their contributions to advancing racial and gender equity.

Congratulations to Western Center policy advocate Sandra Poole, who Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen recognized as a 2024 Women’s History Month Honoree for Assembly District 10, AAPI Equity Alliance Executive Director Manjusha (Manju) Kulkarni, on being named a James Irvine Foundation 2024 Leadership Award recipient; and Western Center board member Christine Chambers Goodman, on being named a Los Angeles County Bar Association Women’s History Month Honoree. Finally, our very own executive director Crystal Crawford, California Democratic Party Controller Carolyn Fowler, activist for the homeless Shirley Raines, and State Senator Lola Smallwood Cuevas were named Women’s History Month honorees by the New Frontier Democratic Club for their unwavering commitment to equity and social justice.


Blog Post: Recognizing Trailblazers This Women’s History Month 

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Western Center senior health advocate Etecia Burrell is helping us all pause to recognize the invaluable efforts of women of color in American history. In a recent blog post, she highlights a few women leaders whose work powered the abolitionist, suffrage, labor, and civil rights movements and whose stories have been sidelined to elevate men.

READ MORE


Western Center Settlement Leads to a Reduction in Medical Debt

Last year, Western Center and Consumer Law Center, Inc. settled our case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare last year for alleged violations of hospital financial assistance laws, Since then, Santa Clara County has written off $1.48 million in patient debt and refunded more than $304,000 to patients. The settlement significantly improved the county’s hospital financial assistance program by adding more detailed information to patient notices, translating notices and posters into seven non-English languages and allowing patients to apply for financial assistance at any time during the collections process. To date, the Santa Clara Health Care Access Program is one of the most generous and innovative hospital charity care and discount payment programs in the state. This work has inspired new legislation to protect consumers from medical debt.


Blog Post: Tips On Preventing EBT Theft

More than $10 million is stolen from EBT recipients each month in California. This growing crisis thwarts access to healthy food options for California’s most vulnerable. In a recent blogpost, Western Center outreach and advocacy associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez shares tips to help Californians avoid EBT theft and protect precious resources. 


Blog Post: Tips On Preventing EBT Theft

More than $10 million is stolen from EBT recipients each month in California. This growing crisis thwarts access to healthy food options for California’s most vulnerable. In a recent blogpost, Western Center advocate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez shares tips to help Californians avoid EBT theft and protect precious resources. 

READ MORE


ICYMI: Watch the first 2024 Meet the Advocates

ICYMI: Western Center on Law and Poverty’s policy advocates recently hosted a deep dive into our 2024 legislative agenda, including our bills on medical debt protections, increasing housing voucher utilization, reducing Black maternal mortality, expanding pre-enrollment in Medi-Cal, housing as a human right, and much, much more!

WATCH

Celebrating Notable Women in U.S. History

“Slavery was Legal. Colonialism was Legal. Jim Crow was Legal. Apartheid was Legal. Legality is a matter of Power, NOT Justice”

Western Center on Law & Poverty for over 55 years, has advocated in every branch of government, from courts to the Legislature, on behalf of Californians experiencing poverty. . Through the lens of economic and racial justice, Western Center litigates, educates, and advocates around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration. As advocates we recognize that some of the most powerful gatekeepers, bridgebuilders, and architects of resistance in the communities we work with are women.

Women, especially women of color, are routinely erased from public memory and historical narratives of resistance. It’s undeniable that the contributions of women of color to historical resistance movements are often overlooked or minimized. While their invaluable efforts powered the abolitionists, suffrage, labor, and civil rights movements, mainstream narratives have frequently sidelined their stories in favor of highlighting male leaders. This Women’s History Month, we choose to recognize and celebrate the pivotal role women of color have played in shaping our collective history and fighting for justice:

Sojourner Truth was an evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery before escaping to freedom in 1826. After gaining her freedom, SoujournerTruth helped enslaved people escape to freedom and traveled the country to organize for abolitionism and equal rights for all. After the Civil War, she became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping the formerly enslaved find jobs and build new lives. While in Washington, DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid-1860s, when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding, she ensured his arrest and won her subsequent case. In the late 1860s, she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide formerly enslaved people with land, though Congress never took action.

Mary Ellen Pleasant was posthumously regarded as the mother of California’s civil rights movement.  She helped to lead the abolitionist movement during the Gold-Rush era and played a key role in helping to finance John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry in Virginia, a revolt by enslaved Black slaves and white abolitionists.. Pleasant also gave shelter, jobs, and money to enslaved people running to freedom through the Underground Railroad. In 1866, a street car conductor in San Francisco refused to let her board because she was Black. Pleasant sued and the case went all the way to the California Supreme Court. In a historic decision, the court ruled that segregation on streetcars was illegal in California.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. She was a researcher, writer, and journalist. Wells-Barnett was one of the first journalists to write about the conditions of African Americans throughout the South. After the lynching of one of her friends, she dedicated her career to exposing white terrorism. Wells was a skilled investigator and worked to uncover the truth behind several cases of Black men being lynched. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. Wells-Barnett traveled internationally to bring much needed attention to lynching. Often ridiculed and  ostracized by whit suffragettes  founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, to promote suffrage for Black women.

Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American civil rights and labor activist. Her support for causes such as the Black Power movement, feminism, and the environment spanned over 70 years. During the 1950s, Boggs moved to Detroit and began editing the radical newspaper Correspondence, which supported worker-centered revolution. Throughout her life, Grace Lee Boggs maintained the core belief that if people worked together, they could accomplish positive social change.

Dolores Huerta was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association and is one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century. A leader of the Chicano civil rights movement, despite racism and sexism, she helped organize the 1965 Delano strike of 5,000 farmworkers and was the lead negotiator in the workers’ contract that followed.

Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Hamer organized voter registration drives, including the “Freedom Ballot Campaign”, a mock election, in 1963, and the “Freedom Summer” initiative in 1964. Later she became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity.

Mae Mallory was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement and a leader in the Black Power movement. Mallory was bestknown as an advocate of desegregation and Black armed self-defense.

Sarah Deer, a member of the Muscogee Creek tribe, is a lawyer, professor at the University of Kansas, and advocate who has worked for victims rights and sexual violence prevention for decades. She was an instrumental activist in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act, which expanded tribal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence.

The CROWN Coalition was founded in 2019 by Western Center on Law & Poverty, National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Dove to create a respectful and open world for natural hair through research, national campaigning and political lobbying. Western Center and partners worked to pass the first CROWN Act (SB 188) in the country, prohibiting discrimination based on hair style and texture by extending protection under the FEHA and the California Education Code. Today, twenty-four states across the country have passed the CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) Act in response to Black people, especially women regularly face discrimination in schools and the workplace based on the texture and style of their hair. Hair is often a reflection of one’s personal identity and serves as a signifier of culture and ancestry. The CROWN Act impacts racial discrimination, pay equity, and just cause protections for people of various cultural backgrounds, but especially Black people. With over 31.6 million Black people in the U.S. labor force, the CROWN Act could help reduce discrimination for more than 12% of labor force participants (U.S. Census Bureau ACS 2021a). Over 200 years before the CROWN Act, the Tignon laws of the 18th century were laws that, at the request of white women, banned Black women in the Caribbean colonies and Louisiana from exposing their natural hair in public. Their hairdos were seen as a threat to the social stability and status of white women, who protested in a letter that  Black women “who dressed too elegantly” were attracting the attentions of white men. Resembling today’s West African Gele, a tignon is a type of head covering. It is a large piece of fabric wrapped or tied around the head to form a decorative sculpture concealing the hair. Tignons were worn by free and enslaved women of African descent in Louisiana from 1786. These laws regulated appearance and enforced the dress styles for women of color in a society dominated by whiteness. Many Black women continued to wear headwraps or tignons as a sign of rebellion and resistance.

“Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.” —Mary McLeod Bethune

 

LA Street Vendors Trial Postponed: What Comes Next

Signs, people, various stands and a red food truck line a city sidewalk.Fruit and hot dog vendor Edgar Suy, center, protests on Hollywood Boulevard against the city’s no-vending zones. His sign reads “Just laws regardless of race and color.”
(Leslie Berestein Rojas/LAist)

No trial. At least for now as street vendors involved in a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles are trying to reach a settlement. The trial was scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Last week, the L.A. City Council voted to do away with no-vending zones. Seven of eight no-vending zones are now OK for vendors to work in. The eighth one in Venice Beach will continue to have restrictions that ban street vending unless it’s tied to first amendment rights.

The street vendors are seeking the reimbursement of any citations paid where the citation was issued for vending in the no-vending zones. They are also asking the city to do away with remaining 500-foot buffer no-vending zones that can be set up around schools, farmers’ markets, and swap meets.

“We hope to reach a resolution on the other regulations we challenge in the lawsuit (mainly the 500-foot buffer zones around schools, swap meets, farmers markets, etc.) and erasure of all of the citations issued for violating these regulations and the no vending zone regulations,” an attorney for the plaintiffs said.

Sidewalk vending was legalized citywide four years ago, but the no-vending zones remained in place until last week.

The lawsuit alleges that no-vending zones conflict with SB 946, the 2018 California law that decriminalized street vending.

Attorney Katie McKeon of Public Counsel, one of the attorneys representing the vendors, said according to the law, “you need to have an objective health, safety or welfare concern that justifies those restrictions or bans. The city has failed to provide any real justification or evidence justifying these bans.”

If no resolution is reached, the trial will continue starting on April 4.

A crowd of people on a city sidewalk hold brightly colored protest signs. Street vendors protesting on Hollywood Boulevard. The blue sign reads, “We are vendors, not criminals” and the orange sign reads, “No barriers to street vending.”
(Leslie Berestein Rojas /  LAist)

On the county level, L.A. County supervisors gave a unanimous final nod last week to two measures that will take effect in early March. The county is not involved in the lawsuit.

One measure applies to street food vendors under the auspices of the county health department, who for years have had trouble obtaining needed county health permits. Until recently, the state’s retail food code was geared toward larger mobile food operations, like food trucks, and not small carts. Health permit fees for these street vendors will range from $309 for “low-risk” vendors selling packaged foods to $1,186 for “high-risk” vendors preparing and selling hot food items. To that end, supervisors approved a related motion from Supervisor Hilda Solis that would make low-income street vendors in unincorporated county areas eligible for a 75% fee subsidy.

The board also voted on a formal plan to regulate street vendors in unincorporated areas. Unlike in the city of Los Angeles, the county so far has not had an official program with which to regulate street vendors in unincorporated county zones, like busy East L.A. The ordinance sets official rules for these vendors, including a $604 annual registration fee. This fee would be subsidized the first year by the county’s Department of Economic Opportunity, and partially subsidized after that.

Attorney General Bonta, California Legislative Black Caucus Introduce Legislation to Reduce Black Maternal Mortality Through Implicit Bias Training

Monday, February 12, 2024

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), and members of the California Legislative Black Caucus, today introduced AB 2319 aimed to reduce the alarming and disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women and other pregnant persons of color by ensuring successful implementation of Senate Bill 464 (SB 464) (Mitchell), the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act of 2019 (Act). Today’s legislation builds on the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation to ensure and better equip healthcare facilities to come into full compliance with the Act, the findings of which were announced in DOJ’s Report on Healthcare Facilities and the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act. After DOJ began their investigation, providers’ rate of compliance improved dramatically from below 17% to over 81%. Although many facilities met the requirements of the Act, there is still work to be done to ensure full compliance.

“It is a tragic reality that race continues to be a factor in maternal health and infant mortality rates not just in California, but across this country,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Together, we have made so much progress, and we must continue to address healthcare bias head-on. Today’s legislation does just that; it is designed to make transformational change in a system that has historically failed our mothers and babies, especially those of color. I want to thank the Legislative Black Caucus who worked tirelessly with us on this important legislation to create healthier outcomes for all Californians.”

“Black women in California face alarming disparities in maternal health outcomes. As a Black Mother and as Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, the fight to improve these outcomes is personal to me,” said Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson (D–Suisun City). “I look forward to collaborating with our Attorney General Rob Bonta, Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber and other stakeholders to push this accountability measure across the finish line as we seek to make strides in improving Black maternal health outcomes throughout California.”

“The Black maternal morbidity and mortality rate cannot be explained by income or education levels alone. Data suggests what we know, what mothers have been brave enough to share, there is an embedded implicit bias in the maternal health care they receive. Providers ignore symptoms, ignore concerns to the horrible detriment of birthing women. So, sadly when uninformed care doesn’t result in death, it can still result in traumatic birthing experiences for both mother and child,” said Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), who is the newest Chair to the Assembly Health Committee. “California has been proactive in taking the steps to address this bias, but gaps in the process still exist. I am excited to partner with Assemblymember Wilson to address those shortcomings and ensure California is providing high quality healthcare for all women and birthing people so that everyone’s birthing experience concludes in a safe and healthy birth.”

“I stand in full support as a proud principal co-author of the collaborative efforts between the Attorney General and Assemblymember Wilson, Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, to fortify the implementation of SB 464, known as the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act,” said Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson). “This measure is fundamental in safeguarding the health and dignity of expectant mothers and their newborns. It is imperative that we redouble our efforts to uphold the principles of dignity and equity in pregnancy and childbirth. Together we can eradicate disparities in maternal care and promote equitable access to quality healthcare for all Californians.”

“California is failing its Black mothers. We have an obligation and moral duty to correct this grave injustice in California’s maternal healthcare. We owe it to our Black mothers to rectify the injustice causing alarming pregnancy-related deaths,” said Assemblymember Dr. Corey A. Jackson (D-Moreno Valley). “I am proud to support Attorney General Rob Bonta and Assemblymember Wilson for continuing this fight against bias and injustice in our healthcare settings. We must meet this moment and solve this issue immediately because lives are literally at stake.”

“The California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act was driven by concerns over racial disparities in health care, and the black maternal morbidity and mortality crisis,” said Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The Act required evidence-based implicit bias training in the healthcare system to address this major factor in racial disparities.  Western Center on Law and Poverty applauds this legislation which would require full compliance with the Act, authorize penalties against non-compliant healthcare facilities, and ensure that healthcare systems are held accountable for providing care that is accessible to all Californians without structural inequities that are determinants of health outcomes.”

“California is a national leader when it comes to reproductive freedom, and we pride ourselves on having the lowest maternal mortality rate of any state in the country—but we still have tremendous work to do to ensure that all Black women and pregnant people in our state have access to quality, equitable, and unbiased care,” said Shannon Olivieri Hovis, Director at Reproductive Freedom for All California. “As a cosponsor of the original legislation requiring implicit bias training for perinatal providers, Reproductive Freedom for All California is proud to join this bill coalition, led by Attorney General Bonta and authored by Assemblymember Wilson and Dr. Weber. We are grateful to AG Bonta for his commitment to ensuring reproductive freedom for all.”

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world — a burden disproportionately borne by communities of color, especially Black women. In California in particular, Black women make up 5% of those pregnant but account for 21% of the total pregnancy-related deaths. This disparity exists across all income levels. Evidence suggests one key cause of this disparity is the implicit bias of healthcare providers. A provider’s level of bias, whether conscious or unconscious, can influence their interactions with patients and their diagnoses and treatment of the patient’s pain, and can undermine patients’ trust and engagement in care.

In August 2021, as part of an inquiry into whether providers were complying with the law, DOJ’s Healthcare Rights and Access Section (HRA) issued letters to California facilities requesting data on their implicit bias training of employees. Of the 242 responding facilities, 201 had not completed or even begun training staff until after receiving DOJ’s letters. Only 41 had begun training their employees in compliance with SB 464, but not a single employee had been fully trained. However, by July 8, 2022, when the investigation concluded, an average of 81.44% of the perinatal care staff in the 242 facilities had completed training.

DOJ’s investigation made clear that setting requirements as part of SB 464 was only the first step to ensuring the training of maternal care providers. Additional steps need to be taken to ensure hospitals and facilities comply with those requirements.

To help reach full compliance and thus help reduce maternal mortality AB 2319 would:

  • Provide clarity on which facilities are mandated to administer anti-bias trainings and which employees need to be trained.
  • Establish firm deadlines by which trainings must be completed to better guide compliance.
  • Confer enforcement powers to the California Department of Public Health and the Attorney General, along with accountability measures.
  • Require compliance data to be posted online so the public is made aware of which facilities have provided anti-bias trainings and which have not.
  • Establish administrative penalties for noncompliant facilities.
  • Add inclusive language to account for nonbinary people and men of transgender experience who also carry children and give birth.

No More ‘No-Vending’ Zones, New County Health Permits And More For LA Street Vendors

Published Feb 6, 2024 5:00 AM

Tuesday is shaping up to be a big day for L.A. street vendors — and the customers who buy their hot dogs, tacos, fruit salads and countless other products.

Tuesday morning the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously 15-0 in favor of an ordinance that eliminates several so-called “no-vending” zones where street vending is prohibited, including on the busy Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Street vendors who’ve long opposed no-vending zones said they welcomed the ordinance.

Alvarado is among the street vendors who sued the city over no-vending zones in late 2022. The lawsuit alleges that no-vending zones conflict with SB 946, the 2018 state law that decriminalized street vending. Trial in the lawsuit is set to begin Feb. 15; street vendor plaintiffs and their advocates said that while they cheer the ordinance, they want the trial to continue.

City officials said the city ordinance could take effect in 31-40 days, depending on when Mayor Karen Bass signs it.

No-vending zones and tickets

The Los Angeles area is home to an estimated 50,000 street vendors, 10,000 of whom sell food. Over the decades, L.A.’s street vendor carts have become an integral part of the city’s culinary scene, selling everything from sliced mango to the ubiquitous bacon-wrapped hot dog that has become an emblem of L.A. street food.

After years of lobbying by street vendors and their advocates, Los Angeles decriminalized street vending in late 2018, as did the state of California. But it’s taken years for local jurisdictions to work out and finesse city and county regulations.

While street vending was decriminalized in most of the city of Los Angeles, eight busy and lucrative areas like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Dodger Stadium, Universal CityWalk and several others remained off limits; vendors have since been prohibited from setting up within 500 feet of these areas, and those who do are ticketed.

The city ordinance eliminates these blanket no-vending areas, allowing street vendors to do business there; however, it would still allow no-vending zones to be set up for health or safety reasons “if there’s a farmer’s market, or there’s filming, or around schools,” said L.A. city councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez, whose district includes Hollywood Boulevard.

Katie McKeon, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty who is representing the vendors in the case against the city, said she sees Tuesday’s city council vote as affirmation that no-vending zones shouldn’t exist.

“The way that I see the city’s actions is that they are worried about losing in court and they would prefer that a judge not rule on this case,” McKeon said. “And so they are making this 11th hour move in order to try to make the lawsuit go away.”

After inewsource report, officials offer plan to cap rent hikes for low-income tenants.

January 23, 2024

San Diego tenants with a Section 8 housing voucher could soon see the same protection against excessive rent increases as everyone else in the private housing market.

The San Diego Housing Commission, which hands out roughly $300 million every year in vouchers to help low-income tenants pay rent, last week proposed capping rent increases at a maximum of 10% over a 12-month period in the federal safety net program.

If approved, the change would cap rent hikes for voucher holders at levels already set by state and local tenant protection laws.

Some tenant rights advocates and attorneys say the policy change is long overdue and simply would bring the San Diego Housing Commission into compliance with state laws the agency should have been following all along. They also point out that federal guidelines already say laws limiting rent increases should be taken into consideration before approving increases.

“It’s extremely concerning that the Housing Commission does not seem to be acknowledging that they have to follow the Tenant Protection Act,” said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty, where she works for tenants’ rights and people experiencing homelessness.

Howard was referring to the state law that caps increases at 10% for many properties.

Local housing officials, however, have denied breaking the law. They say the state’s cap doesn’t apply to federal Section 8 voucher holders. That’s a position advocates, some housing authorities and the state attorney general all say is wrong.


For perspective:

An individual who lives alone and earns $77,200 or less per year is considered low-income in San Diego. Qualifying residents face up to 15 years on a waitlist for federal housing assistance.


But now the Housing Commission is proposing the change anyway, promoting it as a way to help maintain housing stability and prevent evictions, and foster an environment where landlords implement rent increases that are measured and incremental, rather than sudden and significant.

“We are constantly seeing policy choices — for example, around ticketing people who are residing in their vehicles — where small costs become destabilizing and then balloon into large costs that we all have to deal with as somebody becomes increasingly unstably housed,” Ryan Clumpner, vice chair of the Housing Commission’s board, said Friday after the presentation.

The agency’s announcement of the rent increase policy is timely.

It comes two months after an inewsource investigation revealed the agency has been approving rent hikes without checking to ensure they comply with the state’s cap. It also follows a lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court in November asking a judge to end the Commission’s “practice of approving and subsidizing illegal rent increases.” The lawsuit also asks the court to compel the agency to recover all public funds illegally paid to private landlords.

Shortly after inewsource published the investigation, the Housing Commission’s then-interim CEO told elected leaders the agency didn’t think state law applied to the federal program.

The San Diego Housing Commission building is shown on Nov. 6, 2023. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The disagreement started in 2020 when the California Tenant Protection Act took effect, capping rent increases for many properties. But some housing agencies, including in San Diego, didn’t see that cap as applying to Section 8 voucher holders, among the most vulnerable residents in any community. San Diego housing officials have pointed to an opinion written by legislative attorneys one month after the law took effect as their guidance.

Conflicting interpretations of law in state government

In an attempt to settle the debate last summer, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sent a letter to every public housing agency in the state. He said the law clearly protects voucher holders and warned officials to stop approving unlawful rent increases on low-income families the federal program was intended to protect.

A Housing Commission spokesperson declined to comment Friday on the proposal or answer any questions related to it. The Housing Commission’s board could vote on the proposal next month. Officials anticipate it would take effect sometime this fall, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which pays for the Section 8 program.

Attorneys and advocates have been asking the Housing Commission, which is responsible for approving rent increases on Section 8 voucher holders, to follow state law for the past four years, said Gil Vera, a senior attorney with the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.

Vera said he wonders what relief might be in store for tenants whose rents were already approved for more than the cap, and he’s concerned about what could happen to tenants until the Housing Commission decides to act.

Western Center Roundup – February 2024

Honoring Black History Month and the Critical Work Ahead of Us
As Black History Month comes to a close, we honor the life and legacy of Professor Derrick Bell, one of Western Center’s founding members, past executive director, and a leading voice in the school of thought that would become critical race theory. We honor WCLP’s rich history, standing on the shoulders of giants, as we continue the critical work of eliminating anti-Blackness in Health, Housing, Public Benefits, and Access to Justice. We continue to expand our team to even more effectively tackle issues that disproportionately impact the Black community like the housing crisis, the burden of medical debt, and birthing justice and equity.

Blog Post: Black Midwifery and Birthing Justice
In a recent blog post, Senior Health Advocate Etecia Burrell delves into the racist roots of “professionalized” medicine as it relates to obstetrics and gynecology, Black Americans’ long history as birthing guides, and the current state of the centuries old practice of midwifery in America today.  Read the full blog post here.

 

READ MORE

Blog Post: Anaheim City Council Stiffens Penalties for Street Vendors

Western Center Outreach & Advocacy Associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez recently wrote a blog post that highlights recent changes to Anaheim’s harsh vending policies.

This month Anaheim City Council voted to impound street vendor equipment and codify into law non-vending zones, moves he says are fueled by stereotypes that suggest street vendors deter customers from visiting brick and mortar businesses in the city. Read the full blog post here.

READ MORE

Join Us for the Next “Meet the Advocates”
March 12th at 12:30-1:30PM
Join Western Center on Law and Poverty’s policy advocates for a deep dive into our 2024 legislative agenda, including our bills on medical debt protections, increasing housing voucher utilization, reducing Black maternal mortality, fighting for Medi-Cal continuous coverage, housing as a human right, and much, much more! The presentation will be followed by a Q&A.
REGISTER

Last Chance:  Apply for Reimbursement of Electronically Stolen Benefits
If you had cash aid or CalFresh benefits stolen without losing custody of your EBT card, you may have been a victim of electronic theft. This training tells you how to ask for reimbursement if your benefits were electronically stolen. It includes links to the claim form and resources.  If the benefits were stolen between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023, you must file a claim form by February 29, 2024.
LEARN MORE


Justice, USA Documentary To Premiere on MAX

Marshall Goldberg’s documentary Justice, USA is set to premiere March 14, 2024, on MAX. The movie puts viewers in the shoes of indigent defendants, offering an inside, 360-degree look at the criminal justice system in some of the most racially-divided cities in the United States.

Shot over seven months in Nashville with almost no restrictions, this six-part series for MAX bears witness to everyday life in the men’s jail, the women’s jail, juvenile court, and the courthouse. There are no narrators and no experts. Justice, USA simply lets the cameras roll so we see and hear directly from the people who make up the system – inmates, lawyers, deputies, administrators – in their own voices.

To learn more about this groundbreaking documentary, click here.

LEARN MORE

Join our Team
As Western Center continues to position itself for greater reach and impact in 2024, we currently have three positions open: Policy Advocate – HousingSenior Health Attorney or Health Attorney, and Senior Communications Strategist.

Please share these opportunities widely with your networks!

LEARN MORE

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

February 28, 2024
Following is a list of bills to help secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for low-income Californians that will be sponsored or co-sponsored by Western Center on Law & Poverty during the 2024 legislative session.

Healthcare

AB 2297 (Friedman): Medical Debt Protection
This bill would modernize the Hospital Fair Pricing Act by prohibiting the use of home liens to collect unpaid medical bills from financially eligible patients, clarifying hospitals must review financial assistance eligibility at any time, clarifying Medi-Cal and Medicare cost sharing amounts can be deducted under financial assistance policies, defining charity care as free care, and other changes.
(Co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek)
AB 2297 Fact Sheet

AB 2319 (Wilson, Weber): Reducing Black Maternal Mortality through Implicit Bias Training
This bill would reduce the disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women and other pregnant persons of color by ensuring successful implementation of the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act of 2019 (SB 464 (Mitchell)) by clarifying which facilities are mandated to administer anti-bias trainings, confers enforcement powers to CDPH and the Attorney General, establishes administrative penalties for noncompliant facilities and requires compliance data to be posted online.
(Co-sponsored with Attorney General Rob Bonta, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Reproductive Freedom for All California, California Nurse-Midwives Association and the California Black Women’s Collective)
AB 2319 Fact Sheet

AB 2753 (Ortega): Rehabilitative and Habilitative Services: Durable Medical Equipment and Services
This bill would clarify that durable medical equipment is a covered essential health benefit in California-regulated health plans and policies when prescribed by a doctor for rehabilitative or habilitative purposes. The bill would also remove limitations such as annual caps on durable medical equipment coverage.
(Co-sponsored with National Health Law Program)
AB 2753 Fact Sheet

AB 2956 (Boerner): Protecting Medi-Cal Coverage for Californians
This bill would allow people to keep their Medi-Cal coverage for a full 12 months, regardless of changes in their income and would direct California to seek federal approval, when necessary, to make permanent the federal Medi-Cal flexibilities to reduce and remedy procedural terminations, simplify income verification requirements, increase automatic Medi-Cal renewals, and improve program outreach and customer service. (Co-sponsored with The Children’s Partnership and Latino Coalition for a Healthy California)
AB 2956 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1289 (Roth): County Call Center Oversight and Reporting
This bill would remedy the barriers at county call centers by directing the promulgation of regulations that set basic standards for things like wait times and requiring DHCS to publish online call center data from all 58 counties.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

Housing

AB 653 (Reyes): Increasing Voucher Utilization
This bill would create a competitive grant program for public housing authorities (PHAs) to fund housing navigation services, landlord incentives, and deposit resources to increase lease-up success rates for tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. This bill would require PHAs to annually report their success rate and require those with a success rate below 60% to adopt certain policies to increase housing choice and work with HCD to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of California, and the National Housing Law Project).

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing Credit.
This bill would establish anti-price gouging protections for rent in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Public Advocates)

AB 2304 (Lee): Masking Limited Civil Unlawful Detainer Cases
This bill will close the gaps in the state eviction masking laws and ensure that all tenants are protected as originally intended.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

AB 2347 (Kalra): Protecting Tenant Due Process Rights
This bill would preserve the due process rights of tenants by preventing evictions when a tenant has not been properly served.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right
ACA 10 will recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Should the measure pass in the legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote to add this right to the state’s constitution, creating an obligation on the part of state and local governments to take meaningful action to fully realize the right.
(Co-sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Housing Now, ACLU California Action, Abundant Housing LA, National Homelessness Law Center, and PowerCA Action)

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: Eligibility: Income Exclusions
This bill would exempt any grant, award, scholarship, loan, or fellowship benefit provided to any assistance unit member for educational purposes from consideration as income or resources for purposes of determining CalWORKs eligibility or grant amounts. The bill would also require the State Department of Social Services to exercise a federal option to exclude, for purposes of calculating a household’s income under CalFresh, any type of income that the department excludes when determining eligibility or benefits for CalWORKs.

AB 1815 (Weber): Discrimination: Hairstyles: Amateur Sports Organizations
This bill expands upon the CROWN act by prohibiting an amateur sports club or organization from discriminating against any person based on race, inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles in the operation, conduct, or administration of a youth or amateur sports competition, training, camp, or club.
AB 1815 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1107 (Durazo): Public Social Services: County Departments: Mail Programs
This bill would require a county human services agency that administers public benefits to develop and implement a program to ensure that, at a minimum, homeless residents of a county can pick up and receive government-related mail addressed to the resident at a place designated by the agency.

Contact our Sacramento Advocates: For more information about Western Center on Law & Poverty and our advocacy priorities, go to www.wclp.org.

Brandon Greene, Director of Policy Advocacy
[email protected]
916-282-5112

Health
Linda Nguy
[email protected]
916-282-5117

Sandra O. Poole
[email protected]
916-282-5141

Housing
Cynthia Castillo
[email protected]
916-282-5103

Tina Rosales
[email protected]
916-282-5118

Public Benefits and Access to Justice
Christopher Sanchez
[email protected]
916-282-5104

Rebecca Gonzales
[email protected]
916-282-5119

They lived in an East L.A. home almost 30 years. Now their landlords want to move in.

Days before Christmas, María Vela was saying goodbye to the narrow one-bedroom apartment in East L.A. that has been the backdrop of her family’s lives for the last 30 years.

Vela looked at her wedding photo hanging in their living room. The couple hosted their wedding reception out on the driveway, Vela said, gesturing outside. They raised four children in the duplex near the end of a cul-de-sac in their historically Latino neighborhood. Their kids enjoyed a quintessential East L.A. upbringing until one-by-one they left for college, except for Vela’s youngest girl, a high school junior.

Now the family is being evicted by Christmas so their landlords, who live next door, can move in.

Family evictions

Evictions are on the rise nationwide and in California. While most Los Angeles-area evictions happen because tenants struggle to pay rent, even tenants who manage to remain current with rent are at risk of eviction. These “just cause” or “no fault” evictions happen because landlords want to move into their tenants’ units, renovate a unit or leave the rental market.

No-fault evictions are contributing to the displacement of families from their longtime communities, along with other factors such as rising rents, too few affordable units, and expired tenant protections.

“Homeowner move-ins have been bringing about this exodus of Angelenos leaving their communities because they can no longer afford rent,” said Cinthia Gonzalez, an organizer at Eastside Leadership for Equitable and Accountable Development Strategies (LEADS). “It’s a heavy load.”

After state pandemic-era tenant protections expired, average monthly eviction filings surpassed pre-pandemic levels in a dozen of California’s most populous counties, according to court records obtained by CalMatters.

Counties that extended local eviction moratoria saw delayed, but still stark, eviction increases. That was the case for Los Angeles County, which saw a 17% increase in eviction filings the first eight months of 2023, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Even though there have been state and local efforts to strengthen protections against evictions for “just cause,” those protections didn’t help Vela’s family stay in their longtime home.

A man who identified himself as one of Vela’s landlords told CalMatters he didn’t want to comment on the matter.

Part of a community

Vela has lived in the same home since she immigrated to the U.S. in 1996.

She met her husband at a party while he was visiting Mexico. Within months they wed and went together to East L.A., where he was already living with his three brothers.

When the brothers came across the duplex unit in the early 1990s, it was dilapidated and littered with trash in a neighborhood with active gangs. The brothers asked the landlord if they could fix it up in exchange for being able to live there. The landlord agreed and charged them $300 monthly.

As the family grew, the home started to feel smaller.

Over the years various landlords neglected the property, Vela said. Walls are chipping, holes where mice have crept in are covered by unsecured wood, and mold grows in the bathroom.

But they were able to remain there long enough to give Vela’s children the stability and joyful upbringing they needed to succeed.

Carolina Correa, 23, graduated from Brown University and landed a job at an environmental justice nonprofit in San Francisco. Diana Correa, 26, graduated from UC Berkeley and is pursuing a master’s degree in history. Jesús Correa, 19, started at UC Merced in the fall.

The youngest, 16-year-old Fabiola Correa, wants to follow in her siblings’ footsteps and become valedictorian or salutatorian at Esteban Torres High School. She’s eyeing UC Berkeley too.

Carolina remembers whispering with her siblings as they lay on bunk beds or on the floor, to not wake her parents in the bedroom. They slept in the living room and another living space in the apartment and had little privacy, but it helped them stay close.

Their father taught them to ride bikes and he’d watch them ride in circles on the dead end street, Carolina said. He hosted carne asada barbecues with family. Block parties with live bands and traditional Mexican food and sweets brought neighbors together. 

“It was really nice to just have that literally right in front of my house, on my street, and to be a part of community in a way that is something so special to East L.A.,” Carolina said.

Displaced neighbors

Tina Rosales, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, likened the family’s displacement to other times in history when Latinos were moved from their neighborhoods, including the years before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

“This is heartbreaking, but it’s not new,” Rosales said. “It’s a trend. As we put more value on homes and people owning property, we tend to displace the communities that have been there forever.”

Rosales is among the attorneys who worked on a tenant protection law recently passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to close loopholes to “just cause” eviction protections. The law requires owners who move out tenants and then move themselves or family members  in to reside there for at least a year. And it will require landlords to pay one month’s rent in relocation assistance.

Tenant advocates pushed for the law because they believe landlords were taking advantage of the rules. Landlords sometimes use owner move-ins as a pretense, Rosales said, when actually they want to put their units back on the market at a higher rent.

“It’s important to balance the interests and needs of both (landlords and tenants) while recognizing that housing is a basic need, and as a society we must prioritize keeping people housed,” said Sen. María Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the law. “Market housing is a business, and like in many areas of business, consumer protections are necessary in order to ensure that bad actors out to increase their own profits are not able to take advantage of or abuse the consumer.”

Los Angeles County and city have even stronger just cause protections, but local advocates say even those rules have weak spots.

For instance, in L.A. County landlords or their family members who move into tenants’ units have to live there for three years. If they don’t, the previous tenants have a right to move back in under their original lease terms and rent.

But the law seems to place the burden of keeping track of the landlords on tenants. Javier Beltran, deputy director of the Housing Rights Center in L.A., said he hasn’t heard of a case of a tenant successfully reclaiming their unit because of landlord violations.

“In reality once (tenants) move out, it’s hard to keep up with that particular tenant,” Beltran said. “They probably moved on to a different place, situated themselves and to a certain extent, moved on. It’s hard for them to come back.”

‘Terminated for no fault’

On a recent December morning, Vela sat at her kitchen table with her hands on her temples, a folder filled with papers spread in front of her.

“All of this is so frustrating,” she said with a sigh.

On the table was a scanned copy of the most recent $1,000 rent payment she sent, various phone numbers from housing leads scribbled on a notepad, and her official 60-day eviction notice issued October 23.

“You are hereby notified that effective sixty days from the date of service on you of this notice, the tenancy by which you hold possession of the premises is terminated for No Fault Just Cause…” the letter reads.

She spoke in a whisper and raised the volume of her television so her landlords couldn’t hear her talk about the eviction. They live next door and the walls are thin, she said.

Vela always knew eviction was a possibility. The duplex had been bought and sold multiple times in the last several decades, and each new owner had been willing to keep them as tenants, until now.

Eastside LEADS helped Vela delay her eviction by a year and a half after finding flaws in the landlords’ eviction process. For example, Gonzalez said, the landlords offered less than the required amount for relocation assistance.

But after the organization sent a letter to the landlords, they corrected their mistakes and agreed to pay the $12,688 in relocation assistance the county requires in this case.

Searching for housing

Vela has found searching for housing difficult. She and her husband aren’t fluent in English, they are undocumented and they’ve purchased most of their belongings in cash, which means they don’t have much credit history.

Also the going rents in that neighborhood are sometimes double what they’re paying now, which would be impossible for them to afford on her husband’s meatpacking salary, she said.

At one recent home viewing, Vela brought her daughter Fabiola to translate. The landlord interrogated Fabiola: Did the family have visitors often? Did they party? Were they loud?

Vela left feeling dejected and worried about Fabiola.

Carolina has been trying to help from the Bay Area, where she lives. After work or on her breaks, she finds housing leads and makes phone calls on behalf of her parents. She adds herself and her boyfriend as co-signers, hoping that’ll increase her parents’ chances.

“I’ve submitted applications for them to move into places and then burst into tears afterward,” Carolina said. “I want them to get into these places so bad, but because I’m not there I can’t facilitate further. I do what I can and so does my older sister, but it’s difficult.”

Diana, the oldest, feels guilty she hasn’t been able to help as much as she’d like.

“(I was) really angry with myself and with the timing,” Diana said, adding that if the landlords had waited five more years, she could finish her master’s program,  start working and pool her money with her siblings to buy their parents a house. “I was like, damn, I’m not ready.”

Recently she created a GoFundMe page hoping friends and community members will help defray the cost of storage units and moving trucks.

Harder to thrive

Vela said she is coming to grips with the fact that their only option may be to leave East L.A., and maybe Los Angeles altogether. With no immediate home to go to, Vela thought about moving in with her sister in San Bernardino County temporarily while her husband stays in his brother’s El Sereno apartment, closer to his work.

The lack of affordable housing for very poor residents is a major factor in the state’s rising homelessness problem.

Margot Kushel, director of UC San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, said even if this family isn’t immediately homeless after vacating their home, they could be at risk for homelessness in the future.

Kushel’s research on homelessness in California revealed 49% of those without a home had been “non-leaseholders,” usually people staying with friends or family until it isn’t possible anymore. Those living arrangements often are precarious and lead families on a path toward homelessness, Kushel said.

She listed other challenges contributing to people’s vulnerability to homelessness: high deposit fees, moving costs, the impact of moving on peoples’ jobs and personal stability.

A recent law passed to limit what California landlords can charge for security deposits won’t be in effect until next summer,  too late for Vela.

Evictions and potential homelessness impact entire families, Kushel said, risking people’s ability to graduate from college or high school and to build wealth in the future.

“Housing is really at the root of thriving,” Kushel said.

Mixed emotions

The solution is to build more affordable housing far faster than Los Angeles is currently doing, said Stuart Gabriel, a real estate professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Most investment in housing creation is driven by profit and built by the private sector.

Not everyone purchases property to make a profit, he said. “It’s a very complicated and nuanced story and doesn’t lend itself to easy culprits and easy answers,” he said.

Vela’s family recognizes their landlords probably just want more space for their family. She said the landlords are two siblings who live with their elderly mother.

The family has conflicting feelings about the landlords and their family’s situation.

“It’s complicated for us because they do have a case and we don’t anymore,” Diana said. “I get it. You bought a house. But at the same time you knew we were here.”

Vela’s husband said he’s grateful for the time they were allowed to stay.

“It just so happened that someone bought the house and now we have to leave. But without resentment or anger,” Jesús Correa Cabrera said. “We’ll close the door behind us and say ‘thank you very much.’ And life goes on.”

Within days the family slowly disassembled their East L.A home, packing belongings they’ve accumulated over several decades into black trash bags and cardboard boxes.

Diana, Carolina and young Jesús’s high school class photos, Fabiola’s shelves of books, the quinceañera and wedding photographs, were all taken down.

As Christmas neared, they summoned a sense of hope for the future.

“I feel sad, kind of stressed for my family,” Fabiola said as she sorted a drawer of colored pencils and pens. “But at the same time I feel like we’re going to get out of this and maybe start a new time of our lives. A new beginning.”

The day before the family was preparing to move out, they heard they were approved for an apartment in El Monte, a one-bedroom  for $1,700 a month, plus utilities and rental insurance.

It’s far from their community, smaller, and too expensive for them to afford comfortably. But the family said they have no other choice.

California becomes first state to offer health insurance to all eligible undocumented adults But many remain uninsured because of a range of enrollment barriers

California became the first state to offer full health insurance to undocumented immigrants. (Getty Images)

By: Brenda Verano
Jan 8, 2024

On Monday, California became the first state in the nation to offer health insurance to all eligible undocumented immigrants. Beginning January 1, immigrants of all ages will be eligible for the state’s health insurance program for low-income people, known as Medi-Cal.

Throughout the years, Granados has developed a list of chronic and degenerative diseases.

Full-scope Medi-Cal will allow immigrants like Granados, living in the Golden State to seek free dental, vision (eye) care, specialist appointments, mental health care, substance use disorder services, prescription drugs and medical supplies, and in-home care if they meet all Medi-Cal eligibility rules, including income limits.

Immigrants ages 26-49 are the last group to join the ongoing Medi-Cal program expansion, which is part of the “Healthy California for All” initiative, which took effect in 2015. Nine years ago, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making undocumented children (1-18 years old) eligible for state insurance.

What followed was the Young Adult Expansion, which was signed into law in 2019 and provided full-scope Medi-Cal to young adults 19 through 25. In 2023, the Older Adult Expansion, which provided full-scope Medi-Cal to adults 50 or older, was signed into law.

Adults can apply to Medi-Cal online, in person through Medi-Cal enrollment centers and thousands of certified enrollers and over the phone. For California immigrants to qualify for Medi-Cal, adults must submit proof of income that proves their household earns less than 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL), along with additional details like age, marital status, tax information and identification.

Granado’s first health issue began as a kid in Mexico when she was diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological condition involving the brain that makes people more susceptible to having recurrent, unprovoked seizures. “We didn’t grow up with much, but my mom always cared for me, even when she didn’t know what exactly was wrong,” she said.

Granados grew up in a small town in Guanajuato, Mexico, where her parents and grandparents lived off the land as farmers. “My parents taught me to value everything—every meal, every day that we get to wake up and although my health has not been the best in the last few years, I remain grateful,” she said.

She immigrated to the United States in 1998 and shortly after she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic (long-lasting) autoimmune disorder caused when the immune system attacks the glands, which causes the eyes, mouth, and other parts of the body to retain moisture. Granados said that for her, it causes her mouth to feel very dry, a symptom that has required her to visit the dentist more frequently than most people.

She began noticing the ways that not having insurance played a key role in the type of care she would receive. “When I first started going to the clinic because of my severe migraines, they would prescribe me Tylenol and other people would be offered medical tests and examinations to find the exact cause of the headaches,” Granados said.

But the chronic disease that first sent Granados to the hospital for days was fibromyalgia, a chronic (long-lasting) disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body, as well as fatigue and trouble sleeping. “It’s the type of pain that you cannot control or get rid of; it’s very scary,” Granados said.

She was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 5 years ago when the pain was so severe that her husband decided to take her to the emergency room and ask for her to be admitted to the hospital, a decision that would leave them financially struggling. “The doctors explained that they did not know what caused it, but that it explained my heightened sensitivity to pain in my back. I could not walk,” she said. “ We spent all of our savings on being in the hospital and seeing a specialist. “

After years of experiencing severe symptoms of fibromyalgia, Granado’s feet and entire body are not as strong. She uses a cane to support herself; she cannot walk or stand for long periods or carry heavy equipment; and she gets very cold easily, all of which affect her daily life, her job and her ability to perform regular tasks.

For those like Granados who already have an active restricted or emergency Medi-Cal insurance plan, they will not need to submit their application or apply again. “Those people will be automatically switched over to full-scope coverage beginning January 1st, 2024,” Jose Torres Casillas, Policy and Legislative Advocate at Health Access California, said.

He said that Health Access California had been actively recommending community members and other community organizations to enroll qualified immigrants into emergency-scope Medi-Cal before the beginning of the year, so the transition would be seamless.

Medi-Cal will cover an additional 700,000 Californians

In the United States, one in five (20%) immigrant adults reported having problems when it came to paying for health care in the past year and (22%) said they skipped or postponed care in the past year because of their inability to pay, according to a  2023 survey by the LA Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

meical photo 4

Timeline of the Medi-Cal expansions that took effect throughout the year. Graph by Brenda Verano

Previously, many undocumented immigrants like Granados only qualified for restricted Medi-Cal, which allowed immigrants to receive emergency and pregnancy-related services as long as they met eligibility criteria like economic requirements and had proof of California residency in 2014.

Medi-Cal provides services to over 13 million Californians (or one in three who rely on the program for health coverage). Granados is excited to begin receiving full-scope comprehensive health insurance, which will help her see a doctor for her chronic pain regularly and can ultimately cover at-home assistance and care, all while not having to worry about the cost.

The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which administers Medi-Cal, estimates that with this new expansion, an additional 700,000 Californians will now be enrolled, but Torres Casillas, said the number of new enrollees will most likely be a lot greater.

“When the 50-year adult expansion was approved, our original estimates were that about 250, 000 people were going to enroll. We’re now over 300,000 people over the age of 50 who have enrolled,“ he said. “We’re expecting a similar situation with that of the 26 to 49, where we are currently estimating 700,000 people will be eligible, but we’re expecting a lot more people to enroll.”

#Health4All campaign

Torres Casillas has become a policy expert at Health Access California, which serves as the co-chair, along with the California Immigrant Policy Center, of the #Health4All campaign, which has driven the efforts of all the Medi-Cal expansions throughout the years. The Health4All campaign began in 2013 when immigrant rights activists, healthcare advocates, and community members came together to call for expanding health care to all immigrants living in California.

“We’re ensuring that we, along with other organizations advocating for immigrants, are at the decision-making table to be able to speak on and address a lot of the issues that exist within the implementation of these Medi-Cal expansions,“ he said. “We want to make sure that the state is able to use a lot of the lessons learned from our prior expansions and apply those to the new expansions.”

The January 1 expansion will cost the California Health and Human Services Agency $835.6 million in funding between 2023 and 2024 and $2.6 billion annually, but Torres Casillas believes these costs are worth the well-being of immigrants. “We need to invest in our immigrant community’s well being, and this is a huge step for them to feel supported and part of our country’s health care system,” he said.

Existing flaws in Medi-Cal’s Application Process

However, according to David Kane, senior attorney at Westen Center for Law and Poverty, an organization that has worked closely with DHCS to ensure the implementation of the expansion, the Medi-Cal applications and the application process still have flaws.

“We convene meetings with partners, advocates, stakeholders and the Department of Healthcare Services to make sure that they are implementing this in a way that will meet the needs of the community,“ he said.

For Kane, aside from complaints of Medi-Cal applications that take long to process, adults not being able to reach the county by phone or not being able to get help in their language, one of the biggest flaws in the Medi-Cal application is the section that asks people for their social security number. Although skiing for an SSN is something that is a federal requirement, it is not something undocumented immigrants do not have.

“That’s something that should have been fixed a long time ago. We do not want people to feel discouraged when they see this in the application. We need to find a way to let people know they can still get full-scope care even if they don’t have a social security number,” Kane said.

Enrollment barriers

The KFF also found that among immigrants who are eligible for health coverage, many remain uninsured because of a range of enrollment barriers, including fear, confusion about eligibility policies, difficulty navigating the enrollment process, and language and literacy challenges.

For Maria Hernandez, 23, who has had Medi-Cal insurance for over 5 years and speaks fluent English, navigating Medi-Cal is still a challenge. She was born in Puebla, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was only six months old. “We never really got any assistance or help [from the government] before. My mom was scared of telling people she was an immigrant,” she said.

Hernandez got severely ill during the COVID-19 pandemic, and being able to go to the hospital or clinic to get the appropriate care made her appreciate having health insurance. “It has helped me a lot, just by the fact that I was able to be seen,” she said.

As a former personal translator for her mom, she realized the way language plays a part in health coverage. “I did not live too far from a hospital and being able to go without having to think of the cost or if [doctors] were going to speak English is something I did not have to worry about, but many did,” Hernandez said.

Andrew Kazakes, senior attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), has provided free, high-quality legal services to those seeking government benefits, including Medi-Cal.  “Part of our work at LAFLA is that we hold clinics set up in L.A. County hospitals, where social workers will refer patients to our clinic if they have any legal issues that might have prevented them from getting approved for the services they need, such as Medi-Cal.”

 Although federal funding restrictions limit the assistance LAFLA can provide to undocumented immigrants, with exceptions that depend on individual circumstances, the organization aims to assist uncovered Californians who are eligible for their services, and to provide high-quality referrals to those who they cannot serve directly.

During his time hosting legal aid clinics at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, located in Downey, he worked with many patients who were unfamiliar with the healthcare system of California and who wrestled with navigating Medi-Cal and the application process.

“There was definitely a high volume of undocumented folks who got referred our way. It’s really confusing for a lot of people to navigate these different administrative systems and it’s not their fault,” Kazakes said. “The system itself is really confusing. Doctors will struggle, social workers will struggle, and even attorneys will have to struggle to figure out, based on somebody’s status, what sort of assistance they can get.”

According to Kazakes, because a hospital does not turn away anyone who does not have health insurance or cannot pay, the patient would often obtain presumptive eligibility for Medi-Cal.

“If you have someone who’s showing up from a car crash, the hospital doesn’t want to pause care; therefore, the patient would get presumptive eligibility, but after the patient receives the care needed, like, for example, a surgery, they are left to transition off Medi-Cal unless they can establish their eligibility,” he said. “It creates this situation where people have already been through trauma, and now they’re put in this position of not knowing if the care is going to be there to help them with the aftermath of the accident and fully recover beyond the immediate emergency.”

Kane and Torres believe that the hardest part, other than implementing the Medical 26-49 Adult Expansion, will be modifying the Medi-Cal health system to make immigrants feel welcomed and seen. “It’s not as simple as saying: “OK, immigration status doesn’t matter anymore.” That’s what the law says. It’s super clear; it’s super simple, but the Department of Health Care Services has historically excluded this group of people. The State Department of Health Care Services needs to break down the systemic barriers that they have had in the design of their program,” Kane said.

Supporting New Medi-Cal Patients

Katie Rodriguez, vice president of Policy and Government Relations at the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (CAPH), said their members are excited to welcome new full-scope Medi-Cal patients and wants them to feel supported in the clinics and hospitals where they will be seeking care.

According to Rodriguez, 21 public hospitals and their clinics in the state, such as Los Angeles General Medical Center and  UCLA Medical Center, already see many of the patients that have recently become eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal. “The majority of our patient population at our public hospitals and healthcare systems are already Medi-Cal or Medicare patients or uninsured,“ she said. “We are very proud of this.”

Rodriguez said public hospitals and clinics do not turn anyone away because of a lack of insurance and are excited to continue to foster the patient-relationship practices that make new full-scope MediCal-eligible patients feel included and seen. “Public hospitals and their clinics regularly communicate with any new and existing patients. that come in and make sure that they’re aware of all coverage options, in case they’re eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal or other services as well,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she is aware of how filling out new applications can be overwhelming and difficult for people who are doing this for the first time. One of the things that the public hospitals and their clinics have done to ease some of these nerves and assist new Medi-Cal patients is to have people solely designated to help fill out applications and determine eligibility. “Many of our hospitals and clinics have what we call enrollment counselors onsite that help individuals apply,” she said. “Most importantly, the enrollment counselors, tell them what Medi-Cal is, the documentation they need, and what the application looks like. Whenever possible, they go through it with them in the language they feel most comfortable with,” she said.

Public Charge

In August 2019, former president Donald Trump announced a public charge policy that, at that time, could result in the rejection of many immigrants applying for an immigrant visa (e.g. green card) if they had previously accessed or were deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance, such as Medi-Cal. The unenrollment and decreased participation in government assistance programs contributed to more uninsured individuals and negatively affected the health and financial stability of families.

Even as the former public charge rule is no longer in effect and the government has stopped following the Trump-era rule on March 9, 2021, the narrative continues, and according to Torres Casillas, immigrants continue to be afraid of taking advantage of programs like Medi-Cal.

“That rule is no longer in effect, but we’re still dealing with the remnants in the sense that people may not know that it’s no longer in effect. And if that information spreads, then other people are confused and therefore hesitant to apply to Medi-Cal” he said.

Kane said that the Western Center for Law and Poverty and other immigrant rights advocates, including the Health4All Coalition, continue to push DHCS to educate people on the way public charge is not something they should worry about.

 “For some time, DHCS would not want to say anything about public charge because they said it was like giving immigration legal advice, but it’s not if you are just educating people,” Kane said. “We’ve been pushing DHCS to tell people very basic things about public charge, and we’ve made some great progress.”

Today, DHCS’s website contains basic information on public charge and assures people that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) do not consider health, food, and housing services as part of the public charge determination. “DHS strongly encourages these populations to access any and all services and benefits available to them without fear of a future negative impact,” states the DHCS website.

For Granados, a flawed Medi-Cal program is better than not having any insurance at all. “I’m still grateful and even if flawed, I’m excited to be able to have Medi-Cal,” she said.

Torres Casillas believes outreach, marketing and informing community members of their eligibility are the most crucial steps after January 1. “People may not know that they’re eligible; people may not know that coverage was expanded, and we all need to work hard to make sure the information gets to the right people,” he said.

Kane said it’s important to emphasize the journey that it took for all immigrants in California to be eligible for Medi-Cal. “We know that this is a community-led, community-driven effort. That’s the only reason we’re doing this because people stood up and advocated for their family members and themselves,” Kane said.

You can apply for Medi-Cal at any time of the year. To learn when you can apply, go to www.coveredca.com or call 1-800-300-1506 (TTY 1-888-889-4500).