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Western Center Roundup – February 2022

Lifting Black Voices, Centering Black Lives

Honoring Black History Month and the Urgent Work Ahead of Us

We began this Black History Month honoring Derrick Bell, one of Western Center’s founding members, past executive director, and a leading voice in the school of that thought that would become critical race theory. We honor our rich history, standing on the shoulders of giants as we continue the critical work of eliminating anti-Blackness in Housing, Health, Public Benefits, and Access to Justice. The urgency of this work was reinforced by this month’s release of research documenting persistent racism with the systems we work to transform: the largest study on birth outcomes in the state of California revealed that Black birthing folks, regardless of income level, continue to face the most adverse maternal and infant mortality rates; more than half of Black Californians (55%) said there was a time in the last few years when they thought they would have gotten better care if they had belonged to a different racial or ethnic group; and the housing and homelessness crisis continues to disproportionately impact Black Californians. This year, we are expanding our team to tackle the racism Black and Brown birthing folks experience, alleviate the burden of medical debt, and take on housing voucher discrimination and environmental racism. We look forward to sharing more about this expanded work.

3/14: Join Us for Meet The Advocates: Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

Join us on March 14th at 12PM PST as our Policy Team rolls out our 2023 legislative agenda to secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes. We’ll be diving into the work of the Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act, establishing the first statewide Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, eliminating housing voucher discrimination, the restoration of stolen CalFresh benefits, CalWORKs expansions, eliminating poverty tows and much, much more! You don’t want to miss this powerful conversation by the folks on the frontlines of California’s anti-poverty policy movement. You can read about the bills we are co-sponsoring and track the status of our bills’ activities on our legislative tracker page.


NEW Blog Post: Why We Sued to End CARE Court

Senior Attorney, Helen Tran and Director of Litigation, Richard Rothschild discuss why Western Center joined Disability Rights California and Public Interest Law Project to sue the State in this latest blog post: Contrary to some strong opinions that CARE Court is “California’s only real plan for helping our most vulnerable and seriously mentally ill,” Governor Newsom never planned to truly provide behavioral health treatment and housing through this bill. The CARE Act does not mandate counties to provide behavioral health treatment or housing; it creates no new rights or benefits for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders who are summoned to court to join the CARE process. Rather, all CARE Court-ordered services are “subject to available funding… In other words, services will only be provided as they are available.

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Western Center Attorneys Weigh In On Medical Debt and Housing Voucher Discrimination in Los Angeles Times and New York Times Features

Hospitals run by Los Angeles County could make free care available to more of their financially strapped patients under a new proposal aimed at expanding relief from medical bills — the result of a class-action lawsuit brought by Western Center on behalf of people who had sought medical care from the county. Under the proposed rules, free care would be available to eligible L.A. County residents with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level. David Kane, Senior Attorney, spoke to the impact of these rules in last week’s Los Angeles Times’ article. People earning under 200% of the federal poverty level “certainly cannot afford high medical costs — or even what other people consider to be modest medical costs.” Making care available to them at no cost “is definitely the right thing to do, because those are the people who need this the most.”

Despite Western Center’s work to pass SB329 to prevent discrimination in the use of housing vouchers, voucher holders continue to face a series of obstacles in securing affordable housing as documented in the New York Times’ recent feature tracking one young woman’s journey to use her Section 8 voucher in Los Angeles County. Landing an apartment in Los Angeles County can be an arduous journey in a region struggling with a housing shortage and homelessness crisis, where even those with steady middle-class salaries have found themselves in a rat race for a home. For the impoverished, the search can feel ultimately impossible.“ Are you going to interrupt your search to fight every landlord who says, ‘I’m not going to rent to you because you have Section 8?’” said Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s more likely you’re going to keep trying to find someone who’s going to say yes.”

TOMORROW! Join Western Center and National Health Law Program for a Medi-Cal Renewal Webinar

Over 15 million Californians will need to renew their Medi-Cal starting in June. To learn the latest on how Medi-Cal renewals will work, join Western Center and National Health Law Program (NHeLP) TOMORROW, March 1st at 2PM PT/5 PM ET for a webinar tailored for advocates, application assisters, and community-based organizations. The federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) implemented flexibilities that help people get on, and stay on, Medi-Cal. This continuous Medi-Cal coverage requirement will end on March 31, 2023. Beginning April 1, 2023 counties across the state will begin annual Medi-Cal renewals for all beneficiaries.

Public education, outreach and advocacy will be critical to ensuring that individuals and families do not lose their Medi-Cal coverage in error. This webinar will provide an overview of the federal and state guidance on Medi-Cal renewals, what to expect, and advocacy efforts protect Californians’ access to health coverage.

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Western Center Roundup – January 2022

A Summer of Advocacy: Protecting Tenants & Securing Budget Wins

New Blog Post: Voices From the Holiday Strike Line

In our ongoing work to address unjust fines and fees, today we announce a court granted preliminary approval of a settlement that returns over half a million dollars to low-income, system-impacted families in Riverside County. Western Center and co-counsel brought Freeman v. County of Riverside to suit in 2020 to seek reimbursement for families from whom the County illegally collected millions of dollars in daily “costs of support” for each day a youth spent in a juvenile institution. In 2018, we successfully sponsored California (SB 190), which prohibits counties from continuing to assess parents for the costs related to their children’s detention in juvenile facilities – but SB 190 did not address debt collection for previously imposed fees and Riverside County continued to collect them. Our lawsuit challenged this ongoing collection, claiming that the County disregarded its statutory and constitutional duties to assess a family’s ability to pay and secure necessary court orders before charging them. With this victory, Riverside County families who were subjected for many years to illegal collection of juvenile fees move a step closer toward justice — in the form of cash reimbursements.

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Western Center Joins Disability Rights California in Fight Against CARE Court Implementation

Last week, we joined Disability Rights California and the Public Interest Law Project to file Disability Rights California v. Newsom in the California Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the statute creating CARE Courts. The statute singles out unhoused people diagnosed with schizophrenia, and subjects them to court orders imposing involuntary treatment. While the legislation was billed as a solution for homelessness, it does not appropriate any money to build or preserve affordable housing or for increased mental health services. Instead, it threatens to take away the liberty of unhoused people based on a judge’s speculation that they are “likely” to become a danger to themselves or others. The petition argues that this violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the California Constitution. We are honored to support DRC, the sole petitioner and lead counsel, with Western Center alums and primary attorneys for DRC, Melinda Bird and Lynn Martinez.


California Says Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Likely Run Out of Funds With Over 140,000 Applicants Still in Limbo

In our ongoing case against California’s Housing and Community Development for failure to meet due process standards in informing applicants why their application for emergency rental assistance was denied, a lawyer for the State of California argued that the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program would need to spend its remaining $177 million on administrative costs if forced to comply with the court’s order to provide basic constitutional due process, leaving no money for tenants. The state claims it will pay its private contractor most – if not all – of its remaining funds just to fix its flawed application process and provide basic information to tenants it believes are ineligible for assistance – information that should have been provided at the time of denial, so applicants have an opportunity to appeal. It’s extremely frustrating that the state has been fighting so hard to avoid giving tenants this basic information that should have been provided from the start. We are alarmed by the state’s threat to use the program’s remaining funds to pay an out-of-state contractor $177 million just to tell tenants the reason they are being denied. This threat raises very serious concerns about how the Department of Housing and Community Development has managed this funding,” – Madeline Howard, senior attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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Western Center’s Analysis of the 2023-2024 CA State Budget

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.

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Western Center Welcomes New Staff: Xochi Flores and Sandra Poole

As Western Center continues to expand in 2023 to have greater reach and impact, we are thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to our team: Xochi Flores as Associate Director of Foundation Relations and Sandra Poole, as Health Policy Advocate. You can read more about their decades of transformational work in resource development, health justice, public benefits, and arts activism and check out our current open positions at the link below.

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California’s Riverside County Agrees to Reimburse Families $540K in Juvenile Detention Fees


Para ver esta información en español, haz clic aqui

Settlement Website, click here

January 31, 2023


Willis Jacobson, National Center for Youth Law: [email protected]

Estevan Montemayor, Western Center on Law and Poverty: [email protected]



Riverside County families who were subjected to illegal collection of juvenile fees moved a step closer toward justice — in the form of cash reimbursements — after a court this month granted preliminary approval of a settlement in a class action lawsuit they brought against the County.

The lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, alleged that the County did not follow California law and the U.S. Constitution when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families who had children in juvenile detention. Under state law, the County was obligated to ensure families had the ability to pay fees they were assessed and inform families of their right to challenge the fees. The plaintiffs claimed that the County failed to fulfill these legal duties. The families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

After the families filed their complaint in court in March 2020, the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees. The parties have now negotiated a settlement, in which the County agrees to pay $540,307 to reimburse more than 1,200 class members for the fee payments they made.

“The County’s practices have had a devastating effect on families,” said Michael Harris, an attorney and Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Justice and Equity at the National Center for Youth Law. “This settlement will offer those families meaningful relief and deter Riverside County and other jurisdictions from illegally assessing and collecting money from struggling families.”

The settlement, if finalized, would mark a major victory for families in Riverside County, some of whom have been caught in decades-long cycles of financial turmoil as a result of the County’s collection practices. Plaintiffs Shirley and Daniel Freeman are among those from whom the County pursued for more than 10 years to collect fees related to their grandson’s time in juvenile detention. “The settlement gives recognition to what happened to us and other families,” said Shirley and Daniel Freeman. “We are pleased that the lawsuit helped families by canceling amounts they still owed and now the settlement will return some of the money that was collected from them.”

“Even when state law requires consideration of ability to pay, individuals and their families are frequently burdened with debt they’re unable to pay. These fees cause significant harm to families, undermining community health and trust in public institutions,” said Rebecca Miller, Senior Litigator with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “This case shows why fees should not be charged to individuals involved in the juvenile justice system.”

Families from whom Riverside County collected juvenile detention fees will receive mailed notice about the proposed class action settlement in the coming weeks. Parents and guardians who believe they might be members of the class action entitled to relief under the settlement should visit the Settlement Administrator’s website at or call (833) 472-1997.


The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit

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:



· 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.



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.


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.



· 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]; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]

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

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

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. ”

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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.


Tomorrow Is Giving Tuesday: How You Can Support Our Work  


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.


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


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.

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.