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Western Center Round Up – June 2023

California Reparations Task Force Releases Historic Report 

Despite today’s SCOTUS ruling, we have much to celebrate today. After two years of research and public convenings, the California State Reparations Task Force released their groundbreaking official report to the Legislature today, outlining recommendations for reparations for Black Californians descended from slaves to compensate for harms caused by enslavement and racial discrimination practices. In Western Center’s 2022 Annual Report, Crystal Crawford, Executive Director lifted up the task force’s significance and impact on our work, “Defining and implementing meaningful and achievable reparations for the Black descendants of enslaved people (who remain unable to reap the benefits of the American economy and continue to be shut out from opportunities to thrive), is the next critically important phase in California’s groundbreaking reparations journey. Western Center deals with the fallout of our country’s anti-Blackness and legacy of slavery every day when we work to protect people impacted by poverty. The legacy of American racism has resulted in worse social outcomes by most measures — from COVID-19 death rates, to incarceration rates, to homelessness, to employment and education.”

We applaud the task force for their tireless and first-in-nation work to create this roadmap for change and invite you to read their recommendations. “California can very well be the test case and the blueprint for what can and should be done when it comes to this issue,” says Senator Steven Bradford (Gardena), Reparations Task Force Member.

READ THE REPORT

Celebrating PRIDE by Safeguarding Civil Rights

As we close out Pride Month, we celebrate the beauty and power of our LGBTQIA+ family and the history of radical advocacy. Last year, we were honored to co-sponsor SB 923 (Wiener), a historic bill that creates a workgroup to establish first-in-the nation quality standards for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex (TGI) patient experience and recommends related training curriculum, mandates health plans to require TGI cultural competency training for their staff, and requires plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services and we celebrated the signing of SB107 (Wiener), a historic bill to protect the civil rights and basic dignity of LGBTQIA+ people, helping trans kids and their parents have a safe place to go if they are threatened with prosecution or criminalization for being who they are and seeking the care they need. This month, and every month, we commit to the fierce advocacy required to protect the rights of our LGBTQIA+ family in the courts and in the Capitol.

 Tenants’ Rights Advocates Reach Landmark Settlement On Behalf Of Californians Struggling With Pandemic Rent Debt

Earlier this month, Western Center, along with co-counsel Public Counsel, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Covington and Burling LLP announced a landmark settlement in ACCE Action v. California HCD, a case brought by tenants’ rights advocates alleging that the California Department of Housing & Community Development unconstitutionally operated the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which led to qualified applicants missing out on the assistance they were promised after the pandemic destroyed many Californians’ livelihoods. More than 100,000 households are still waiting for a decision on their applications—and many of them are being served with eviction notices and being harassed by their landlords for rent they still owe. The settlement agreement will offer a renewed chance for applicants who remain in limbo to receive Covid-19 rental assistance, which remains essential to supporting and stabilizing families as the housing and homelessness crisis worsens in California.

The rental assistance program was intended to provide housing stability for low-income tenant families who were impacted by Covid-19, but delays and dysfunction left far too many eligible families facing eviction because they could not access this critical assistance,” said Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “We are hopeful that this settlement will create an opportunity for these tenants to finally receive the help they need.”

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Families, Youth To Receive Cash Reimbursements From Riverside County Following Lawsuit Settlement

National Center for Youth Law and Western Center on Law and Poverty recently settled Freeman v. Riverside, a class action lawsuit that challenged Riverside County’s practices of charging and collecting detention fees from parents and guardians with a child in the juvenile system. The court granted approval of a settlement that establishes a $540,307 fund to reimburse parents and guardians who made a detention fees payment to Riverside County in a juvenile case between December 21, 2016 through April 21, 2020. More information about the settlement and the notice for class members can be found here.

So many families in Riverside are able to breathe a sigh of relief as these unjust juvenile fees are wiped away and reimbursed,” said Rebecca Miller, Western Center’s Senior Litigator. “But many people in California are still burdened with unaffordable criminal and juvenile debts, even with laws that require the government to consider their ability to pay. Families with low-incomes and families of color face the brunt of this debt, stripping wealth from their communities and denying them a chance to thrive economically.

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NEW BLOG: How I Went from a Street Vendor to Organizing Street Vendors

For decades, street vendors provided food for their communities and law enforcement and health departments across the city of Los Angeles criminalized them for doing so. These vendors were disproportionately Black and Brown, often immigrants who provided food in low-income communities of color disproportionately harmed by food insecurity and food deserts. All of them operated in the informal economy, in a segregated system – upheld by outdated municipal codes and state retail food laws – that favored enforcement against and criminalization of street vendors.With SB 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, and SB 972, the California Retail Food Code Act, street vending has been decriminalized, and food codes have been modernized to include and welcome sidewalk food vendors into our economy. This complete one-eighty occurred because of community organizing done well. And yet, enforcement of these wins has been a challenge. Western Center recently joined as counsel in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging their unlawful and discriminatory “no vending zones.”
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Western Center Roundup – May 2023


Western Center Releases 2022 Annual Report

As we close Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, National Women’s Health Month, and Maternal Mental Health Month, we are reflecting on the words of social justice activist Grace Lee Boggs“We should not be waiting for singular charismatic leaders to tell us what direction to go, but instead be like midwives, supporting the birth of movements that are already emerging.” Our 2022 annual report outlines the work we do in partnership with our movement allies, legal aid service providers, coalitions, pro bono partners, funders, policy makers, and community members to advance racial and economic justice. Framed by the beautiful art of Kayla Salisbury and photography by Las Fotos Project, we tell the story of 2022 litigation, advocacy, and movement wins – and how historic investments in safety net programs, tenant protections, and health care coverage expansions reduced rates of growing poverty in the face of COVID-19’s continued economic devastation. 

 

Read the Report



Securing Transformative District Wide Changes for Black Students and Black Students with Disabilities in Black Parallel School Board v. Sacramento City Unified School District

Last week, we announced a transformational settlement agreement with co-counsel, Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California (DRC), and National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), in Black Parallel School Board v. Sacramento City Unified School District. The suit accused the district of discriminatory segregation of students with disabilities and Black students with disabilities into highly restrictive classrooms and schools, plus other harmful practices laid bare in a 2017 report, based on a district self-audit. The suit also highlighted the District’s failure to provide these students with the educational and supportive services that the law requires. Plaintiffs alleged this failure contributed to grossly disparate rates of suspension and expulsion of Black students—among the very worst in the state for Black boys in 2018-2019 —as well as for students with disabilities.

The settlement requires the appointment of an independent monitor to review existing reports and data on the District’s special education and school discipline practices and develop and implement an Action Plan to bring SCUSD in compliance with the law to ensure all students have equal access to a quality education. “We are optimistic about the independent monitor component of the settlement; it will create accountability and help guide and direct the District as it undertakes the essential work of dismantling a discriminatory system,” said Senior Attorney Antionette Dozier of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

 

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Join Us for the Next Meet The Advocates on Ending Poverty Tows – June 29th at 12PM

Not being able to renew a vehicle’s registration or even having your car towed because of unpaid parking tickets happens frequently enough to low-income people that it has a name: poverty tows. Join Patrice Berry of EPIC, Rebecca Miller and Cynthia Castillo of Western Center, for our next Meet the Advocates, focused on AB1082 (Kalra), a bill to stop authorities from towing legally and safely parked vehicles due to the owner having unpaid parking citations. Public records show that although the goal of these tows is to collect debt, poverty tows actually cost cities far more than they recover. Learn about the snowballing impact of poverty tows on Californians with low incomes –  and why the time is now to pass AB1082.  

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New Staff, Awards, and Acknowledgments

Western Center continues to grow to meet the needs of Californians with low incomes. Please join us in welcoming our newest team members, Monika Lee, Senior Communications Strategist, Eduardo Lopez, Public Benefits and Access to Justice Fellow, Lori McCoy Shuler, Senior Executive and Legal Assistant, and Katie McKeon, Housing Attorney! We also invite you to join us in celebrating Crystal D. Crawford, Western Center’s Executive Director as she receives the Excellence in Advocacy Award from Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation on June 3rd. We also send our congratulations to Western Center Board Member Dr. Megan T. Ebor‘s on her recent recognition with the Heart-Led Leader Award given by the Associated Students at San Diego State University.

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Lawsuit alleging discrimination against Black students with disabilities ends in settlement

Black students with disabilities who attend public schools in Sacramento will receive more support to remain in class with their peers thanks to a settlement between a nonprofit and the school district.

After four years of litigation, the nonprofit, Black Parallel School Board (BPSB), and the Sacramento City Unified School District have come to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that alleged students of color, particularly Black students, experienced excessive and disparate exclusionary disciplinary measures such as suspension, expulsion, and involuntary and undocumented removal from classrooms.

“The settlement is a result of years of advocacy. Not just by the Black Parallel School Board, but by the broader community of Sacramento, advocates for disability rights and racial equity in education as well,” said Darryl White, senior chair of BPSB.

The BPSB is a community-based membership organization that developed in 2007 to serve Black children, primarily those attending public school in Sacramento. The nonprofit was assisted by the Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California, National Center for Youth Law and Western Center on Law and Poverty in coming to the settlement.

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Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2023-2024 May Revision Budget

The Newsom Administration released its 2023-24 May Revision budget, projecting a $31.5 billion deficit. After years of a budget surplus, California is forecasting a downturn in funding due to a combination of capital gains losses and delayed tax filings due to natural disasters, but California remains strong. The May Revision reflects a $37.2 billion in total budgetary reserves and additional funds from the Managed Care Organization tax.  

Governor Newsom maintains many of the Administration’s and legislature’s previous commitments and proposes no new trigger cuts. He also proposes no new corporate or personal taxes, despite calls from the Senate and advocates to increase taxes on wealthy corporations and the state’s highest earners.  

We appreciate that the May Revision maintains past budget agreements including expansion of Medi-Cal to all regardless of immigration status, reforming the Medi-Cal share-of-cost, and on-time implementation of food assistance for Californians 55 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status 

As the fourth largest economy in the world, California has made great strides in addressing poverty and systemic inequities, but there is more work to be done. We look forward to working with the legislature and Administration to protect low-income Californians as the State enters more uncertain fiscal circumstances.  

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area, with a focus on changes from the January budget proposal.   

HEALTH CARE 

Health4All: The May Revision maintains full funding to expand full-scope Medi-Cal eligibility to all income eligible adults ages 26-49 regardless of immigration status on January 1, 2024. The May Revision includes increases for previous expansions for adults 50 and older and ages 26-49 due updated managed care rates, higher share of state-only costs, higher caseloads, and higher acuity members. 

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The May Revision proposes a bigger MCO tax with an earlier start date (April 2023 through end of 2026). This results in $19.4 billion in total funding, including $3.4 billion for 2023-24. $8.3 billion is proposed to offset General Fund and $11.1 billion is proposed to support Medi-Cal investments that improve access, quality, and equity over an 8- to10-year period. These investments include rate increases to at least 87.5% of Medicare for primary care, birthing care, and non-specialty mental health providers and the remainder will be put into a special fund reserve for future consideration.  

Covered California Affordability Sweep: The May Revision maintains proposal to sweep Covered California reserve fund to General Fund totaling $333.4 million. 

Distressed Hospital Loan Program: The May Revision includes up to $150 million one-time General Fund to provide interest-free cashflow loans to not-for-profit and public hospitals in significant financial distress or to governmental entities representing a closed hospital, for purposes of preventing the closure of, or facilitating the reopening of, those hospitals.  

Home and Community-Based Services Spending Plan Extension: The May Revision includes a six-month extension until September 30, 2024 for specified programs such as the IHSS Career Pathways Program and the Senior Nutrition Infrastructure Program to fully spend allocated funding based on critical programmatic needs.  

Doula Services Implementation Evaluation: To align with later implementation date, TBL is proposed to extend the timeline of the Doula Stakeholder Workgroup (from April 1, 2022 until December 31, 2023) and to extend the evaluation of the doula benefit implementation in the Medi-Cal program (from April 1, 2023 until June 30, 2025).  

Medical Interpreter Pilot Program: Through TBL, the May Revision proposes to extend the expenditure authority of the Medical Interpreter Pilot Project for 12 months, from June 30, 2024 to June 30, 2025.  

988 Update: The May Revision includes a one-time augmentation of $15 million for a total of $19 million, from the 988 State Suicide and Behavioral Health Crisis Services Fund for California’s 988 centers. This increase will support workforce expansion to handle increased answered call volume, extensions of service hours, and the availability of chat and text options for callers utilizing the 988 services.  

BH-CONNECT Demonstration (formerly referred to as CalBH-CBC Demonstration): The May Revision includes an update to the BH-CONNECT Demonstration to include a new Workforce Initiative and includes $480 million in funding for each year of the five-year demonstration period ($2.4 billion total funding and no General Fund).  

CalRX and Reproductive Health: The May Revision includes TBL and $2 million one-time General Fund reappropriation from the Capital Infrastructure Security Program and allows the use of these funds for reproductive health care if necessary. 

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The May Revision includes additional funding to support the implementation of the CARE Act. Compared to the Governor’s Budget, the annual increase is between $43 million and $54.5 million to account for refined county behavioral health department cost assumptions, additional one-time $15 million General Fund for Los Angeles County start-up funding. The May Revision also includes an additional $16.8 million in 2023-24, $29.8 million in 2024-25, and $32.9 million ongoing to double the number of hours per participant for legal services from 20 hours to 40 hours. 

HOMELESSNESS

The May Revision preserves the full $3.7 billion in funding for homelessness programs, as committed in previous budgets, including $1 billion for the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention grant program. 

May Revision Adjustments:  

Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program: $500 million one-time Mental Health Services Fund in 2023-24 in lieu of General Fund. This investment eliminates the January Budget proposed delay of $250 million General Fund to 2024-25 and restores the $1.5 billion commitment funded in the 2022 Budget Act for the program. 

HOUSING

While the May Revision reflects a steady commitment to Homelessness investments, the May Revision also culminated in a weakening of housing investments totaling $17.5 million in General Fund reductions and $345 million in deferrals related to housing programs. Funding for housing programs remains at approximately 88% of the allocations made in 2022-23 and proposed for 2023-24 ($2.85 billion). This outlook could change if there are sufficient General Fund dollars in January 2024. If that occurs, the Governor has committed to restoring $350 million of these reductions. Overall, the proposal includes $500 million continued annual investment in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, $225 million for the Multifamily Housing Program, and $100 million for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program. These programs have a proven track-record of addressing housing affordability and homelessness across California. 

May Revision Adjustments: 

Foreclosure Intervention Housing Prevention Program: Provides funds to various non-profit organizations to acquire foreclosed property and operate as affordable housing. Deferral of $345 million of the $500 million one-time General Fund over four fiscal years—for a revised allocation of: $50 million in 2023-24, $100 million in 2024-25, $100 million in 2025-26, and $95 million in 2026-27 

Downtown Rebound Program: Funds adaptive reuse of commercial and industrial structures to residential housing. Reverts $17.5 million in unexpended funding that remained in this program after the Notice of Funding Availability. 

In contrast, the Senate’s Budget Plan, which was released two weeks ago, both prevents funding cuts and delays, and builds on our progress by including ongoing investment in homelessness and resources for key housing production programs. Notably, that Plan provides $1 billion in ongoing funds to support the Homeless Housing Assistance, and Prevention Program, $1 billion towards the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, and an additional $300 million flexible allocation towards affordable housing programs.  

Western Center is a proud member of a coalition of California’s leading affordable housing, homelessness, and housing justice advocacy organizations championing a comprehensive coalition investment strategy for affordable housing production, preservation, and tenant stability. While the May Revision falls short of our requests to meet the housing and homelessness crisis at scale, we look forward to continuing our budget advocacy and encourage the Governor and Legislative leadership to finalize a budget that includes ongoing, significant resources like those included in the Senate budget plan and our coordinated housing budget letter. 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE  

CalWORKs Grant Increase: The May Revision reflects a 3.6-percent increase ($111.2 million in 2023-24) to CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment levels, effective October 1, 2023. These increased grant costs are funded through the Child Poverty and Family Supplemental Support Subaccount.  

Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): The May Revision continues to include an 8.6% increase in funding for the SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program providing a $3.6 billion from the general fund. This allocation provides recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month and $1,928 per month for couples. 

California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Expansion Update: The May Revision moves up the issuance of food benefits for older undocumented immigrants to start October 2025, instead of the January Proposal that delayed it until 2027, which we appreciate but we still need Food4All regardless of age and immigration status. 

Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program: The May Revision includes $47 million ($23.5 million General Fund) for outreach and automation costs to phase in a new federal Summer EBT program for children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals beginning summer 2024.  

Safety Net Reserve: The May Revision withdraws $450 million (half of $900 million) from the Safety Net Reserve. The reserve is intended to maintain existing Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program benefits and services when program cost may increase due to economic conditions, which may occur if recession occurs, so we argue it is prudent to not draw from Safety Net Reserve until those conditions are met. 

Services for Survivors and Victims of Hate Crimes Augmentation: The May Revision includes an additional $10 million General Fund to support services for victims and survivors of hate crimes and their families and facilitate hate crime prevention measures in consultation with the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs. 

For questions, contact: 

  • Health: Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]wclp.org 
  • Housing and Homelessness: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org 
  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org 

Western Center Roundup – April 2023


NEW REPORT: Recognizing the Right to Housing

 

Last week, we released a new report, Recognizing the Right to Housing: Why We Need a Human Right to Housing in California, with our partners, ACLU California Action, ACCE Institute, and the National Homelessness Law Center. This report outlines how including the right to housing to California’s constitution could fundamentally shift housing policy in the state and address the housing and homelessness crisis at its root cause. As detailed in the report, a constitutional right to housing would establish a legal mechanism to hold local and state governments accountable for ensuring that all Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing. Modeled after international law, a constitutional amendment would establish a government obligation to:

respect the right to housing by not interfering with the right;
protect the right to housing by shielding the enjoyment of affordable and adequate housing from third-party threats; and
fulfill the right to housing by affirmatively enacting policies and budgetary allocations to ensure that all Californians have secure housing.

On April 25th, we stood with our partners and hundreds of community organizers and tenants at the Capitol for a press conference to release the report recommendations and drive support for several of our housing bills this session: ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right; SB 460; (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing; SB 567(Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act. AB 920(Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.

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Western Center Sounds the Alarm on Staff Shortages Facing Counties Amid Medi-Cal Changes

 

Western Center’s Senior Attorney David Kane has been making the media rounds, raising awareness of “the perfect storm” approaching Californians on Medi-Cal who registered in record numbers during the pandemic and now face a challenging benefits renewal process to ensure continued coverage. In recent articles with the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, David spoke of Western Center’s discovery through a public records request of just how woefully unprepared counties are in preparing for Medi-Cal benefits renewals – challenges such as staff shortages, an unseasoned workforce, a new computer system, and budget constraints. “None of this works if county Medi-Cal offices don’t have what they need in terms of basic resources and people in their offices to help people renew their Medi-Cal because they are the ones who determine whether somebody qualifies or should be terminated,” Kane said. “Today, with the historic level of record-high Medi-Cal enrollment, that already would be a challenge to counties and their offices, but it’s even worse. Counties have said they are understaffed and are constantly trying to fill vacancies. We’re really concerned that under these difficult circumstances, we’re not ready.”

To address these challenges, Western Center and our partners, the State, Counties, and DHCS have taken some preliminary steps to ease the process of renewals: 

  • In 2019, WCLP co-sponsored SB 260 (Hurtado) which closes coverage gaps for people no longer eligible for Medi-Cal by automatically enrolling them in the Covered California plan (if eligible) that most closely matches their previous coverage. 
  • Thanks to requests by advocates, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) convened a monthly working group to problem solve, plan, and get ready to help people keep their coverage for when renewals resumed. 
  • Counties have responded nimbly to numerous Medi-Cal expansions, including eligibility for people who are undocumented, and have updated their notices and engaged in outreach to impacted people. 
  • DHCS, in response to extensive advocacy, has done tremendous work to protect coverage for young adults who are undocumented and those who are 65 and over or disabled. 
  • Advocates have consolidated tools and resources for people looking for additional assistance as they seek to prove eligibility. 

 

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NEW BLOG POST and Partner Spotlight on Building Generational Wealth


With one in five children living in poverty in California, we celebrate our partners whose tireless efforts have culminated in groundbreaking programs to address generational wealth building. Last year, GRACE & End Child Poverty California (ECPCA), John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)End Poverty in California (EPIC), and Liberation in a Generation worked to pass the The Hope, Opportunity, Perseverance, and Empowerment (HOPE) for Children Act and successfully advocated for HOPE trust funds accounts in our State budget. HOPE Accounts will support children from low-income families who lost a primary caregiver to COVID-19, as well as children who are in long-term foster care. HOPE funds will be available when a child turns 18. They will allow children to invest in their education, start a business, or support purchasing transportation or housing. 

In this month’s blog post, Western Center Outreach and Advocacy Associate Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez lifts up the new CalKids program as another vehicle for wealth building and a tool for moving the needle on the ever expanding racial wealth gap. “Student debt and financial access to education are some of the many obstacles that communities of color face in our state. Student debt is a lifelong burden that impacts generational wealth. Last Fall, California launched a program called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings program (CalKids) that will invest in low-income students by providing an initial seed deposit for them to save for college.”

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Western Center Roundup – March 2023

Celebrating Women’s History Month and Cesar Chavez Day


Advocating, Organizing, Speaking Up and Out: Women Are Driving the Change We Need in California

This Women’s History Month was shaped by powerful testimony women provided in press conferences, legislative hearings, strikes, and listening tours. From demanding Housing as a Human Right, advocating for Affordable Health Care, preventing homelessness through expanded tenant protections, Reimagining a CalWORKs program that truly supports families, and shining a spotlight on the unique barriers faced by farmworkers braving climate change to feed our State, women shared how policies and systems of power impact their daily lives, offering both inspiration and solutions centered in their lived experiences. We stand in awe of these change makers and thank them for their dedication to improving the lives of all Californians. We would also like to extend our congratulations to Sonya Young Aadam, WCLP partner, who received a major national nod with the Unsung Hero Award from the NAACP Image Awards for her work leading the California Black Women’s Health Project and Christine Chambers Goodman, WCLP board member and Professor of Law at Caruso School of Law at Pepperdine, who was recognized with the University’s 10th Annual Award for Excellence in Leadership.



Western Center’s Executive Director, Crystal Crawford Receives NYU School of Law Woman of Distinction Award

Our very own Crystal Crawford, Western Center Executive Director was honored by the New York School of Law with the 2022 Woman of Color Collective Woman of Distinction Award, recognizing alumnae who have made outstanding achievements in the field of law. Crystal’s acceptance speech spoke to the theme of the awards event, Building Bridges, Fostering Wellbeing. A Hays Fellow and Chairperson of Black Allied Law Students Association at NYU Law, Crystal paid homage to several of her classmates who were in attendance, as well as NYU Law professors Paulette Caldwell, Derrick Bell, Bryan Stevenson, and Leon Higginbotham for providing encouragement and inspiration throughout her career. In her closing remarks, Crystal noted that a guiding mantra for her has been the Kwanzaa principle of kujichagulia, or self-determination. “This notion of defining who we are and not letting other people define us, that’s how you foster your own wellbeing.”

Congratulations and thank you for your leadership, Crystal!



NEW REPORT: Return to Sender: How an Unreliable Mail System Harms Californians Living in Poverty

Shaped by interviews throughout the state with public benefits advocates, legal aid attorneys, food bank employees, shelter operators, and nonprofit leaders, as well as individuals struggling to access their mail, and Public Records Act responses from counties concerning their mail holding practices and methods for ensuring unhoused people can access mail, this new report outlines the challenges facing Californians without permanent addresses and/or access to reliable mail services. Special thanks to Liv Williams, who spent a year working at Western Center as a Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP Social Impact Pro Bono Fellow, for her extensive research and authorship of this report. This fellowship project has become a powerful advocacy tool to garner support for SB 491 (Durazo), co-sponsored by Western Center and the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations. This bill would create an option for unhoused Californians to pick up government related mail from a county department of social services such as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, election ballots, public housing waiting list notifications, student report cards, and much more. You can track this bill HERE.

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Community Centric Fundraising Hub Highlights Western Center Team’s Journey into Fundraising from a Place of Empowerment and Awareness

Western Center’s development department is as bold as they come. The team, composed of four women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, is fertile ground to try things differently. The team, Heather Masterton, Xochi Flores, Cinthya Martinez, and April Walker recently documented their experience of reimagining development work by implementing community centric fundraising principles in a new Women’s History Month publication on the CCF hub; we invite you to learn more. “We are not just grant seekers, grant writers, foundation relationship stewards, and event planners. We are also parents, students, and professors. We are sisters and siblings in family and in community. We are connectors of all of the spaces we occupy and engage in. And just like social justice work is transformative and process based, so are the humans who use their creativity, their wordsmithing, their love of language and communication, and their acquired-by-living skillset to propel the work forward…” 

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NEW Blog Post: CalFresh Hunger Games

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit levels through Emergency Allotments to address America’s deepening hunger crisis. On March 1, 2023, those increased SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh in California, expired for approximately three million recipients, bringing food benefits down to an average of $6 per day per person. Western Center’s Outreach and Advocacy Associate, Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez connects with recipients to learn more about the impact of losing those life sustaining increases as inflation rises and the cost of food soars. Jesus and Alicia are getting by with a tight budget. They budget in the face of rising inflation where prices on milk, eggs, and bread skyrocket. For them community driven food banks have been a blessing. Alicia shared, “this is the reality for many Californians. We are doing our best to get by. Our neighbors who are also retired are in a similar situation. Others we know live in houses or apartments where multiple families are living under one roof – it is the only way to survive, but we are running out of time.”

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The CalFresh Hunger Games: Free falling into food insecurity with no rescue in sight.

“For politicians our hunger is a game, they want to see you starve to death before they help and say, ‘I saved these people’s lives and I took action to stop hunger in our community,’” Jesus Zavala reflects. Jesus Zavala and Alicia Zavala are both retired seniors living in East Los Angeles. They are also my parents. And after working in difficult environments their entire lives, I had hoped they could settle into an easy retirement. Instead, they have faced hardship, including constant food instability in recent years, an uneasy retirement.

 

Before coming to the United States, my father and mother worked the fields of Alta and Baja California. When they moved here with my grandfather, who came to the U.S through the Bracero Program after World War II ended, my parents naturally found work throughout the Imperial Valley right over the border from Mexico. Eventually they migrated north to the neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles where they have lived ever since.

 

Like many retirees, my parents were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated existing economic inequity. During the pandemic, they rushed to sign up for SNAP/CalFresh. Thanks to this cushion of federally funded emergency allotments, they have managed to get by.

 

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture over 80% of SNAP beneficiaries across the country are working class families, people with disabilities, or seniors. Individual SNAP recipients on average received around $100 dollars while families received benefits based on their household size during the pandemic.

 

Although the federal government has extended the public health emergency until early May, it has stopped all funding for food stamps that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

As of March 2023, food benefit amounts are now based on household income rather than the size of a household. This means that right now these federal funding cuts to CalFresh are tearing through the food security of nearly 3 million households in our state. 

 

“We lost $160 in food benefits, which leaves us with $250 to eat for the rest of March,” shares Alicia. She is a retired Teamster School Bus Driver. She smiles as she greets the adversity she is sharing with the hope and grit you find in strong union mujeres.

 

Jesus adds, “Picture this… we get around $1,900 collectively from Social Security, our mortgage is around $1,700 that leaves us with $200 cash to survive with, plus car payments, car insurance, gas, and other expenses that we all know too well.” He has worked on classic cars since he arrived in Los Angeles. He learned the trade of building muscle car engines under direction of famed hot-rodder John Geraghty.

 

He continues “At this point I have knee issues, it’s difficult to work the same way I did 30 years ago and even if I could work on classic cars on the side, the government would automatically take any current food benefits I have. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

 

More changes to SNAP programs are sure to come when the federal public health emergency ends on May 11, 2023, especially with SNAP benefits being eyed for potential federal cuts in the ongoing debt limit debate in Congress.

 

While politics are at play on the national scene, in our state there are some legislative efforts forming to respond. A bill was introduced in the California legislature on February 15 that would establish a minimum benefit in the CalFresh program by January 2025.

 

Jesus and Alicia are getting by with a tight budget. They budget in the face of rising inflation where prices on milk, eggs, and bread are skyrocketing. For them community driven food banks have been a blessing. “This is the reality for many Californians, we are doing our best to get by, our neighbors who are also retired are in a similar situation, others we know live in a house or apartment where multiple families are living in under one roof, it is the only way to survive, but we are running out of time,” says Jesus. 

 

For many time has run out, these are difficult times for far too many people in California whether we are talking about the unhoused, low-income, people of color  or working-class communities. Californians are falling off a hunger cliff at this very moment and there are no permanent policy solutions to address the food insecurity many in our state are facing.  

 

As the contradictions of today’s financialized capitalist system unravel, we must imagine new ways to address this persistent economic bifurcation of a state of prosperity and a state of precariousness.We must address the growing gap between rich and poor that continues to spread under the contagion of monopoly-finance capital. 

 

Make no mistake the gilded facade of California is peeling, and we can not sweep the flakes under the rug. Californians in poverty need a New Deal, and they need it now. 

Learning to Fundraise From a Place of Empowerment and Unapologetic Awareness

When community-centric fundraising (CCF) first popped on my radar in 2020, it felt like a family reunion. Suddenly, I had kinfolk nationwide asking the same questions that repeatedly bounced around in my head. Questions such as is fundraising supposed to be this complicated? How can one ultra-wealthy donor be the hero of everyone else’s story? And when do I get to take this mask off?

As with any budding movement, the critiques around CCF’s principles were plentiful, and the feigned interest equally so. Many were quick to dismiss community-centric fundraising as something that simply would not work. But for those of us who resonated deeply with CCF’s commitment to reducing harm and advancing social justice, we welcomed the opportunity to approach our work in new and bold ways.

Among the CCF family I have found is the development team at the Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP). As a consultant for WCLP’s development team, I am grateful that the organization’s fundraisers are as bold as they come. Not because the team has everything figured out but because they do not shy away from hard conversations about wealth, power, reparations, and the like. The team’s commitment to community-centric fundraising does not manifest as a checklist but rather as permission to question the model of fundraising we inherited. Centering community is the foundation of how we treat each other and hold space to challenge a system we often want to dismantle (a system that we also recognize pays our bills).

This January, WCLP’s development team convened for an in-person retreat to lean into the CCF principles and chart our path for the year. We left the retreat with a new development team mission statement, clarity on our shared values, and the resolve to continually wrestle with what is uncomfortable. Our team, composed of four women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, is fertile ground to try things differently and to fundraise from a place of empowered and unapologetic awareness.

Because we know our work is far from done, we want to share our journey with others. We hope our transparency inspires and catalyzes, and we look forward to learning from our extended CCF family along the way.

 

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Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

March 6, 2023
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 2023 legislative session.

Healthcare

AB 1085 (Maienschein): Medi-Cal: housing support services.
The bill would require the Department to seek federal approval to make housing support services a Medi-Cal benefit for Californians experiencing homelessness. Housing support services help people access housing, remain stably housed, and are essential for individuals experiencing homelessness to access meaningful care.
(Co-sponsored with Corporation for Supportive Housing)
Fact Sheet

AB 1094 (Wicks): Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act.
This bill will ensure that a pregnant or perinatal person provides informed consent prior to drug or alcohol tests or screens being conducted on them or their newborn.
(Co-Sponsored with Drug Policy Alliance, Black Women for Wellness, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers)

AB 1157 (Ortega and Wilson): 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)
Fact Sheet

SB 595 (Roth): Minimizing gaps in health coverage.
This bill is follow-up legislation to ensure that last year’s SB 644, which required Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information about those who applied for income-replacing benefits with Covered California to allow Covered California to outreach and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California, is implemented timely.
(Co-sponsored with California Pan Ethnic Health Network and Health Access)
Fact sheet

Housing

AB 653 (Reyes): Department of Housing and Community Development.
This bill would create a program to pair housing navigation, incentives, and deposit resources with housing choice voucher tenants to find and secure a unit. The bill would also require housing authorities that have low successful placement rates to work with the Department of Housing and Community Development to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing CA, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of CA and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP))
Fact Sheet

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing credit.
This bill would limit rent increases in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-Sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

AB 920 (Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.
This bill would add housing status to the list of protected categories under California’s anti-discrimination statute in order to prevent the routine discrimination of unhoused people by public and private entities that receive state funding.
(Co-Sponsored with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Disability Rights California (DRC), Housing California, and Public Advocates)
Fact Sheet

AB 1082 (Kalra): Authority to remove vehicles.
This bill would prohibit towing or immobilizing a vehicle due to unpaid parking tickets, increase the number of unpaid tickets from one to eight before the DMV can place a registration hold, and improve the guidelines for parking ticket payment programs.
(Co-Sponsored with End Poverty in California (EPIC), FreeFrom, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR))
Fact Sheet

AB 1085 (Maienschein): Medi-Cal: housing support services.
The bill would require the Department to seek federal approval to make housing support services a Medi-Cal benefit for Californians experiencing homelessness. Housing support services help people access housing, remain stably housed, and are essential for individuals experiencing homelessness to access meaningful care.
(Co-sponsored with Corporation for Supportive Housing)
Fact Sheet

AB 1418 (McKinnor): Limiting Racially Motivated Crime-Free Housing Programs and Nuisance Ordinances.
This bill would limit local crime-free/nuisance ordinances (CFNH) housing programs and nuisance ordinances, which typically include harmful provisions such as requiring landlords to evict tenants for alleged criminal activity. Often touted as crime-fighting tools, these policies represent a new phase in the evolution of segregationist housing laws designed to exclude people of color from communities.
(Co-Sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Disability Rights California, National Housing Law Project, and Root & Rebound)
Fact Sheet
Register support here

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)
Fact Sheet
Register support here

SB 460 (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing.
The bill would establish the first statewide Fair Chance Housing Ordinance (FCH), which would provide a pathway for individuals with criminal records reentering society to access, obtain, and sustain housing. This bill would prevent rental housing providers from screening for criminal history of housing applicants during the advertisement, application, selection, or eviction process, unless required by federal law.
(Co-Sponsored with All of Us or None, Just Cities, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Root & Rebound)
SB 460 Fact Sheet
Register Support here

SB 567 (Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act.
This bill would close the gaps in existing law that leaves millions of California renters at risk of exorbitant rent increases and allows housing providers to abuse “no-fault” just cause eviction protections.
(Co-Sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, and Public Advocates)
SB 567 Fact Sheet
Register Support here

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 94 (Davies): Administration of public social services: blocked telephone calls.
This bill would prohibit county departments of social services to call recipients from a blocked phone number.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: eligibility: income exclusions.
This bill would exempt any grant, scholarship, loan, or fellowship as income for CalWORKs.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 310 (Arambula): CalWORKs.
This spot bill would provide various reforms to the CalWORKs program.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, GRACE/End Child Poverty California, John Burton Advocates for Youth, and Parent Voices)

AB 325 (Reyes): Human services: noncitizen victims.
This bill would provide social services to immigrants who have applied for humanitarian relief including applicants who have applied for Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and survivors of domestic abuse who have applied for relief through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 380 (Arambula): California Labor Trafficking Prevention Act.
This bill would establish a Labor Trafficking unit within the Department of Industrial Relations the Division of Labor Standards.
(Co-Sponsored with Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Loyola Law School)

AB 843 (J. Carrillo): Restoration of electronically stolen CalFresh benefits.
This bill would place into law that recipients of the CalFresh program who have been victims of electronic theft are able to have their benefits restored. Today electronic theft of public benefit programs has become rampant and lucrative for thefts as these programs lack adequate protections from these forms of theft.
(Co-Sponsor with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 964 (Ortega): Prevention of human trafficking through state contracts.
This bill would enhance prevention of human trafficking through state contracts by requiring awardees of state contracts to submit a human trafficking prevention plan.
(Co-Sponsor with the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Loyola Law School)

AB 991 (Alvarez): Modernizing public benefit communication.
This bill would allow recipients of public benefit programs to provide information that has been requested by county departments of social services via email.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 1094 (Wicks): Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act.
This bill would ensure that a pregnant or perinatal person provides informed consent prior to drug or alcohol tests or screens being conducted on them or their newborn.
(Co-Sponsored with Drug Policy Alliance, Black Women for Wellness, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers)

AB 1266 (Kalra): End Debtor’s Prison Act.
This bill will remove the possibility of bench warrants being issued for infractions. Today courts are able to issue bench warrants if someone fails to appear in court or doesn’t pay a fine.
(Co-Sponsoring with the Debt Free Justice Coalition, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area)

SB 36 (Skinner): Safe Haven for Abortion & Gender-Affirming Care Act.
This bill would strengthen our safe haven protections by making it illegal for bail agents or bounty hunters to apprehend people in California who have left another state to avoid criminal prosecution or imprisonment related to that state’s criminalization of abortion or gender-affirming care. The bill would also ensure that benefits such as CalFresh and CalWORKs would not be denied to individuals who left another state and traveled to California for purposes described above but would otherwise be eligible for such benefits.
(Co-Sponsored with Black Women for Wellness, Equality California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

SB 491 (Durazo): Access to Mail for Unhoused Californians.
This bill would create an option for unhoused Californians to pick up government related mail from a county department of social services such as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, election ballots, public housing waiting list notifications, student report cards, and much more.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

SB 727 (Limón): Forgiveness of coerce debt for survivors of human trafficking.
This bill would provide a pathway for survivors of human trafficking to have coerced debt forgiven that accrued during the time they were trafficked.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice)

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

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