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Western Center Summary and Analysis of Governor Newsom’s Revised Budget

Governor Gavin Newsom has submitted his May budget revision to the Legislature, signaling the beginning of the annual budget process. The Governor’s budget builds upon the January budget, which included a host of new investments in CalWORKs, affordable housing, health care and the state earned income tax credit.

The May revision adds new proposals for an expanded child tax credit, additional child care slots, and an end to taxes on diapers and menstrual products. The budget does not include funding to restore massive SSI grant cuts from a decade ago or to prevent seniors and persons living with disabilities from having to pay high share of costs for their medical coverage.

The revision rightly undoes a budget cut from a decade ago by restoring eyeglasses for adults on Medi-Cal. Unfortunately, the May Revision continues to exclude low-income seniors, persons with disabilities, and undocumented adults over age 25 from full-scope Medi-Cal. The Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled income eligibility threshold for full-scope Medi-Cal remains at 122% FPL, meaning seniors and persons with disabilities are subject to a lower income eligibility threshold.

We are happy that the Governor has recognized that our housing crisis requires a multi-pronged approach: near-term interventions for those struggling with homelessness, protections for renters at risk of homelessness, and a simultaneous investment in producing desperately needed affordable housing for those hit hardest by the crisis. To that end, we are pleased to see an increase in funding to cities and counties to address ongoing and increasing homelessness, and an expansion of the eligible uses of those funds.

We look forward to continuing our work with the Legislature and with the Governor to bring the budget and state policies in line with solutions that will lift Californians out of poverty. Those priority investments are not optional if we are truly striving for a California for all.

Read our full analysis here.

PRESS RELEASE: Judge approves class action settlement for California’s failure to arrange Medi-Cal in-home nursing care for children

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Over 4,000 children in California are eligible for in-home nursing — many don’t receive the care they are prescribed

San Francisco, Calif. – A federal judge granted preliminary approval for settlement of a class action lawsuit that will enable children and youth with complex medical needs to get the in-home nursing they need to remain healthy and safe. The judge’s ruling will allow the state to inform over 4,000 affected families about the settlement, giving them a chance to weigh in before granting final approval.

The case was filed on May 24, 2018 by two children, I.N. and J.B., against the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), claiming that the state failed to fulfill its commitment to provide them and thousands of other Medi-Cal beneficiaries like them with sufficient Medi-Cal in-home nursing services to keep them safely at home.

“Obtaining private duty nursing is a difficult and complicated process and for too many years families have received little or no support in securing the health care their children on Medi-Cal are entitled to receive,” says William Leiner, an attorney with Disability Rights California, one of the firms that brought the case.  “Under this settlement, the Department of Health Care Services accepts that it is ultimately responsible to help these families.  In the future, every family that needs assistance will get a case manager whose job will be to arrange for all approved nursing hours.”

Plaintiff I.N. is seven years old and lives with her adoptive family. Due to cerebral palsy and epilepsy, she needs help with all of her daily needs, uses a wheelchair, and receives food and nutrients through a feeding tube. She requires round the clock care, including 63 hours per week of in-home nursing care as prescribed by her doctor and approved by the Medi-Cal program. But she has always received far less than the 63 hours she needs. Her mother hopes that the settlement, which will improve the services available to families like hers, will change that.  “With this settlement, I am hopeful that my family and others like mine will finally receive the help we need to obtain nursing care for our children.”

I.N.’s story is not unique. More than 4,000 Medi-Cal-eligible children have been approved by the state to receive Medi-Cal in-home nursing care. Yet because the state lacks an effective system for arranging nursing, many children make do with far fewer hours than they need, which creates an unacceptable risk of medical complications, hospitalization, and placement outside of the family home. According to a 2016 DHCS study, 29 percent of authorized Medi-Cal in-home nursing hours go unstaffed.

Sarah Somers, an attorney with co-counsel National Health Law Program, has litigated similar cases across the nation. “Under federal Medicaid law, states are required to do more than simply authorize services. They have an affirmative obligation to arrange for those services to be provided to the children who need them. We are pleased that California has recognized this responsibility and is taking action to improve their system so that children will be better served.”

Robert Newman, General Counsel with co-counsel Western Center on Law and Poverty, sees a moral, legal, and fiscal imperative for the state to act. “DHCS settled this case quickly, because they understood the gravity of the circumstances for thousands of families. Enabling children to remain safely at home and avoid costly hospitalization is the right thing to do.”

To learn more about this case and the Plaintiffs, read the complaint here.

 

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Disability Rights California (DRC) is the protection and advocacy agency for the state of California.  DRC works to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities through impact litigation, policy advocacy, investigations, training and outreach. For more information, visit www.disabilityrightsca.org.

Founded in 1969, the National Health Law Program protects and advances the health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. The Health Law Program advocates, educates and litigates at the federal and state levels. Our lawyers and policy analysts stand up for the rights of the millions of people who struggle to access affordable, quality health care. We are guided by the belief—a challenge—that each generation should live better than the last. www.healthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center. www.wclp.org.

 

PRESS RELEASE: Western Center bill package could strengthen Medi-Cal for seniors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Assemblymembers Wood, Carrillo and advocates promote package of bills to strengthen Medi-Cal for seniors

 

AB 715, AB 1088, AB 1042 (Wood), and AB 683 (Carrillo) will work together to make Medi-Cal more equitable while creating greater stability for seniors and adults with disabilities

 

Sacramento, Calif., (April 2, 2019) – Today, Assemblymembers Wood and Carrillo joined advocates from Western Center on Law & Poverty, Justice in Aging, and Disability Rights California to highlight a package of new bills that, if passed, will work together to make Medi-Cal more equitable and accessible, while creating greater stability for seniors and adults with disabilities. The bill package is in committee this afternoon. Footage from the press conference is available here

 

“Seniors are California’s fastest-growing population,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa). “Between now and 2026, the number of Californians 65 and older is expected to climb by 2.1 million, according to projections by the state Department of Finance — the only age bracket to grow in scale. Within this ever-growing population, we have some of our most vulnerable seniors who often have to make difficult choices – to pay for their rent and utilities, see a doctor, or purchase groceries or the medications they need. My goal this year, with three bills and two significant budget requests, is to make a positive difference in their lives.”

 

Currently, four separate Medi-Cal rules limit Medi-Cal’s effectiveness. The four new bills in the “Senior Package” would address those pitfalls, ensuring California seniors and adults with disabilities have access to the care they need.

 

“The Affordable Care Act made health care more accessible for a lot of people, but we left seniors out,” said Jen Flory, Policy Advocate at Western Center. “Seniors on Medi-Cal face stricter program rules and risk losing their health care at a time when senior poverty is on the rise. No one should lose their health care because they turn 65.”

 

The four bills in the package include:

 

AB 715 (Wood) – Eliminates the Senior Penalty

Raises the Medi-Cal income eligibility limit for seniors and adults with disabilities to 138% of the federal poverty level. Resolves unfair situations in which seniors and adults with disabilities are subject to a lower income eligibility limit than others in the Medi-Cal population. Will create parity between other Medi-Cal programs that serve adults and the Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled program. It will also reduce the number of low-income seniors who have a share-of-cost, which is typically an unaffordable monthly amount that seniors must pay before Medi-Cal will cover costs.

 

AB 1088 (Wood) – Improves Continuity of Medi-Cal Coverage

Stops seniors and adults with disabilities from flipping between free and share-of-cost Medi-Cal. Currently, this happens because the Medi-Cal income counting rules deduct an individual’s out-of-pocket payment of the Medicare Part B premium from their income, but stops deducting that payment when it comes from the state as a benefit of free Medi-Cal, creating a nonsensical loop—a senior can yo-yo on and off of the free Medi-Cal program simply because of the difference created by one income deduction, despite no change in their actual income. AB 1088 stops this yo-yoing by creating an income deduction when the state payment of the Part B premium would disqualify someone from free Medi-Cal, thus ensuring the individual’s stable enrollment in Medi-Cal.

 

AB 1042 (Wood) – Helps Seniors Keep their Home

Updates and expands the home upkeep allowance, which helps ensure seniors and adults with disabilities who have a short-term stay in a nursing facility do not lose their home or belongings. Currently, an individual who resides in a nursing home should have access to the home upkeep allowance, which allows an individual to keep money for up to 6 months to pay for rent or mortgage so they don’t lose their housing while in a nursing home. In practice, however, the allowance is rarely used, limited in scope, and is such a small amount—$209—that it is insufficient. AB 1042 corrects this by increasing the amount of the home upkeep allowance and allowing the individual to use it to preserve their home, or set up a home (e.g., pay a rental deposit or costs of a storage space).

 

AB 683 (Carrillo) – Increases Financial Stability for Low-Income Seniors

Increases and simplifies the asset eligibility limit for Medi-Cal and eliminates those limits for the Medicare Savings Programs, which makes Medicare more affordable. This bill is needed because the current asset rules are so low that they affect seniors’ financial stability and perpetuate racial inequity within the Medi-Cal program. Currently, the asset limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. That limit has remained unchanged since 1989. Although asset exclusions exist, including property used as a primary residence, people of color are much less likely to own real property. This means that a senior with $4,000 in the bank is ineligible for Medi-Cal, but a senior who owns a home worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is eligible. AB 683 helps address this disparity by allowing individuals to have up to $10,000 of assets and a couple to have $15,000; ensures more people qualify for the Medicare Savings Program; and simplifies asset rules so low-income seniors and adults with disabilities have an easier time understanding and complying with the rules.

 

 

For more information, contact:

Jen Flory, Western Center on Law & Poverty, jflory@wclp.org

Claire M. Ramsey, Justice in Aging, cramsey@justiceinaging.org

Western Center, Debt Free Justice Coalition Sponsoring Bill to End Criminal Justice Admin Fees

Senate Bill 144, introduced by Senator Holly J. Mitchell, was amended with text that will end the assessment and collection of administrative fees imposed against people in the criminal justice system. By doing so, it would dramatically reduce the economic hardships caused by court-ordered debt and enhance the economic security of system-involved populations, their families and their communities. SB 144 will usher in an era of criminal justice policy that does not rely on stripping wealth from communities of color and low-income communities. The Debt Free Justice Coalition is sponsoring the legislation and has issued the following statements:

“Eliminating administrative fees will allow formerly incarcerated people to devote their already limited resources to critical needs like food, education, housing and health insurance. Repealing criminal fees will result in improved employment prospects for formerly incarcerated people and put more money in the pockets of economically insecure families, aiding successful reentry and reducing California’s recidivism rate.”

— Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law and Poverty

Read full statement here.

PRESS RELEASE: New Report Shows How Towing Practices in California Punish People in Poverty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

AB 516, authored by Assembly Member David Chiu, seeks to end harmful towing practices

San Francisco, Calif., (March 18, 2019) – A new report released today reveals how local governments in California use car towing and the associated fees in ways that disproportionately harm Californians living in poverty. The report, Towed into Debt, is authored by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Legal Services of Northern California, ACLU of California, Bay Area Legal Aid, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Public Law Center, Public Counsel, and the East Bay Community Law Clinic.

The report states that hundreds of thousands of California drivers have their cars towed every year for non-emergency, non-safety related reasons. Unpaid tickets, expired registration, and parking for more than 72 hours make up the majority of tows in California. People who can’t afford to pay parking tickets and registration fees often can’t afford to retrieve their vehicles once administrative fees, storage fees, and unpaid tickets are added together — fee totals often reach $1500 or more.

If a person is unable to pay all fees within 30 days of a tow, their car is sold for a fraction of its value. In San Francisco, half of all vehicles towed for debt collection are sold at lien sale. In 2017, Los Angeles tow yards sold over 26,000 vehicles that were towed by local agencies. It’s estimated that California sells at least 200,000 government-towed vehicles every year.

“Half of Americans can’t afford an emergency $500 expense, but cities across California regularly saddle low-income people with thousands of dollars in unconstitutional towing fees,” says Elisa Della-Piana, LCCR legal director. “These tows violate the Fourth Amendment by robbing people of their ability to get to work – and often their only financial asset – solely on the basis of economic status.”

California’s towing laws are a lose-lose-lose. People lose their cars, tow yards lose the opportunity to have paying customers on their lot, and local governments lose the opportunity to collect unpaid revenue. “California’s existing towing practices push people deeper into poverty, while doing nothing to benefit local governments. It’s time California put an end to this cruel and devastating practice,” says Maya Ingram, Legislative Attorney with the ACLU of California.

Losing a vehicle can have devastating effects on a person’s ability to get to work, get children to school, and execute essential tasks like getting to medical appointments. “We often hear from community members who are homeless that they wound up in a tent on the sidewalk because of the ripple effects of a single unexpected financial catastrophe. For many, it was getting their vehicle towed and not being able to afford to get it back,” says Shayla Myers, Attorney with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Towing is an unnecessarily harmful way for local governments to enforce non-safety related laws. Western Center’s Director of Policy Advocacy, Mike Herald, describes the practice as “the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack an egg.”

Assembly Member David Chiu has introduced AB 516 to curb the practice of harmful and unnecessary towing. The bill seeks to eliminate three types of poverty related tows:

  • Tows where a person has five or more unpaid parking tickets
  • Tows where the car registration is more than six months out of date
  • Tows where a car has been parked for 72 hours on a public street without being moved

By alleviating non-safety related towing practices, local governments in California will no longer be able to punish people living in poverty by taking away one of their most valuable assets.

To read the full report, click here.

For more information, contact:

Michael Herald, Western Center on Law and Poverty mherald@wclp.org

Maya Ingram, ACLU California mingram@acluca.org

Elisa Della Piana, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights edellapiana@lccr.org

Western Center Opposes President’s Budget That Would Worsen Hunger, Health, and the Economy in California

Western Center and fellow anti-hunger leaders in California have issued a statement in opposition to President Trump’s FY 2020 budget, which would worsen hunger, health, and the economy in California and throughout the U.S.

The President released his budget, proposing $220 billion in deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — CalFresh in California) over the next 10 years. The budget plan also doubled down on deeply flawed proposals to time limit benefits across several core safety net programs including SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid and Rental Assistance that would worsen hunger, health, and poverty for everyday Californians.

SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, reaching nearly 40 million low-income Americans, including approximately 4 million Californians. Over the next 10 years, the budget blueprint outlines a harsh vision for our country that would increase hunger and hardship, including several proposals that would undermine the strength, efficiency, and reach of the SNAP program we know today.

Read the full statement here.

 

PRESS RELEASE: Western Center continues to monitor confusion for food benefits caused by shutdown

Western Center and the California Association of Food Banks has issued a joint press release on the announcement of the March 1st issuance date for CalFresh food stamp benefits, which was impacted by the recent federal government shutdown.

To read the full statement, and for contact information, click here. A highlight from the statement is below:

“Food banks are on the front lines of hunger caused by the shutdown,” said Andrew Cheyne, Director of Government Affairs for the California Association of Food Banks. “Even in regular circumstances, nearly one-third of CalFresh households rely on food banks because benefits don’t last the month – the February SNAP gap has made the situation far worse. We thank the Department and counties for doing what they can to mitigate harm to the 3.8 million Californians who rely on CalFresh to eat.”

 

In 2015, Western Center brought a case against the USDA, Smith v. USDA, to defend SNAP recipients’ rights to benefits during a shutdown. When that shutdown was averted, the judge dismissed the case as moot, citing lack of evidence that a shutdown would occur again. However, the most recent shutdown-related events show that the need to establish protections for SNAP recipients under a shutdown remains relevant.

 

Last month, Western Center sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking for further clarification about SNAP issuance during the shutdown. Western Center will continue to monitor federal government actions that affect SNAP in an effort to ensure all recipients receive the benefits they are entitled to.

PRESS RELEASE

Western Center Applauds Gov. Newsom’s Push to End Deep Poverty with Budget Proposal

 

 

Increased CalWORKs grants will make California the 2nd state to provide grants that bring families to 50 percent of the federal poverty line

Sacramento, Calif. (January 10, 2019) – Western Center on Law & Poverty commends Governor Newsom’s proposed 2019-2020 budget as a solid first step toward the stronger California the Governor has said he will prioritize in his tenure. Western Center is particularly pleased to see an increase in CalWORKs grants beginning this October, which will bring families receiving CalWORKs to 50% of FPL, making California only the second state to do so after New Hampshire.

California has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country, and the highest rate of child poverty, with 450,000 children living in deep poverty (below 50% of FPL). Increasing CalWORKs grants is a necessary step outlined in the Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force Report, and a continuation of increased allocations by Jerry Brown.

We are glad to see the Governor prioritize the state’s homelessness and affordable housing crisis through significant new investments and policy changes. The Governor has correctly recognized the importance of housing access for Californians struggling with poverty. We look forward to working to refine the proposals to ensure that they provide relief to those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the housing crisis, including individuals and families who are currently unhoused, and those facing displacement and housing instability due to rising rents and gentrification.

Western Center is also pleased with the budget’s appropriations for health care. In addition to fully implementing the ACA, the proposed budget expands comprehensive Medi-Cal to all income-eligible young adults up to age 26, improves affordability assistance in Covered California for those with incomes between 250-600% of FPL, and funds supportive services for individuals with chronic conditions and mental illness. We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to expand comprehensive health coverage to all low income adults below the 138% FPL via Medi-Cal expansion, regardless of immigration status or age. We will also work to improve premium assistance for lower income families on Covered California.

Western Center’s full analysis of the Governor’s proposed budget, broken down by issue, is available here. For questions, contact Courtney McKinney at cmckinney@wclp.org.

JOINT STATEMENT ON FARM BILL & TRUMP’S PROPOSAL TO WEAKEN SNAP WORK REQUIREMENT PROTECTIONS

Western Center has issued a joint statement on President Trump’s signing of the Farm Bill, in partnership with the California Association of Food Banks, California Food Policy Advocates, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and the County Welfare Directors Association. The President signed the bill after an announcement was made that the Administration will request comments for a proposed rule attempting to weaken protections against work requirements in the SNAP program.

To read the full statement, and for contact information, click here.

A highlight from the statement is below:

The signed version of the bill that passed last week out of both houses with strong bi-partisan support includes a Nutrition Title with several changes to SNAP—none of which were determined by the Congressional Budget Office to produce savings by cutting access to the program. Congress’ refusal to expand the harsh SNAP 3-month time limit and related work requirement that were proposed by the House version of the Farm Bill was a source of relief for low-income Americans across the country and their advocates. The Administration’s announcement of upcoming regulations on the same issue this week is extremely disappointing, but not unexpected, based on numerous similar attempts over the past two years to circumvent Congressional and Judicial decision-making with proposed policies that make it more difficult for low-income Americans to receive the help they need.