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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

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.

REGISTER



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.

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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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Para ver esta información en español, haz clic aqui

Settlement Website, click here

January 31, 2023

Contacts:

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

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

 

CALIFORNIA’S RIVERSIDE COUNTY AGREES TO REIMBURSE FAMILIES $540K IN JUVENILE DETENTION FEES

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 www.riversidejuvenilefees.com or call (833) 472-1997.

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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 www.youthlaw.org.

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 www.wclp.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEALTH CARE

Medi-Cal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Health Care Proposals:

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

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

 

HOUSING

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

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

· $225M – Multifamily Housing Program

· $225M – Infill Infrastructure Grant Program

· $250M – Adaptive reuse

· $100M – Portfolio Reinvestment Program

· $50M – Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program

· $50M – Affordable housing on excess sites.

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

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

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

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

HOMELESSNESS

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

· $3B – Flexible aid to local governments

· $3B – Homekey

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

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

· $860M – Community Care Expansion

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

· $262M – Project Roomkey

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

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

 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

For questions, contact:

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

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

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

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

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

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