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Up-to-date COVID-19 information



  • Several provisions of the Executive Order (EO) issued by Governor Newsom following the declaration of disaster due to the COVID-19 Emergency, which allowed recipients of safety net programs (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption or need for re-certification, expired in June. However, several others, like the stop in CalWORKs time clocks and the waiver of interview requirements, will continue as a result of a separate EO issued in June. For a comprehensive summary of that EO, click here.
  • Water and other utility shutoffs for homes and small businesses are suspended while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until April 2021.
  • Here is a Distance Learning Student Resource Guide from the California Department of Social Services. The guide includes information on free or low-cost internet, English language learning, adult education and workforce skills, video conferencing resources, and more.
  • The federal government sent Economic Impact Payments on a pre-paid card. The National Consumer Law Center has prepared this one-pager to explain how to use the card without incurring fees.


  • CalFresh Emergency Allotments for September were issued on October 18th. October Emergency Allotments will be issued on November 15th.
  • Restaurant delivery service is available for older Californians. Information and sign-up details for interested participants and restaurants are available here.
  • The California Department of Education has created an app to help families locate meals. For the general CDE COVID-19 resource page, click here.
  • California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) can now purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.


  • Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.
    • If you have Medi-Cal, testing is free.
    • If you are uninsured, testing is also free. You will have to go to a state testing site or one run by your county. You can contact your county public health department, local clinic, and medical provider to receive information about your options for free testing.
    • If you have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan, if it is determined to be medically appropriate by your attending health care provider. This can be any health care professional who is licensed and responsible for providing medical care. Note, this applies to most but not all private health plans.
    • If you are an essential worker and have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan. You can contact your health plan, which will help you secure an appointment for testing. For the purposes of COVID-19 testing, an essential worker is someone who works in the following sectors: health care, home caregiving, congregate care facilities, manufacturing, emergency services, food services, agricultural and food manufacturing, public transportation, correctional facilities, and education.Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.



More on Financial Security

Several provisions of the Executive Order (EO) issued by Governor Newsom following the declaration of disaster due to the COVID-19 Emergency, which allowed recipients of safety net programs (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption or need for re-certification, expired in June. However, several others, like the stop in CalWORKs time clocks and the waiver of interview requirements, will continue as a result of a separate EO issued in June. For a comprehensive summary of that EO, click here.

Water and other utility shutoffs for homes and small businesses are suspended while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until April 2021. To ensure households keep essential Lifeline wireless and home phone service, the California Public Utilities Commission has suspended its rule requiring people with low-incomes to re-enroll in the Lifeline program, also until April 2021.

Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order to expand child care for essential workers, and help prevent child hunger by taking steps to ensure a broad take-up of Pandemic EBT authorized by the federal Families First Act.

CalFresh Emergency Allotments for September were issued on October 18th. October Emergency Allotments will be issued on November 15th.

California Child Support Services is temporarily stopping the automatic placement of bank liens and suspension of drivers’ licenses, effective on March 17, 2020. Note that there may be instances where actions were already in the process and you will need to contact the agency handling your case. Additional resources and instructions for child support and child support collections during the COVID-19 crisis can be found here.

More on Health Care

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.

If you have Medi-Cal, testing is free. Applications for Medi-Cal will be accepted without proof of income documentation during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have documentation, you should provide it, but it is not mandatory at this time. This is also true for those needing to renew existing coverage – your Medi-Cal will not be cut off if you are unable to provide paperwork. 

If you are uninsured, testing is also free. You will have to go to a state testing site or one run by your county. You can contact your county public health department, local clinic, and medical provider to receive information about your options for free testing.

If you have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan, if it is determined to be medically appropriate by your attending health care provider. This can be any health care professional who is licensed and responsible for providing medical care. Note, this applies to most but not all private health plans.

If you are an essential worker and have private health insurance, testing is free and does not need prior approval from your health plan. You can contact your health plan, which will help you secure an appointment for testing. For the purposes of COVID-19 testing, an essential worker is someone who works in the following sectors: health care, home caregiving, congregate care facilities, manufacturing, emergency services, food services, agricultural and food manufacturing, public transportation, correctional facilities, and education.Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.

Currently, there is a conflict between the California regulation governing health plans for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and federal testing requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act. This conflict in current law might result in a health plan billing you for testing. If this happens and you want assistance with reviewing the bill, please contact Helen Tran at htran[at] or (213) 235-2638.

Everyone is encouraged to seek care if they are sick, regardless of income or immigration status. For more information about your right to health care, visit the Health Consumer Alliance’s COVID-19 information site.

More on Housing

Here is Western Center’s Know Your Rights toolkit for California tenants.

The Legislature and Governor announced a deal to temporarily stave off evictions for tenants who can’t afford to pay rent, and the Center for Disease Control issued a federal order stopping evictions for nonpayment until December 31, 2020. Read our analysis of how the laws are likely to interact here. These are not long term solutions. Western Center will be actively involved in the push for better, longer term protection for tenants.

Making Sense of New COVID Eviction Protections (AB 3088 and the CDC Order): Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney, Western Center on Law & Poverty 

Click image below to open in new tab and access hyperlinks

Another helpful resource from our partners at Legal Services of Northern California:

Additional Resources





Asian Americans Should Vote Yes on Prop 16. Here’s Why.

I’m Asian American, and I’m voting Yes on Proposition 16. I know that may seem contrary to stories out there about Asian American opposition to affirmative action, but the reality goes far beyond stereotypical narratives. In fact, there are many Asian Americans who support Prop 16 for very good reasons.

The Prop 16 ballot measure would restore affirmative action in public education, employment, and contracting. By repealing Prop 209, Prop 16 would allow state and local entities here in California to implement race-conscious affirmative action programs once again.

Prop 16 extends far beyond undergraduate admissions in higher education, which has occupied much of the public discourse on affirmative action. In this context, Asian Americans have become the mascot of anti-affirmative action campaigns, arguing that Asian Americans would be harmed in college admissions, and corralling Chinese Americans to sue universities for their affirmative action programs. Yet, in reality, Asian American attitudes about affirmative action vary, and surveys show a majority of Asian Americans do support affirmative action, myself included.

I also support affirmative action as a health advocate. Asian Americans lean progressive as a voting base, which means they are largely interested in improving and expanding access to health care. The majority of Asian Americans believe health care is a very or extremely important issue this election season and that the government should expand health coverage to all people regardless of immigration status.

Affirmative action has its place in the progressive health care agenda.

The health care system involves public education, employment, and contracting—three areas where Prop 16 would restore affirmative action. Take for example, the six University of California medical schools. These are training grounds for California’s future health care workforce, and hubs of medical innovation. We need a racially diverse medical student body to have a physician workforce that provides culturally competent care to our communities. We also need a racially diverse medical student body to train researchers who will conduct studies that take into account non-White subjects and replace outdated racist models.

Despite the current existence of diversity programs in each UC medical school, UC San Diego had only 13 Latinx students out of an entering class of 134 students, and UC Irvine had five Black students and seven Latinx students out of a class of 104 students. Together, Black, Latinx, and Native American faculty make up only about 8% of U.S. academic medical centers, a rate that has stayed just about the same since Prop 209 was passed nearly 25 years ago in California. These statistics are widely disproportionate with the state’s demographics, where Latinx people comprise 39% of the state population, Black people are 7%, and Native Americans are 2%.

Prop 16 would allow UC medical schools to target outreach and recruitment directly to Black, Latinx, and Native American groups, as well as underrepresented Asian American ethnicities, and allow the schools to consider race explicitly in their student admissions and faculty hiring. This does not mean admissions and hiring criteria will be lowered for certain racial and ethnic groups, and it does not mean quotas will be set aside for certain groups.

The Medi-Cal program is another health care example. Government contracting is a large source of income and jobs in communities; the California Department of Health Care Services contracts with third-party vendors to operate significant parts of Medi-Cal. Minority-owned businesses face several structural barriers in winning procurement bids, like having less working capital and the ability to meet high insurance bonding requirements, and existing in different social networks.

Prop 209 made it unlawful in California to run race-conscious government procurement programs that would remove some of these structural barriers. Without repealing Prop 209, the state remains unable to directly target outreach and set contracting targets for minority-owned businesses. The Equal Justice Society estimates a $1 billion to $1.1 billion loss per year for women and minority business enterprises due to Prop 209.

Medi-Cal contracting also involves services for building and maintaining IT systems, evaluating medical billing claims, and creating consumer outreach material, among other functions. Under Prop 209, contracts continue to be awarded to primarily white-owned and operated corporations. In April 2020, the state selected Deloitte in a $12.1 million bid as the vendor to develop the new CalSAWS system, a statewide IT system that would centralize case management for all welfare programs including Medi-Cal. Deloitte beat out minority-operated businesses such as Alluma, which offered costs at half the rate of Deloitte. Similarly, DHCS has consistently selected the behemoth government contracting service, MAXIMUS Federal Services, Inc. to administer many Medi-Cal functions.

By examining how affirmative action could create a more equitable health care system, it becomes clear that there is so much more to the affirmative action debate than Asian American undergraduate admissions. Affirmative action impacts economic opportunities for all underrepresented minorities. Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American businesses stand to benefit, as do racial and ethnic minorities working in government. Affirmative action also impacts who designs our health care systems and who works in the health care system. This, in turn, determines the medical treatment available for different communities.

So many of us are outraged by the racial disparities unveiled by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Asian American families, alongside other families of color, have lost grandparents to the virus in nursing homes, and we worry for family members who continue to report to low-wage jobs without PPE and regular testing. Low-income Black and Latinx Californians are dying at higher rates than high-income white Californians. These health disparities, as much as they are tied to disparities in underlying conditions, are tied to poverty, a direct function of income and wealth. Better health care and better job opportunities are the solutions we need to create a more equitable California. Prop 16 offers one solution in that direction.

Many of us, including myself, were not of voting age in 1996 when Prop 209 was passed. Or, we might have voted for it without realizing its ramifications in the ensuing decades and during a global pandemic. We’ve arrived at a moment now and we should take it head on: vote Yes on Prop 16.

Go to for more information and read the text of the proposed law. Learn more about the longstanding work of the Equal Justice Society to repeal Prop 209 and restore affirmative action in California. View more resources and actions to take with Chinese for Affirmative Action.

Vote Yes on Proposition 25 to Interrupt the Poverty to Prison Pipeline and Significantly Reduce Pre-Trial Detention

In California’s money bail system, people brought to jail on charges of a misdemeanor or felony offence are required to pay money to secure release as they await trial. What that means in practice is that people with money get out of jail, and people without it don’t. But sitting in jail isn’t like waiting at the DMV – jail is, more often than not, a deeply traumatizing experience. Sometimes even deadly.

The amount of money a person can access shouldn’t determine whether the state gets to inflict irreparable harm on them via incarceration. That’s why Western Center supports Proposition 25 to end money bail in California.

Here’s how money bail works…

People who can pay the full bail amount pay directly to the court, which averages around $50,000, and they get it all back when they show up for court. People who can’t pay the full bail fall into two categories: (1) people who can scrape together enough, sometimes through friends and family, to pay a bail agent for a bail bond — usually about 10 percent of the bail amount; and (2) people who don’t have or know anyone with 10 percent of the bail amount and are held in jail until trial. It’s estimated that on any given day, nearly 50,000 Californians end up in this second category — accused of a crime, not convicted, but still sitting in jail because they can’t afford to pay.

For people with just enough to purchase a bail bond, even when they return to court to face their charges, they don’t get their money back since bail bonds are usually nonrefundable. That’s true even when charges are dropped or a person is determined to be innocent.

A Yes vote on Proposition 25 will end money bail in California, and restore $6 billion to low-wealth California communities that are preyed upon by the bail industry. Ending money bail will remove judicial discretion for people charged with most misdemeanors and require that they be sent home in under 13 hours, which we hope will encourage closer examination of who is arrested for misdemeanors, and whether certain misdemeanors should exist in the first place (for example, being “boisterous” on a bus can be a misdemeanor in California).

These are difficult conversations to have in California’s capitol, where $3 million in bail industry profits were used to help elect legislators who oppose not only repealing money bail, but also the reduction of pre-trial detention and the carceral state. Because of that, the legislature is squeamish on this issue, so Prop 25 could be the last opportunity California has for a long time to end money bail and work toward a more just system.

The $6 billion dollar California Money Bail industry preys on low-income communities, and impacts Black and Brown people and communities most. Nationally, Black people are detained at a rate five times higher than white people,[i] and Black defendants are less likely to be released on their own recognizance than white defendants.[ii] Black defendants ages 18 through 29 also receive higher bail amounts than any other group.[iii] It’s all made worse because Black Americans have A LOT less wealth to begin with, so Black people charged with a crime — whether a misdemeanor or a felony — are much more likely to have to stay in jail while waiting for trial, which increases the likelihood of conviction or going into debt with a bail agent.

In California, the billions of dollars the bail industry takes from people with little to no wealth translates to money people can’t spend on basic needs, education, health, or any other resource to get out of poverty. What’s worse, since people often borrow from friends and family to pay their bond, it can create conflict and tension within families, complicating already difficult situations. Sometimes, families have to put up their home, if they have one, for collateral to a bail agent to secure freedom for their loved one, which undermines homeownership and asset building in low-income communities of color.

For people without enough wealth or access for bail, and even with a bail bond, a stay in jail can be lengthy. It should surprise no one that jail is a dangerous and inhospitable place, where people endure sexual assault and other forms of abuse from guards and other people who are incarcerated, and where maintaining one’s health, including mental health, is difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, people held in jail while awaiting trial are more likely to have immigration officials called on them. But that’s not all: other life-altering consequences experienced by people in jail waiting for their trial include losing their homes, their cars, their children or other people they care for, their jobs, their health and so much more. As a result, many plead guilty for crimes they didn’t commit just so they can leave jail rather than wait for trial.

The money bail system is used in many ways that perversely perpetuates the criminalization of poverty. Prosecutors often ask judges to detain individuals with a high bail as leverage to convince people with low-incomes to enter a plea bargain.[iv] To give a sense of how big the problem is, in 2006, 96 percent of convictions were the result of guilty pleas — only four percent of convictions resulted from actual trials.[v] People incarcerated while awaiting trial are more likely to be convicted (even when innocent); receive harsher sentences, including more time in jail or prison; face injury or contract a serious (and costly) disease; and are more likely to return to the criminal justice system in the future.[vi]

Some critics of Proposition 25 are concerned that too much power will be placed within the computerized risk assessment tools that are to replace money bail. We are concerned about that too, which is why we sponsored Senate Bill 36 last year to require race and equity data to be collected, shared with the public, and monitored to mitigate racial bias in each risk assessment tool. Between the requirements set in Proposition 25 and SB 36, California will have some of the most robust protections against racially-biased decision making for pre-trial detention in the country, and we will be the first to end all monetary conditions of pre-trial release. Wealth is one of the most racist algorithms that exists in America, and one of the most fixed. Proposition 25 is an essential step forward in making our pre-trial decisions less racially biased.

We know that even after Proposition 25 passes, we have a lot of work to do to ensure it is implemented with diligence and equity, and that we continue to build a more just pre-trial system that treats everyone as innocent until proven guilty. Western Center is committed to this work in strong partnership with the system-impacted-person led organizations leading the way.

Please join us and leaders across the state in voting Yes on Proposition 25. Go to for more information and read the  text of the proposed law. Video panels are also available on the subject: Prop 25 Community Forum Recording (SEIU);  Yes on Prop 25  (Anti-Recidivism Coalition); Yes on Prop 25 (Yes on 25 Campaign).


[i]JUSTICE POL’Y INST., supra note XX, at 15.


[iii] JOHN WOOLDREDGE, supra note 9, at 29.




Western Center’s 2020 Proposition Guide

Californians are voting on important propositions on the 2020 California ballot right now. We know it’s confusing, so below you’ll find our guide to the propositions. All of our work, and how we see these propositions, centers around creating greater economic and racial justice, especially for people in California oppressed by poverty.

For more information to help navigate the propositions, we highly recommend the CalMatters proposition guide. If you prefer video, they have one-minute video explanations of each.

*For a PDF of this document, click here.                


PROPOSITION 14: $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Research Bond

Western Center Position: No Position

PROPOSITION 15: Schools and Communities First

Prop 15 is widely referred to as the property tax split roll. In 1978, voters approved Prop 13 which limited property taxes on all property owners, both commercial and residential, by capping taxes at 1.1 percent of the value of the property at the time it was purchased. While Prop 13 is often viewed as untouchable politically, in truth it is a major source of wealth inequality and a prime example of structural racism, because it keeps taxes permanently low for those who are long time property owners (overwhelmingly white), but imposes a higher tax on those who bought property more recently (increasingly people of color). Prop 15 would not fix all the problems created by Prop 13 but it would fix one, by setting commercial property taxes based on the current value of the property, not the original sale price. This would increase property taxes by $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion annually. 60 percent of this would go to cities, counties, and special districts and 40 percent would go to schools.

Western Center Position: YES

Prop 15 would take the first step toward restoring fairness to California’s property tax system. It would provide significant revenue which can be used for affordable housing, eliminating homelessness, and providing public benefits. It would increase funding for K-14 schools. It would make it easier for new business to compete with established businesses by making all businesses pay taxes based on market rates.

PROPOSITION 16: Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action 

This measure would reverse a 1996 initiative approved by California voters to ban the use of affirmative action in all forms of state and local government. Affirmative action is the practice of establishing certain criteria that allows consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting. The goal of affirmative action is to ensure that all people, regardless of their background, have a meaningful opportunity to benefit from government programs. In practice, affirmative action is intended to level the playing field and reduce the effects of explicit and implicit bias.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported the bill when it was under consideration in the Legislature because it is consistent with our long standing principles of ensuring that California is an inclusive and equitable state. California, like the rest of the United States, was formed on a foundation of explicit white supremacy and patriarchy in law and society, which means active policies are required to obtain balance. The more that all segments of our community have the opportunity to receive the benefits of government, the less likely it is that bias will continue to be prevalent.

Western Center staff attorney Helen Tran explains more in this blog post.

PROPOSITION 17: Right to Vote for People Who Were Formerly Incarcerated

This measure would allow Californians with a prior felony criminal conviction to be able to vote in California. Currently, a person convicted of a felony cannot vote while incarcerated or on parole. If a formerly incarcerated person on parole registers to vote or votes, that can be grounds to revoke their parole and return them to prison, even if they are otherwise abiding by all other terms of their parole. The current law acts as an additional punishment on the formerly incarcerated after they have served their time and deprives them of a fundamental right of all citizens.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported this bill when it went through the Legislature because current law disenfranchises people from exercising the fundamental right to vote. As we know from our work, the history of racism in our country has led to over-policing of communities of color. Thus, this law disproportionally impacts Black and Brown communities and dilutes their voting power.

PROPOSITION 18: Right to register to vote at age 17

As it currently stands, a person can register to vote in California if they’re a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old and a resident of the state. Registered voters can also run for elective office as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements. A person can pre-register to vote when they are either 16 or 17 years old. When a person pre-registers, they are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18. If passed, Prop 18 would allow eligible 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next November general election to vote. Those 17-year-olds could vote in any special election or primary election before the next general election. The measure also means that 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the next general election could run for office if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

Western Center Position: YES

People decide who will be on the November ballot in primaries earlier in the year. People old enough to vote in November should have the opportunity to make that initial choice for the November ballot in the primaries, even if they’re still 17. There are also studies that show that pro-voting initiatives like this encourage greater voter participation among young people, which is crucial for engaging younger generations into the political process.

PROPOSITION 19: Change in Property Tax Rule

This initiative makes changes to property taxes when people move or inherit property. Currently, persons over age 55 and those living with disabilities can move to another home and not see their taxes go up if the new property is equal to or less than the house they moved from. This initiative would expand the ability of older and disabled property owners to move and not pay higher taxes. It limits the ability of people to inherit property unless an inheriting family member lives at the property or if the property is worth more than $1 million more than the assessed value of the house. Overall, the measure would result in increased revenue of tens of millions annually. This revenue would go to fire protection and schools.

Western Center Position: No Position

While this measure would result in some increased revenue it would not provide meaningful resources for health, welfare and housing programs. Proponents have asked Western Center to support but most major progressive groups are not supporting the measure.

PROPOSITION 20: Restores Crimes and Limits Early Release

This initiative proposes to repeal portions of criminal reform initiatives passed by voters (Prop 47 in 2014 and Prop 57 in 2016). If approved, Prop 20 would reinstate certain theft crimes as felonies instead of misdemeanors, and make it harder for people convicted of felonies to be approved for parole. It also expands collection of DNA samples from people charged with crimes, and from youth.

Western Center Position: NO

This measure would disproportionally and negatively impact people of color and low income Californians. In a time when large segments of the population are seeking a reduced criminal justice footprint, this initiative is moving in the opposite direction. Increasing the number of people with felony convictions will harm individuals, communities, and ultimately, our entire society, by making reentry into community much harder. It’s harder to get a job and find a place to live with a felony conviction, and as it stands now and unless Prop 17 passes, people with felony convictions who are in prison or on parole can’t vote. This initiative will needlessly place more people into these oppressive circumstances, exacerbating California’s existing income and racial inequality and its housing/ homelessness crises, which means greater instability for our state.

PROPOSITION 21: Reduce State Limits on Local Rent Control  

This measure proposes to make several changes to a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Act. That law strictly limits how local governments can control the cost of rental housing. It bars rent control on most single family homes, bars rent control on units built after 1995, and allows landlords to increase rent on a unit whenever a tenant moves out. Western Center was a major opponent of this law when it was proposed and has remained so for the past 25 years. Prop 21 proposes to modify the Costa Hawkins Act by allowing rent control on units that are older than 15 years, including some single family homes, and it allows local governments to restrict rent increases on units when a tenant moves out.

Western Center Position: YES

A similar measure was on the 2018 ballot but failed. Since then there has been a spike in rent across California and significant increases in homelessness. With COVID-19 causing many tenants to be unable to pay the high cost of rent in California, it is necessary to pass meaningful limits on rental housing costs.

PROPOSITION 22: Repeals Worker Protections for App-based Rideshare Workers

This measure proposes to repeal a portion of AB 5 that was passed by the Legislature last year to require that companies employing so called “independent contractors” instead classify workers as employees. Doing so means the companies must provide basic worker protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health coverage, minimum wage, sick pay, overtime and social security. Large internet based corporations like Lyft, Uber, and Door Dash are proposing to eliminate these protections provided in AB 5. Western Center supported the bill because many drivers for these companies are not receiving a fair wage or minimum worker protections. When they are unable to drive, they are often left with nothing because as independent contractors, their employers are not required to pay into these systems. As a result, they often end up on public assistance and in crisis, meanwhile the companies experience record profit. Prop 22 would allow workers to remain independent contractors, and proposes that in lieu of traditional employee benefits, rideshare workers receive a menu of watered down worker protections.

Western Center Position: NO

Income inequality is quickly becoming one of the most important issues of our time. The average pay of corporate CEOs is now 321 times more than the typical worker they employ. The use of independent contractors is accelerating this trend by allowing companies to keep money normally used to provide basic employment services for themselves. App based companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pass Prop 22, which is money they could be spending on basic worker protections, since workers make the companies possible.

PROPOSITION 23: Kidney Dialysis Requirements

Western Center Position: No Position

PROPOSITION 24: Use of Personal Data by Private Business

This measure makes a host of changes to California law regarding how personal information collected by corporations and data firms can be used and shared. This bill overrides elements of a 2018 “landmark” privacy law that limited the use of data sharing. Significantly, Prop 24 allows data collectors to use “neighborhood scores” in determining a person’s credit worthiness, which means a person’s credit could be lower because of the community they live in. Prop 24 reduces the number of companies subject to the law. It takes regulation for privacy breaches away from the state Attorney General and shifts it to a newly created state agency with capped funding. It also limits the ability of the Legislature to decide how penalties collected by the state can be used by earmarking most penalty funds away from the General Fund.

Western Center Position: NO

A host of consumer organizations are opposing this measure and they have asked Western Center to join them in opposing. Some background context: a wealthy developer named Alastair Mctagart pulled a privacy initiative off the ballot in 2018 after the Legislature passed a privacy bill; he then submitted a new initiative that both strengthens and weakens the existing law. Western Center supports strong consumer protections and believes the legislative process, not the proposition process, is the appropriate forum for making changes to the law.

PROPOSITION 25: Repeal State Law Eliminating Money Bail

Prop 25 is a referendum to overturn a bill, SB 10, which was passed in 2018 by the Legislature to eliminate the use of the money bail system in California. Under the money bail system, judges allow people to be released from jail before trial if they pay a bond to secure their appearance at trial. Many people can’t afford bond and turn to bail bonds agencies to pay; people are then required to pay the agency 10 percent of the bond amount. That amount is non-refundable even if the person is acquitted or the charges are dropped. Data shows that the money bail system benefits those with wealth who can afford their own bail, while people with fewer resources often languish in jail for lengthy periods of time. In 2018 the Legislature passed SB 10 to eliminate this system and replace it with a system of release based on a “risk assessment” tool. Under this bill, the financial resources of the accused are not a factor in their release. Western Center was a co-sponsor of SB 10.

Western Center Position: YES

To support the bill that was passed to eliminate money bail, a person must vote “Yes.” The referendum is essentially asking you to consider this as if you were a legislator deciding to support the bill. Western Center co-sponsored SB 10, and now urges a “Yes” vote for Prop 25. We understand the very real concerns about replacing money bail with the “risk assessment” algorithm system, as there is noted bias in that system. However, we feel it’s likely that this is the only real opportunity to eliminate money bail in California, which disproportionately harms communities of color. If Prop 25 passes, it will be easier to address imperfections in the algorithm system than it will be to get the Legislature to take up ending money bail again.

Western Center policy advocate Jessica Bartholow explains more in this blog post.








Black Americans Deserve Reparations – California can lead the way

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, article after article has outlined the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black Americans. The information is staggering: according to the CDC, 30 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, though Black people are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. In California, more than 15 percent of people between the ages of 18-49 who died from Covid-19 were Black, but only six percent of Californians are.

Many explanations are offered, all of which undoubtedly play their role: Black Americans are more likely to be employed by public facing jobs that do not have a work from home option, offer little to no sick leave, and/or don’t offer health insurance. Black Americans are also more likely to live with chronic illness, instability in housing due to rental markets, and poverty. 

Although it’s impossible to pin down any one factor on which to direct laser focus, one thing is clear: the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on Black Americans mirrors the various forms of continued, systemic oppression this country has leveraged against Black people since the first person was forced here from Africa. Because of this, we can no longer ignore reparations as a plausible solution to remedy past wrongs.

In the time since slavery, decade after decade passes without repentance or repayment for that forced labor, but the American economy continues to benefit from the immeasurable contributions of people who were enslaved. Now, generations later, their descendants remain unable to reap the benefits of the American economy, and continue to be shut out from opportunities to thrive, and in many cases, survive. 

Western Center deals with the fallout of America’s anti-Blackness and legacy of slavery every day when we work to protect people impacted by poverty. We’re advocating for reparations because American racism still perpetuates disproportionately high rates of poverty among Black Americans, in addition to worse social outcomes by most measures — from COVID-19 death rates, to incarceration rates, to homelessness, to employment and education.

This is an American problem, so it’s a California problem; but it’s also a California problem because the same racist legal system created to enshrine white supremacy in the rest of America, which actively prohibits Black Americans from wealth building opportunities, also exists in California. In fact, many California homeowners can still find “racial covenants” in their home deeds, stating only whites should own the property. These deeds exist for homes across California – including some owned by a handful of Western Center staff. Racial disparities in income, access to credit, and wealth generation, even while controlling for factors like education, are still pervasive in American society, and in California.

It’s time to look to scholars and experts like Duke Professor William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, who have spent years researching and thinking through delivery systems and methods for reparations. AB 3121 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, which was signed into law by Governor Newsom, will use available expertise to form specific recommendations for the California Legislature on how we might move reparations forward as a state. 

America has not done right by the people who built this country. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for people to see how much neglect Black Americans face, but we’re here now. Western Center is not content to just see the numbers of Black Americans being killed by COVID roll in – we feel the pull to act.

Our support for AB 3121 in California is only one step. As an organization, we are reassessing all of our work to think through how we will be a part of the change that actively, finally, creates a state and country that is just for us all. 

Our complete Letter of Support for AB 3121 can be found here. An excerpt is available below. 



America’s history with slavery began in 1619, when “20 and odd negroes” were brought to what was then known as “Point Comfort” in Virginia. For 250 years after these first captives were brought to the North American continent, Black people were enslaved, facing the cruelest imaginable treatment, considered property, hardly better than livestock. They were regularly beaten and lynched for frivolous infractions, and enslaved women had no protections from rape or other forms of domestic cruelty. Slavery also disrupted families: one third of marriages were forcibly dissolved, and one in five children were separated from their parents. While people enslaved in America were finally officially emancipated in 1865, it would be an insult to claim they were truly freed. Instead, white supremacist ideology and infrastructures paved the way for generations of policies that have forced the descendants of people who were enslaved into abject poverty, treating Black Americans as second- or even third-class citizens.

Reparations are, plainly put, “the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” They are not new in American history: in fact, White people who enslaved Black people received reparations for the economic losses they were projected to face by voluntarily emancipating people who were enslaved prior to 1865. Reparations have also been provided to other non-Black ethnic minorities in the US: some Native Americans have received a portion of the land that was stolen from them, among other benefits and programs; Japanese-Americans interned during World War 2 have received financial compensation; the US helped ensure through the Marshall Plan that survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants received reparations from Germany. Black Americans who are descendants of people who were enslaved in this country should be afforded the same care and consideration when it comes to reparations. This amends should be made as compensation for the irreparable harm that 250 years of slavery, followed by an additional 150 years of racially discriminatory policies and institutions, have caused to fellow Americans.

The Intractable Black Wealth Gap

The impact of slavery and enduring contemporary racial discrimination on wealth inequality cannot be understated: Black Americans were, for years, specifically excluded from historic wealth-amassing government policies, including the Homestead Acts, the Federal Housing Acts, and the GI Bill. As a result, today Black American families possess less than 10% of the wealth white families possess. Even nominally mitigating factors such as education level, family dynamics, and conspicuous consumption do not eliminate the gap. Whites have more wealth than Black college graduates at all levels of education: even white high-school dropouts earn more than Black college graduates, and white college graduates have more than 7 times more wealth than their Black peers. White single-parent households are still more than twice as wealthy as Black two-parent households. Even when controlling for income, white households have more wealth than Black households with similar incomes, despite these white households spending more.

In California specifically, white and Asian families are more likely to own homes, an important component of wealth accumulation. According to the California Budget and Policy Center in the Los Angeles area alone, “the median value of liquid assets for white households in 2014 was $110,000, compared to $200 for US- born blacks.

This is not a matter of individual behavior or financial literacy. The explanation for this persistent gap can only be post-emancipation racially discriminatory policies, which have consistently prevented Black Americans from amassing wealth at even a fraction of the rate as their White peers.

Our Organizations Urge Support for AB 3121

California has been a national leader in the movement for rights of Black Americans, but this work is incomplete if it does not include a conversation about Reparations. AB 3121 will allow us to advance the conversation of Reparations and develop ideas for how to overcome logistical implementation challenges. This bill will make a significant contribution to a timely and important policy dialogue. Western Center is proud to support AB 3121 and urges your ‘Aye’ vote.


House Of Representatives passes The Crown Act

“As reports of racial discrimination at work and in schools are increasing, it is essential that lawmakers recognize where more protections against it can, and should be, strengthened,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are so grateful to Congressman Richmond and the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership on this issue and are eager to continue the work with other CROWN Act coalition members and allies until all workers and all pupils in our country are free from racial discrimination based on the texture or style of their hair. Passing this Act is an essential step to reducing school pushout of Black children and improving job opportunities for Black workers.”

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Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed


  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.


  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.


  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.



PRESS RELEASE: California Abolishes Regressive and Racially Discriminatory Juvenile Legal System Fees


SACRAMENTO— Today California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 1290 (SB 1290), a bipartisan juvenile justice reform bill that outlaws the collection of administrative fees that disproportionately extract wealth from low-income, Black and Latinx families.

Previously, local courts and probation departments across the state imposed fees on families for their child’s involvement in the juvenile system, including fees for legal representation by a public defender and daily fees for food, clothing, and health care when youth were detained in juvenile halls.

According to the bill’s co-author, Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), “The passage of SB 1290 marks the full abolition of juvenile fees in California. The harmful, costly, and frequently unlawful practice of collecting these administrative fees causes devastating and lasting harm to low-income families, while providing little net revenue for counties.”

In 2018 California ended the assessment of all new juvenile fees with the passage of Senate Bill 190, after research by the U.C. Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic documented how fees push youth further into the system and trap families in cycles of debt. Because of systemic racism throughout the juvenile system, even after controlling for underlying offense, researchers found that families of Black and Latinx youth were liable for higher fees than families of white youth.

Forty-three of California’s 58 counties had gone beyond what was previously mandated by the state and voluntarily ended collections on over $346 million in outstanding juvenile fees. The 15 remaining counties will now be required to discharge approximately $15 million in outstanding fees by the end of the year.

The passage of SB 1290 also formally ends the collection of fees for home supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing for young people under age 21 in the criminal system. This complements the historic passage of California’s Assembly Bill 1869, a budget trailer bill championed by Budget Chairwoman Holly J. Mitchell that abolishes 23 administrative fees in the criminal system for people of all ages. AB 1869 was signed on Friday, September 18, 2020.

Anthony Robles with the Youth Justice Coalition of Los Angeles, a co-sponsor of the bill, noted that, “While the California legal system still extracts wealth from over-policed communities through fines and restitution, we are leading the nation in fee reform by eliminating these taxes that keep low-income families and communities of color in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment. We hope that organizers, advocates, and lawmakers across the country can use our almost decade-long grassroots campaign as an example as they fight for debt-free justice in their own communities.”

Co-sponsor Jessica Bartholow with Western Center on Law & Poverty added, “The elimination of all juvenile fees and many adult fees is an important step toward divesting community resources away from the carceral system and keeping those dollars in the hands of families and in their communities where they are desperately needed right now. Fees unjustly force communities that are targeted by racist policing and punished by a racist carceral system to directly pay for that violence against them.”

Earlier this year, Maryland similarly abolished juvenile fees and Nevada outlawed charging juvenile fees. Additional states, including Colorado, Louisiana, and Oregon, are considering taking legislative action to end this regressive and racially discriminatory practice.

“California was the first state in the nation to look at the data and acknowledge the high pain and low gain of juvenile fees,” said Stephanie Campos-Bui with the UC Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic. “It is really exciting to see the fight for debt-free justice expand into so many other states and even get attention at the federal level.”

Last spring, California Congressmember Tony Cárdenas introduced the Ending Debtor’s Prison For Kids Act (H.R. 2300), which offers funding for mental and behavioral services to states that eliminate fees associated with the juvenile justice system.

“The passage of SB 1290 in California is another step in our fight to end the cruel practice of collecting fines and fees that keep children in jail and American families in debt”, said Congressman Tony Cárdenas.  “Similar to SB 1290, my bill, Eliminating Debtor’s Prison for Kids Act (H.R. 2300), introduced in the U.S. Congress, will help states across the country, including California, end the burdensome costs, fines, and fees associated with the juvenile justice system which perpetuates this unfair cycle of juvenile incarceration. I hope other states follow California’s lead and end this harmful practice so we can focus on fostering healthier outcomes for our young people and provide all children with a second chance at a better life.”



Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law & Poverty, (916) 282-5119, jbartholow[at]

Anthony Robles, Youth Justice Coalition, (626) 838-9450, anthony[at]

Stephanie Campos-Bui, Policy Advocacy Clinic, (909) 568-7410, scamposbui[at]

AB 826 (Santiago) Pandemic Food Assistance Vetoed – Statement from Bill Co-Sponsors

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), California Association of Food Banks and Western Center on Law & Poverty were proud to sponsor Assembly Bill 826, introduced by Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, which would have established emergency food assistance in the form of two $600 payment cards for use at grocery stores.

During this pandemic, Assembly Bill 826 was the only bill passed by the legislature to provide food assistance for those affected by COVID-19. It was vetoed by the Governor last night.

We are disappointed in the veto and disagree on its message, which states that it would have had “General Fund impact annually.” This bill sought to provide a onetime allocation of emergency funds to prevent hunger during a pandemic.

Hunger is a persistent problem in California, but during the COVID-19 public health crisis, many more of the state’s residents are suffering with hunger for prolonged periods of time. These alarming rates of hunger have reached levels that surpass those seen during the Great Recession. Most impacted are immigrants who have lost wages from employment in the hospitality, restaurant, janitorial, hotel worker, agricultural, garment worker and food packing industries.

The loss of wages among this workforce is often a result of contracting COVID-19 in a high risk working environment with inadequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), caring for a family member who has contracted the virus, or losing hours or a job as a result of the stay-at-home orders. In Fact, in California, rural communities with large numbers of food-system workers, like farmworkers and meatpackers, for example, have an infection rate that is five times higher on average than comparable counties.[i] Furthermore, the Latinx community in California are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately high numbers:[ii]

At the height of state’s shutdown in April, approximately a quarter of Californians, 10 million people, were food insecure.[iii] Food insecurity is particularly bad among families with children. 40% of families with children 12 and under across the U.S. were food insecure in April, and in almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, children experienced food insecurity. [iv]

What’s more, according to Census Bureau data, from May 28 to June 2, 2020, Black and Hispanic or Latinx households were twice as likely as white households to report that they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat. Among households with children, 21 percent of Hispanic or Latinx respondents and 27% of Black respondents reported that they are currently experiencing hunger.[v]

The rapid increase in food insecurity among immigrant workers was also exacerbated by the unprecedented increase in food prices, [vi]  school closure, [vii] and by the closure of soup kitchens and congregate meal programs. [viii]

Federal COVID-19 relief helped Americans prevent hunger. This included increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Pandemic Unemployment, and CARES Act stimulus payments, 16% of which were spent in the first week to purchase food.[ix] But immigrant families have been largely locked out of this help.

Thanks to fast action by the California Department of Social Services, millions of families with children, including immigrant families ineligible for other benefits, were helped with federal Pandemic-EBT benefits, and the impact of that program to reduce hunger was well documented and significant.[x] But those resources were spent months ago, and while we are hopeful an extension to Pandemic-EBT will be enacted in the federal Continuing Resolution, there is no guarantee that it will or that the benefits will come swiftly enough to stave off hunger that will have lifelong consequences for low-income Californians.

Although California’s two million undocumented immigrants are an integral part of our society, paying taxes and risking their lives to continue performing essential services that keep California running and put food on all of our tables, there are currently no protections in place to support them should they or someone in their family lose income as a result of contracting COVID-19 or lose their job as a result of the public health orders to prevent the spread of the disease. AB 826 would have helped to counter that reality and would have reinforced to the immigrant community that they will not be forced to suffer some of the most detrimental impacts of the pandemic without help.

CHIRLA, California Association of Food Banks and Western Center are disappointed in tonight’s veto of AB 826 (Santiago) which leaves the state of California with no plan to address hunger for our immigrant communities in the weeks ahead.  We will urgently request a meeting with the Governor and his team to ask about their plan for addressing the unprecedented levels of hunger in the weeks and months ahead. We are committed to bringing this issue next year because hunger and COVID-19 will continue to impact low-income and communities of color.


For more information, please contact:

Joseph Villela jvillela[at]

Andrew Cheyne andrew[at] at California Association of Food Banks

Jessica Bartholow jbartholow[at] at Western Center on Law & Poverty


End Notes










[x] New America’s Report: “It has meant everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan, ; New America/FRAC/Ed Trust Snapshot: Pandemic EBT: “It has Meant Everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan,; The Hamilton Project’s Report: The Effect of Pandemic EBT on Measures of Food Hardship,