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Up-to-date COVID-19 information

OVERVIEW

  • June emergency allotments for CalFresh food benefits will be issued on July 17th for CalSAWS and July 24th for CalWIN. May allotments were issued on June 12th for CalSAWS and June 19th for CalWIN.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are free. Click here for more information.
  • Rapid COVID tests are also free, and can be shipped to you. Click here to order
  • Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.
  • California’s eviction moratorium has ended, but you should still apply for rent relief if you need it! If you receive an eviction notice, do not ignore it. Seek local legal help right away.
  • California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief program can be accessed here, or call 833-430-2122.
  • Federal Child Tax Credit payments are not considered income for any family, and will not change receipt of public benefits.

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Food and Financial Security

  • Federal Child Tax Credit payments are not considered income for any family, and will not change receipt of public benefits, including unemployment insurance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, SSDI, TANF, WIC, Section 8, or Public Housing. Find out more about California’s Golden State Stimulus payments — if you qualify, and how to get it. También en español.
  • Restaurant delivery service is available for older Californians. Information and sign-up details for interested participants and restaurants are available here.
  • California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) can now purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.
  • 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.

Health Care

  • Keep your Medi-Cal contact information current. Make sure your county has your current address, phone number, and email address – especially if you moved since 2020. Later this year, counties will start contacting people to help them renew their Medi-Cal. If they cannot contact you, your Medi-Cal may end so you want to make sure they have your current information. Find your local county at this link.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are free. Click here for more information. All health plans must cover vaccine administration for free, and Medi-Cal covers vaccine administration for free.
  • Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians. You will need to go to a state testing site, one run by your county, or get a test at a medical provider that can enroll you in a special Medi-Cal program for people without insurance. You can contact your county public health departmentlocal clinic, and medical provider to receive information about your options for free testing.
  • 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]wclp.org 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.

Housing

  • Here is Western Center’s Know Your Rights toolkit for California tenants. Inquilinos de California: Conozca Sus Derechos.
  • California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief program helps eligible renters and landlords with unpaid/future rent and utility payments due to COVID-19, regardless of immigration status. Get info, check eligibility, and apply here, or call 833-430-2122.
  • The fact sheet below explains the current protections and financial assistance available to California renters and landlords. Versions are also available in SpanishChineseRussian, and Vietnamese.

(Click image below to access PDF – Español aqui – Tiếng việt ở đây – Русский здесь – 这里的中国人)

  • The Eviction Laws Database captures state, territorial, and local laws covering the eviction process — from pre-filing to post-judgment, as of January 1, 2021. The database was launched by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in partnership with the Center for Public Health Law Research, and consists of two datasets:
    • State/Territory Dataset – covers eviction laws, regulations, and court rules that were in effect as of January 1, 2021 in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and eight U.S. territories
    • Local Dataset – covers eviction laws, including those at the county and local level, in 30 local jurisdictions in effect as of January 1, 2021

Additional Resources

 

 

 

 

Language Rights and the Quest to Preserve My Own Cantonese Language and Heritage (Part 2)

*Click here for part one.

Last week for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wrote part one of a blog post reflecting on the legacy and future of the Cantonese language and how government policies influence both its preservation and disappearance. It’s a fascinating history to me because much of the knowledge is now buried “in a world dominated by Mandarin.” Mandarin is often the sole Chinese language taught at our universities and public schools (perhaps with the exception of the San Francisco Unified School District) and is the language of most new Chinese immigrants.

According to Dr. Sik Lee Dennig who researches the Cantonese language in North America, the first mass immigration of people from China to the United States took place during the Gold Rush era starting in the late 1840s. Chinese immigrants came from Sunning (now more commonly known as Taishan), located in the Canton province. In 1854, there were about 3,400 Sunning Chinese in San Francisco and the next year, that number doubled to about 6,900. The population of Sunning Chinese reached 27,000 by the end of the 1870s. The early Sunning immigrants worked in mines and railroads, and those who lived in the city worked in shoe-making and dominated the laundry business.

It was during these decades when the Sunning Chinese population was growing that three landmark cases representing Chinese American litigants made their way to the Supreme Court. Although none of the cases describe the plaintiffs as Cantonese in origin or speaking Cantonese, the history of migration patterns at this time and the names of the individuals strongly indicate they were Cantonese.

Chy Lung, a woman arriving from Hong Kong to San Francisco, overturned a California law that prevented foreign passengers aboard ships from setting foot in California if state officials determined the person to be “lunatic, idiotic, deaf, blind, crippled, or infirm, or likely to become so, or is a convicted criminal, or a lewd or debauched woman.” Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1875). Chy Lung was the first Chinese litigant in a Supreme Court case.

Lee Yick and Wo Lee, laundry service owners in San Francisco who were denied permits for being Chinese, overturned a city ordinance that was race-neutral on its face but discriminatory in application as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886).

Wong Kim Ark, a son of Chinese immigrants from Taishan (Taishanese is a major variety of Cantonese), secured birthright citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment. United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898).

According to Dr. Dennig, by the 1960s, about 40% of the Chinese in California were of Hoisan descent.  After China adopted the open-door policy in 1978, massive emigration from Hoisan resumed. In one study of the migration between the United States and South China, Taishanese outmigrants made up at least one-quarter of the number leaving Guangdong and almost 74% of them went to the United States. One estimate from the historian Mark Lai shows the number of Taishanese in the United States at around 430,000, or about 70% of the Chinese Americans in the United States in the 1980s.

During this time, in 1974, the Supreme Court decided Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974). Kinney Kinmon Lau, whose first language was Cantonese, along with 12 other Chinese American students brought bilingual instruction into our public schools and laid the groundwork of language access rights by establishing discrimination against limited-English proficient individuals as national origin discrimination in violation of Title VI.

To learn more about the Cantonese people in California’s history, Dr. Dennig recommends reading Gordon Chang’s Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad and the works of Genevieve Leung, a professor of Cantonese language at the University of San Francisco.

Wrapping up AAPI Heritage Month, I’m reminded that much of my advocacy for language rights and the rights of Californians to live free from poverty is personal. I’m never far removed from my own language struggles and the perseverance of the Cantonese people to live with dignity and power.

 

*This post contains contributions from Dr. Sik Lee Dennig, a former Cantonese instructor at Stanford University and founder of the Cantonese Alliance of North America, which is now offering courses for adult learners. Dr. Dennig was born and raised in Hong Kong and now resides in California.

 

Language Rights and the Quest to Preserve My Own Cantonese Language and Heritage (Part I)

During this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am reflecting on my Cantonese heritage, the Cantonese language, and ways we can advocate for greater language access for less commonly spoken languages in California.* The Los Angeles Times recently featured Dr. Sik Lee Dennig, once the only Cantonese lecturer at Stanford University, and her quest to teach and preserve Cantonese “in a world dominated by Mandarin.”

Often in policy and data, Cantonese and Mandarin are conflated into one category —Chinese— for both written and spoken forms. But spoken, Mandarin and Cantonese are two distinctly different languages in tone and the pronunciation of words, though they share some (or arguably, many) written characters. (For lessons on speaking and writing Cantonese, visit HamBaangLaang.)

My first language was Cantonese. When I started elementary school, I was designated as Limited English Proficient (LEP). Over the years, I’ve lost most of my Cantonese fluency despite being surrounded by Cantonese culture in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Some of the most popular parts of Chinese American culture are Cantonese in origin, such as dim sum (the Cantonese words literally translating to “so close to the heart”) and kung fu movies which were made in Cantonese in Hong Kong and influenced the development of hip hop in the 1970s.

Today, Cantonese is at risk of disappearing within two generations, largely due to China’s order to make Mandarin the official language of its government, school instruction, and news and publications. Hong Kong, the bastion of Cantonese where about 90 percent of people have Cantonese as a native language, is one of the main targets of this policy as the latest in the Chinese government’s litany of actions against Hong Kongers to suppress political speech and any dissent challenging the mainland government. Cantonese has become a language of rebellion used by many Hong Kongers—including pro-democracy protestors—to maintain their identity and freedom.

Government policy shapes the ways in which languages are preserved or eliminated. China’s recent action is one example. In the United States and California, we have attempted both. While English-only laws were struck down as unlawful, English remains the de facto language of our public and private institutions. We also have non-discrimination protections that require state- and federally-funded programs to provide meaningful access to people who speak limited English.

Still, these laws do not strictly mandate that government-funded programs provide the level of bilingual assistance needed by each person served. They instead require bilingual staff and translations only for non-English languages that meet a numerical threshold or concentration. Under the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act, state agencies must provide bilingual services in languages that are spoken by a “substantial number” of people, defined as 5% or more of the people served by a local office or facility.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federally funded programs are highly encouraged—not mandated—to translate materials into languages that are spoken by 5% of a population likely to be served, or 1,000 people, whichever is smaller. Moreover, to determine the mix of language services required—oral interpretation and written translation—Title VI guidance employs a four-factor totality of circumstances test to be applied on a case-by-case basis.

By relying on numerical thresholds and cost-benefit-need analyses, these laws exclude from our public programs languages that are spoken by hundreds of thousands of people. The consequences of such exclusion are even more pernicious and urgent. These laws create environments where it is difficult for people to meet basic needs by continuing to speak and write in their first, non-English languages. Second generations forgo learning and speaking their native language and that language disappears by the third generation. As advocates, we can be more aware and critical of how we interpret existing language access laws and their impact on driving lesser-spoken languages to endangerment or extinction within communities. These laws are meant to be inclusionary but end up being exclusionary.

For Cantonese in particular, California could be a sanctuary for the preservation and continuation of the language. We can continue to advocate for the distinction of Cantonese and Mandarin bilingual services in our public programs. We can also talk more about how Cantonese is deeply rooted in California history. In the early seminal civil rights cases, the litigants who were Chinese Americans spoke Cantonese and lived in California. (More on this next week.)

Many are now part of the movement to preserve Cantonese. Since leaving Stanford following the university’s decision to reduce the number of Cantonese course offerings, Dr. Dennig is now devoting her time to building the Cantonese Alliance of North America, a non-profit to connect Cantonese instructors, learners, and organizations to preserve and nourish Cantonese as a heritage language.

As for me, I start Cantonese class next month.

*As used here, Cantonese is an umbrella term encompassing the Chinese languages originating in the Pearl River Delta—the Guangdong (Canton) and Guangxi provinces—encompassing the language varieties of Hong Kong Cantonese, Guangzhou Cantonese, and Taishanese.

Read Part 2 of this post here.

Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Agenda  

Western Center’s policy advocates are hard at work in Sacramento to pass this year’s slate of bills to make California better for everyone. Here is our full 2022 Legislative Agenda.

HOMELESSNESS

AB 1816 (Bryan): Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program

(co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership)

This bill will establish a funding source for permanent affordable housing and workforce development for formerly incarcerated people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. The bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness – 70 percent of Californians experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration.

AB 2230 (Gipson) – CalWORKs: Temporary Shelter and Permanent Housing Benefits

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will make significant improvements in the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) to minimize homelessness that CalWORKs families experience by repealing the limitations for receiving assistance through HAP. HAP is meant to assist families who have become unhoused and need immediate assistance. It is Western Center’s firm belief that families should not be burdened with additional program requirements to receive critical assistance for the health and safety of their family.

AB 2339 (Bloom): Emergency Shelters

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Public Interest Law Project)

There are upwards of 160,000 people experiencing homelessness in California, and 72% are completely unsheltered. While some California localities provide enough shelter beds, in others, there are either no shelter beds or only a small number. AB 2339 strengthens housing element law to ensure that zones identified for shelters and other interim housing are suitable and available. The bill also requires jurisdictions to demonstrate sufficient capacity on the sites to meet the identified need for interim housing for those experiencing homelessness.

SB 1017 (Eggman): Keeping Survivors Housed

(co-sponsored with California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, Dr. Beatriz Maria Solis Policy Institute – Women’s Foundation of California, Family Violence Appellate Project)

This bill allows domestic violence survivors who are tenants to maintain their current housing and avoid eviction by expanding allowable documentation for lease termination policies, allowing survivors to use eviction protections when the abusive person is on the lease but no longer residing in the residence, and by allowing survivors who live with an abusive person to remain in the unit on the same lease terms while removing the abusive person.

California Emergency Rental Assistance Program

While not a bill, Western Center and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation are working to obtain an extension of the current eviction protections implemented in response to the pandemic. To prevent mass evictions, displacement, and economic instability, the state must extend these protections as hundreds of thousands of tenants wait for rental assistance from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

HOUSING

AB 1911 (Gabriel): Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit

(co-sponsored with California Housing Partnership, California Coalition for Rural Housing, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and San Diego Housing Federation)

AB 1911 creates an Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit to support the preservation of tens of thousands of affordable housing units at risk of converting to market rate housing or displacing low-income tenants. California cannot afford to lose tens of thousands of affordable housing units in the midst of our current housing crisis. A targeted tax credit that encourages property owners to sell to affordable housing developers committed to long-term affordability would allow thousands of lower-income households to stay in their homes.

AB 2597 (Bloom, E. Garcia): Cool and Healthy Homes

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Inner City Law Center, Leadership Council, Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP)

AB 2597 will address a long-standing issue that is rapidly exacerbated by human-induced climate change: the safety of renters in their homes when outdoor temperatures rise. Excessive heat has a negative impact on health and quality of life and leads to an increasing number of deaths. State law has long required that rental units be able to maintain a safe indoor air temperature when it’s cold outside, but there is no analogous requirement that applies when the weather is hot. This gap leaves many renters living in homes that reach unhealthy and often dangerous temperatures indoors and disproportionately impacts low-income households and people of color. AB 2597 will update the state’s habitability standards to ensure that all rental units have a means of maintaining a safe indoor air temperature regardless of the temperature outside.

AB 2713 (Wicks): Tenant Protections: Just Cause Termination: Rent Caps

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

This bill cleans up loopholes in AB 1482, California’s first statewide just cause eviction protection and anti-rent gouging law. Since AB 1482 was enacted in 2019, several key loopholes (owner move-in, substantial renovation, and intent to remove the unit from the rental market) have been exploited by landlords attempting to evict vulnerable tenants. This law will require owners attempting to evict tenants for owner move-in to move into the unit within 90 days and stay at the unit for a minimum of three years. For owners attempting to evict based on substantial renovation, it will require owners to obtain the necessary permits for the renovations and justify why the improvements cannot be completed with the tenants in place. For evictions based on withdrawal from the rental market, the owner will be required to clearly explain in the notice to the tenant what the alternative use of the property will be and the necessary permits to convert the unit to the intended use. If the landlord does not meet those conditions post eviction, the tenant has the right to rent the unit under the previous terms of the agreement.

SCA 2 (Allen, Wiener): Public Housing Projects Two-year bill

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Coalition for Rural Housing, California Housing Consortium, California Housing Partnership, California Association of Realtors, California YIMBY, Housing California, Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, and Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing)

SCA 2 will place the repeal of Article 34 of the California Constitution on the ballot. Passed by voters in 1950, Article 34 requires a majority approval by the voters of a city or county for the development, construction, or acquisition of publicly subsidized housing. For decades the requirement has stifled the development of subsidized housing creating and perpetuating racially and economically segregated communities. The passage of SCA 2 would give voters an opportunity to eliminate an obstacle, enshrined in our Constitution, which currently undermines the ability to address California’s acute housing and homelessness challenges.

HEALTH CARE

AB 470 (Carrillo): Eliminating the Non-MAGI Assets LimitTwo-year bill

(co-sponsored with Justice in Aging)

This bill will clean up code for when the Medi-Cal assets test is eliminated on January 1, 2024, following the 2021 budget agreement that also raises the asset limits effective July 1, 2022.

AB 1355 (Levine): Expanding Independent Medical ReviewTwo-year bill

This bill will ensure more fairness in the Medi-Cal appeals process by expanding Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal members and services, and by standardizing the process state departments must follow when alternating judges’ decisions in fair hearings. Independent Medical Reviews use medical professionals with expertise in the medical service at issue, resulting in more favorable and clinically sound outcomes for patients than plan appeals and state fair hearings.

AB 1900 (Arambula): Share of Cost Reform

(co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Disability Rights California, Justice in Aging, and Senior and Disability Action)

This bill will make the Medi-Cal Share of Cost program more affordable by updating the maintenance need levels to 138% of the federal poverty level. Today, older adults and people with disabilities who are just $1 over the free Medi-Cal limit are forced to pay over $800 of their monthly income on health care and are expected to survive on just $600—the maintenance need level—to pay for rent, food, utilities, and all other expenses.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums

(co-sponsored with Children Now)

Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families already living on very limited incomes and create barriers in access to care and unnecessary breaks in coverage for eligible individuals. This bill will ensure pregnant people, children, and people with disabilities can access the health care services they need to stay healthy by eliminating their monthly Medi-Cal premiums.

SB 644 (Leyva): Connecting Unemployed Individuals to Covered California & Medi-Cal

(co-sponsored with Health Access and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network)

This bill will require the Employment Development Department (EDD) to share with Covered California contact and income information about people who have recently applied for or lost unemployment, state disability insurance, paid family leave, and other EDD programs. This will allow Covered California to reach out and help enroll individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

SB 923 (Wiener): Access to Gender Affirming Care

(co-sponsored with Break The Binary LLC, California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, California TRANScends, Equality California, Gender Justice LA, National Health Law Program, Orange County TransLatinas, Queer Works, Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance, San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives, The TransPower Project, TransCanWork, Trans Community Project, Transgender Health and Wellness Center, Tranz of Anarchii INC, Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC), and Unity Hope)

This bill will improve access to gender affirming care for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people by mandating health plans require TGI cultural competency training for contracted providers, their staff, and the staff of health plans. It would also require plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 1820 (Arambula): Labor Trafficking

(co-sponsored with Loyola Law School, SJI Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative)

California has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation, yet only two state agencies, the Department of Justice and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, are responsible for prosecuting human trafficking cases. This bill will provide the Department of Industrial Relations with statutory authority to investigate and prosecute claims of human labor trafficking. This a priority for Western Center because many workers who are victims of labor trafficking are exploited because of poverty.

AB 2052 (Quirk-Silva): CalWORKs Child Education Act of 2022

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

The pandemic has impacted the timeliness with which some children can complete high school. This bill will allow children receiving CalWORKs to obtain aid until age 20 if they are attending their last year of high school.

AB 2300 (Kalra): CalWORKs and CalFresh: Work Requirements

(co-sponsored with Legal Aid at Work, Women’s Foundation of California, and WorkSafe)

This bill will expand good cause exemptions for the CalWORKs welfare to work program to allow parents with children under two years old not to participate in welfare to work for up to 12 months. This bill incorporates many legal protections created by the legislature, like the Crown Act and domestic worker protections, into CalWORKs.

AB 2277 (Reyes): CalWORKs for Survivors of Domestic Violence

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will remove barriers for accessing the CalWORKs program a critical social service that assists families in financial need, by waiving program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. Currently, counties have the authority to waive CalWORKs program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. However, despite their ability to do so, many counties do not. This bill will require counties to waive the requirements.

SB 996 (Kamlager): CalWORKs Asset Test and Work Limit

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organization)

This bill will eliminate the eligibility requirement for CalWORKs families to prove that they have less than $10,211 in their possession, and the 100-hour rule which requires parents to work no more than 100 hours to qualify for the program. Removing these archaic requirements will ensure that all eligible CalWORKs families can access the social service.

SB 972 (Gonzalez): Street Vendors

(co-sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Power Collective, Inclusive Action for the City, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Public Counsel)

Street vendors are a part of California’s culture and have been for decades. In recent years, street vendors became part of the formal economy with the decriminalization of street vending in 2018. However, many street vendors who sell food are unable to obtain health permits from their local county health departments, so this bill will modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits. Creating this pathway will allow street vendors to further enter the formal economy and put an end to fines issued to these entrepreneurs with limited incomes.

SB 1200 (Skinner): Enforcement of Judgments: Renewal and Interest

This bill will reduce the interest rate on unpaid debt from 10 percent annually to 3 percent annually. New York became the first state to reduce the interest rate on debt and California should follow the example.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

AB 1792 (Ward): Diversification of Grand Juries

Grand Juries play a critical role in the lives of Californians involved in the legal system — particularly people of color and those living in poverty who are over-policed. Currently, juries are disproportionately made up of retirees who can afford to take time off to serve. AB 1972 will diversify grand juries in California so they are representative of their populations and will ensure people are fairly compensated when they serve so jury duty is more accessible for Californians with low incomes.

 

 

 

 

Media owners own too much of our culture. We need change.

In 2019, alongside our partners at Dove, the National Urban League, and Color of Change, Western Center became a founding member of the CROWN coalition to stop discrimination based on hair – specifically, to protect Black people’s right to wear their hair naturally. Since the CROWN Act passed in California, similar measures have passed across the country, and conversations about discrimination and representation have spread like wildfire. Every day people share examples of overcoming discrimination and taking pride in representation – embracing their true, whole selves. Putting an end to race-based discrimination is one step in the fight for equity in workplaces, schools, and on our screens, and representation is another. There is also a deeper well to look to as we cleanse the groundwater of this country’s white supremacy – looking at who owns what.

Diversity in media is about more than representation on screen – it’s also about who has the power to decide what content is put in front of audiences and who gets to influence culture.  Media is culture, and culture shows our values. While we’ve seen a push for more diversity and representation on screen, not enough has been done to diversify media ownership.

Like other highly monopolized industries, mergers and acquisitions between media companies are frequent. As it stands, there are six major media companies and five major tech companies dominating the media landscape, meaning a relatively small number of people control film production, television, news, and other media. Through consolidations, large companies continue to set the tone for media discourse, ethics, and actions over smaller entities that try to compete or are eventually absorbed. That is why in 2022 so many people still are not adequately seen, heard, or represented in our content.

Everyone has a story, but when the same kind of stories with the same kind of characters continue to be uplifted over others, it’s a signal to the culture about who is important and relatable. But it is a faulty signal – the small, homogenous group of media owners who make decisions about “what audiences want to see” have too limited a perspective to really know. Even when project (Black Panther) after project (anything created by Shonda Rhimes) after project (Insecure) proves old business models wrong, the same people continue to hold the power to greenlight or cancel projects, and storytelling is stifled.

Ten years ago, writer and producer Issa Rae was told she needed a white character for her projects to be successful and for audiences to care. That sentiment, which still exists, is a product of the explicitly racist history of American media, founded by the same white supremacy as the rest of the country. But ever the trailblazer, Issa expanded the network of creators in Hollywood through her show, and continues to do so – an example of Toni Morrison’s wisdom: “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Issa stands on the shoulders of trailblazing creator/ owners like Oprah Winfrey, Ava Duvernay, Reese Witherspoon, and Tyler Perry, all of whom create countless opportunities for talented people from diverse backgrounds. But for every new model for content production and distribution, there is a legacy media brand holding back bourgeoning creators. And while companies like Netflix offer a welcome disruption for media production and distribution, when we look at ownership, it is clear there’s a long way to go.

It’s not just the media industry that needs a shift in ownership, in fact, the idea of ownership anywhere in the U.S. is complicated by its history of slavery. The racial dynamics of ownership are particularly stark in sports, where discussions about the need for change happen, but ownership largely stays the same. Of course, sports connect right back to media, and a small group of people unwilling to give up profitable reins to change racist systems.

There is a silver lining – the beautiful thing about culture is that it can be shaped into anything we want, and in that way, creators have the freedom to construct whatever narratives they want. However, as things stand, most don’t have the backing to reach a mass audience, so they’re stuck hoping someone with power will “take a chance” and see the value in their stories.

The media industry is notoriously hard to break into and extremely susceptible to “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” But media consumers should be able to find relatable content providing a true reflection of what modern society looks like. With that goal in mind, the evolution of the media landscape must include more open doors for diversity in media ownership so more diverse voices are supported, greenlit, and shared.

Western Center Roundup – February 2022

Western Center’s Legislative Agenda and Celebrating Blackness This Month and Every Month!


Our 2022 Legislative Agenda 

The bills are in, and Western Center’s policy advocates are hard at work in Sacramento to pass this year’s slate of bills to make California better for everyone. Here is our full 2022 Legislative Agenda, and here are a few of the highlights:

AB 1816 (Bryan): Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program (co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership) — This bill will establish a funding source for permanent affordable housing and workforce development for formerly incarcerated people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. This bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness — 70 percent of people experiencing homelessness in California have a history of incarceration.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums (co-sponsored with Children Now) — Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families living on very limited incomes, and create barriers in access to care and unnecessary breaks in coverage for eligible individuals. This bill will ensure pregnant people, children, and people with disabilities can access the health care services they need to stay healthy by eliminating their monthly Medi-Cal premiums.

SB 972 (Gonzalez): Street Vendors (co-sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Power Collective, Inclusive Action for the City, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Public Counsel) — Street vendors are a part of California’s culture and have been for decades. In recent years, street vendors became part of the formal economy with the decriminalization of street vending in 2018. However, many street vendors who sell food are unable to obtain health permits from their local county health departments, so this bill will modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits. Creating this pathway will allow street vendors to further enter the formal economy and put an end to fines issued to these entrepreneurs with limited incomes. Additionally, as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council points out, street vendors also “provide communities with delicious foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. In food desert communities – and particularly in the absence of healthy food retail development – fruit and vegetable sidewalk vendors can help to fill a void by providing fresh food to the local community that may struggle to access them otherwise.”


Black History All Day Every Day

As we come to the end of Black History Month, we want to reiterate that the celebration of Blackness does not end with February! We are here to celebrate, honor, and uplift Black people at all times, in all of our work. This country and state would not be here without the contributions of Black people, and as we head into March, we want to leave you with some Black excellence and history to explore!

  • First, in a historic moment for this country, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been nominated by President Biden for placement on the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman ever nominated.
  • In a huge step for racial justice in California, Bruce’s Beach, which was once a Black beach resort owned by Willa and Charles Bruce but was seized by the Manhattan Beach city council a century ago, will finally be returned to the Bruce family.
  • The Sacramento Bee published its ‘Top 25 Black Change Makers’ roster as part of its Equity Lab project, in partnership with the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Program. “These individuals stand out as innovative problem-solvers. They find solutions for critical issues in our communities through their respective lines of work. They are dynamic leaders who infuse history and culture in the work they do.”
  • Visit California shared ‘Black History in California You Don’t Know About,’ where you can learn about “lesser-known California tours, businesses, and stories that have played a momentous role in U.S. history and Black culture.”
  • The California Health Care Foundation recently released a report, “In Their Own Words: Black Californians on Racism and Health Care,” which is the result of phase one of its three-phase Listening to Black Californians study designed to better understand the health and health care experiences of Black Californians. The research was designed, conducted, and analyzed by EVITARUS, a Black-owned public opinion research firm in Los Angeles. Along with our community partners Dr. David Carlisle of Charles Drew University, Dr. Noha Aboelata of Roots Community Clinic and others, Western Center’s Executive Director, Crystal D. Crawford, is a member of the advisory group for this powerful study.

And In Case You Missed It…    

We love leaving you with a good Western Center read to round out the month, and today is no exception. In case you missed our latest blog post by Kathryn Evans, Western Center’s Associate Director of Individual Giving, check it out! Kathryn wrote the piece for World Day of Social Justice on February 20th, reflecting on the need for Californians to look close to home and explore the many ways to fight for justice and equality here in our own state.


Bill Introduced to Improve Diversity of California Grand Juries

“Cynthia Castillo, a policy advocate with Western Center on Law and Poverty, said juries “play a critical role in the lives of Californians involved in the legal system — particularly people of color and those living in poverty who are over-policed. “We need to address bias and lack of diversity in all parts of the legal system, but right now juries are disproportionately made up of white retirees who can afford to take time off to serve. AB 1792 will ensure people are fairly compensated when they serve so jury duty is more accessible for Californians with low incomes,” she added.”

Bill Introduced to Improve Diversity of California’s Grand Juries