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Organizing For Vendor Justice in California

On the last Friday night of September, Mariachi Plaza was bursting with beautiful music and enticing aromas. It’s always bustling on a weekend, but this night was different.

Hundreds of cheerful street vendors, advocates, and supporters were gathered to celebrate the signing of SB 972 by Governor Gavin Newsom, which modernized the California Retail Food Code to be inclusive of street vendors.

This moment was special for street vendors in California. They made history by organizing, mobilizing, and fighting for their rights. This is a victory that will be retold alongside other stories of social justice movements, like the Justice for Janitors campaign and the United Farm Workers movement.

As I walked along all the food stands, I connected with vendors, community organizers, and other leaders who led this fight. Many of these leaders participated in the creation of the statewide coalition that won SB 972, and many were the same community members I once worked alongside.

In 2018, I had the opportunity to organize with vendors in Boyle Heights and the San Fernando Valley. For years, street vendors had been fighting criminalization and harassment. As one of two organizers on the ground, we prioritized co-organizing demonstrations with vendors when they were attacked or swept by the city. The saying I heard on the frontline was: if they mess with one of us, they mess with all of us.

Si se meten con una hormiga se meten con el hormiguero. 

The fight for street vendors was a fight for dignity. The road to SB 972 was paved by vendors’ relentless organizing, participation in forums and city council meetings, and one-on-one conversations with leaders throughout the region. These vendors stirred up “good trouble” in the form of civil disobedience, flooding council members’ offices, taking-over streets, and demonstrating at police stations. These countless years of organizing are what got SB 972 across the finish line.

Before leaving Mariachi Plaza, I stopped and spoke with Caridad Vasquez, a seasoned vendor leader who has long been involved in this fight. We made plans to speak the following week to talk about the impact of SB 972 and what this bill would mean for her.

She told me, “finally, justice was done for all street vendors, we can finally make a living legally. For so long, politicians and critics said that a food permit would not be possible, but here we are!”

Caridad has been a street vendor for over 40 years and has been part of the street vendor justice movement since the early 2000’s, when the LA Street Vendor Campaign was just taking shape. She was rejoiceful and looking forward to the work her organization Vendedores en Acción (Vendors in Action) will be involved in the following months.

She says, “many of us are recovering from the pandemic, some of us are still unemployed, others are behind on rent, and people’s recovery from the pandemic means supporting sidewalk vending.”

Caridad stresses that we should support the street vendor movement and continue to ensure a just implementation takes shape.

“Messing with the local sidewalk vendors means messing with all of us – we can all play a part by stopping injustice when we see it happen, we have a duty to contact elected officials and demand they continue to support the working people of our communities.”

Caridad is correct. Many vendor leaders like her are preparing at this moment to ensure implementation of SB 972 is a just one. Across the state, from Oakland to San Bernardino vendors and community advocates are assembling. This is just the beginning of another chapter in the story of this movement.

Until then, we should stand by and be ready to join the fight because… si se meten con una hormiga se meten con el hormiguero.

Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Wrap-Up

Western Center had an outstanding end to the 2022 legislative session, with 13 of co-sponsored bills signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. Among the highlights were (SB 972) modernizing street vending licensing and (SB 923), a first in nation bill on gender affirming health care. We also passed bills to repeal failure to appear (FTA) license suspensions and to repeal the use of license suspension for low-income parents in arrears on child support. Other wins included mandating counties waive work requirements for domestic violence survivors and expanded protections for low-income debtors from wage garnishments. Below is a list that includes WCLP sponsored bills and other bills of note that WCLP played a role in, such as AB 2594 and AB 2746.

HIGHLIGHTS

SB 972 (L Gonzales) – SB 972 WCLP co-sponsored this bill that modernizes vending policies and fully legalizes food street vending, providing pathways for vendors to obtain health permits and build their small businesses. You can learn more about the community organizing history and vendor led process to achieve this historic victory by watching our Meet the Advocates webinar on vendor justice as a food justice issue.

SB 923 (Wiener) – SB 923 WCLP co-sponsored this historic bill that creates a workgroup to establish first-in-the nation quality standards for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex (TGI) patient experience and recommends related training curriculum, mandates health plans to require TGI cultural competency training for their staff, and requires plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services.


PASSED BILLS

AB 1355 (Levine)  – WCLP co-sponsored AB 1355, a bill that expands applicant protections related to alternating decisions in state fair hearings including requiring transcripts to be read before directors alternate and allowing additional evidence be entered after an alternated decision was returned to the ALJ.

SB 1008 (Becker) – SB 1008 makes phone calls from prison and juvenile facilities free, keeping families connected. In partnership with co-sponsors and community groups, WCLP amplified the call to support this bill across our social media channels.

AB 2277 (Reyes)  –WCLP co-sponsored AB 2277 requiring counties to provide good cause to CalWORKs program requirements, including work participation, when a recipient identifies themselves as a survivor of domestic violence.

SB 1017 (Eggman) – WCLP co-sponsored SB 1017 which expands the rights and protections of survivors of domestic violence in landlord/tenant proceedings, including clarifying when landlords can evict tenants if the perpetrator returns to the property.

 SB 644 (Leyva) – WCLP co-sponsored SB 644 which requires EDD to share with Covered California contact and income information about those who have recently applied for or lost income-replacing benefits to allow Covered California to reach out and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

AB 2004 (C. Garcia) – WCLP co-sponsored AB 2004 which strengthens the California Dream Loan Program and establishes a loan forgiveness program for program borrowers.

AB 2339 (Bloom) –WCLP co-sponsored AB 2339 which strengthens housing element law to ensure zoning encourages and facilitates the production of emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing.


SB 1200 (Skinner) – SB 1200 WCLP co-sponsored this bill to reduce the interest rate applied to unpaid government and private debt. The bill will reduce the interest from 10 percent annually to 5 percent. It also limits creditors to one renewal of a judgment against a debtor. There is currently no
limit on how long creditors can try and collect old debt.

SB 1055 (Kamlager) – SB 1055 WCLP co-sponsored this first of its kind in the nation bill to eliminate the use of license suspension when a low-income non-custodial parent is in arrears on making child support payments. The bill repeals license suspension for people with incomes at or below 70 percent of the area median income.

AB 2746 (Friedman) – AB 2745 repeals the ability of traffic courts to suspend a driver’s license for failure to appear. 

SB 1447 (Wieckowski) – WCLP co-sponsored SB 1447 which increases protections to income from wage garnishments to 48 hours times the minimum wage or 20 percent of disposable income.

AB 2147 (Ting) – AB 2147 reduces the use of jaywalking tickets by only allowing tickets when there is an imminent danger.

AB 2594 (Ting) – AB 2594 WCLP supported and negotiated this bill that makes numerous changes to toll agencies’ collection practices. It waives penalties on old violations, eliminates the requirement that a person must deposit all tolls and penalties in order to get an administrative review of a violation, and
requires toll agencies to have payment plans for drivers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and caps payments for these plans at $25 a month and caps the maximum civil penalty for a violation at $100.

AB 2300 (Kalra) – AB 2300 – WCLP co-sponsored this bill that allows CalWORKs recipients to have good cause from not meeting work requirements if their employer violates state labor laws including the Crown Act, sexual harassment, and many other labor provisions.

SB 1083 (Skinner)  –WCLP co-sponsored SB 1083 which makes numerous changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program including expanding the definition of homelessness to include an eviction notice and to reduce verification requirements for pregnant persons.

AB 1686 (Bryan) –  AB 1686 establishes a presumption that, when a child is in foster care, requiring the parent or guardian to pay child support for the child is likely to impose a barrier to the family’s efforts to reunify.

AB 207 (Ting) – The Governor signed this budget trailer bill that included language approving full pass through of child support payments to CalWORKs children and mandates that CDSS form a stakeholder work group to evaluate whether there are any possible negative consequences from providing full pass through. The bill also requires CDSS to form a stakeholder work group to look at options for ending the TANF work participation pass-on penalty to counties that WCLP and CWDA have been urging repeal of the past two budgets. Lastly, the bill also mandates a stakeholder work group to come up with a proposal for implementing the child support Final Rule on determining how to establish child support orders. WCLP will be a participant in all three work groups.

OPPOSED BILLS:

SB 1338 (Umberg and Eggman) – WCLP joined the opposition to this legislation, widely known as “Care Court,” sponsored by Governor Newsom. You can learn more about why WCLP opposed this bill by watching our Meet the Advocates webinar on this topic. The passed bill will only funds six counties (SD, SF, Riverside, Orange, Tuolumne and Stanislaus). It delays implementation of a second cohort of unnamed counties until December, 2024. The earliest Care Court can go live in the first six counties would be October 1, 2023. The bill includes language allowing courts to appoint counsel for the respondent from either a willing LSC program or a public defender.

SB 1133 (Archuleta) – WCLP opposed this bill that would remove price gouging protections during states of emergency – including rental caps. The successful defeat of this bill ensured that thousands of vulnerable Californians will continue to be protected against unjust housing price gouging during the declaration of an emergency – including wildfires, pandemics, and natural disasters.


DEFEATED BILLS TO BRING BACK NEXT SESSION:

AB 1685 (Bryan)- AB 1685 would have required local governments using DMV holds to collect parking tickets to forgive up to $1,500 in parking debt if they were homeless. 

AB 2775 (Quirk-Silva) – AB 2775, co-sponsored by WCLP would have allowed an unhoused person to not pay a registration fee on their vehicle.

SB 1140 (Umberg) – SB 1140, co-sponsored by WCLP would have codified the decision in Ortega vs Johnson that CalFresh benefits stolen electronically would have to be restored promptly.

BUDGET RE-CAP:

The governor and legislature reached an agreement on the 2022-23 state budget, which includes a historic $100 billion budget surplus. Amid substantial inflation and continued economic fallout from the pandemic, the reason for the massive surplus must be named. California has 189 billionaires and counting, and substantially more extremely high-income households that do not have the same economic burdens as the 1 in 3 Californians living near or below the poverty line. Only fundamental reforms, including for seemingly untouchable issues like discriminatory tax laws, can address the significant disparities in our state. One-time investments targeting people with low incomes during flush budget years are good, but ongoing, dedicated investments are the only way to make the state better.

Despite concerns that surplus revenue would make it difficult to fund General Fund programs, the budget deal includes substantial General Fund investments. The budget also provides tax rebates to millions of Californians, with the majority going to Californians with incomes below $75,000. Even with that spending and many other investments, the state will have a $37 billion reserve.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE/ FINES & FEES

Civil Assessments – The budget substantially reforms court practices that result in tens of millions of dollars in penalties imposed on people who fail to pay traffic and criminal court fines on time or who fail to appear in court. The current $300 civil assessment is being reduced to $100. The budget agreement also discharges civil assessment debt that accrued prior to the change in law. This means tens of thousands of people will no longer have to make payments on that debt or be harassed by bill collectors. The budget also shifts all future civil assessment revenue to the state General Fund rather than to the courts. The past practice led to lawsuits alleging that judges are incentivized to impose the maximum assessment to increase court revenue. The civil assessment language will be subject to completion in August via budget trailer bill.

Tax Intercepts – The budget includes a change to the longstanding practice by the state of intercepting Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and Young Child Tax Credits (YCTC) for unpaid debts. Going forward, the state’s Franchise Tax Board will no longer intercept such payments except in cases of child support or restitution.

FINANCIAL SECURITY/ FOOD ACCESS

CalWORKs – The CalWORKs budget provides a 21 percent increase in CalWORKs grants, the largest since the program began in 1998. It eliminates deep poverty for CalWORKs households of families of four or more. Deep poverty includes households with incomes below 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level by family size. For smaller families that get tax rebates, their income will also be above the deep poverty threshold. The increase will begin on October 1, 2022 for the next two budgets, but must be renewed in 2024 when an additional grant increase will also be under consideration. Below is an estimated chart of the grants starting in October.

Child Support Pass Through – The budget includes a major change in child support policy by allowing families that receive a child support payment to receive all of it and not have it re-directed to the state and federal government to reimburse the cost for public benefits. This will begin in 2025. Currently, a CalWORKs family only gets child support for the first $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children. The governor proposed to pass through all child support to former CalWORKs households in the January budget proposal, and the legislature succeeded in expanding that into a full pass through of all child support, making California the second state in the country to do so. It is estimated that this will result in $430 million in payments going directly to families.

Food for All – The budget includes an additional $35.2 million, increasing the total to $113.4 million to expand the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to all Californians 55 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status. California will become the first state to provide food assistance to ensure all residents 55+ can access food. We will continue to work with our partners, the governor, and the legislature in future budgets to ensure all Californians have access to food.

SSI/SSP – The budget includes another increase for the state SSP grant of approximately $37/month. This will begin in January 2023. When combined with the anticipated 8.6 percent increase in the federal grant, the total grant comes to approximately $1,149, an increase of $107/month. While this grant increase is substantial, the grant is still below the federal poverty level for one person at approximately 98 percent.

Tax Rebates – The budget provides $9.5 billion in tax rebates. For families with incomes below $75,000 and who file taxes, a single person will get $350, a two-person household will get $700, and households of three or more will receive $1,050. People using ITIN tax filer status will be eligible but people receiving SSI will not be eligible. Unlike the proposal by the governor to distribute tax rebates to registered car owners via the DMV, the agreement instead utilizes the Franchise Tax Board to distribute payments. Currently, it is projected payments should arrive by October. These funds will benefit families on CalWORKs, CalFresh, and Medi-Cal if they filed tax returns.

Universal School Meals – Building upon the state’s historic investment in providing school meals for all students in California, this year’s budget provides 700 million in additional dollars to support school meals for all, with a focus on best practices and kitchen infrastructure. This funding will contribute to California students getting access to healthier options for school meals.

HEALTH CARE

Medi-Cal Expansion – The budget agreement includes notable health care investments including expansion of Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status (Health4All), with an implementation date ‘no later’ than January 1, 2024. It’s estimated that the expansion will result in roughly 700,000+ people becoming newly eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal at ongoing cost of $2.3 billion.

Medi-Cal Reform – The budget also reforms Medi-Cal share-of-cost so elders and people with disabilities can afford necessary Medi-Cal services and provides continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children up to age five. Both reforms have a delayed implementation date of January 1, 2025 and are subject to a budget appropriation at that time. The budget also zeroes out Medi-Cal premiums, expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth, and increases the Medi-Cal doula reimbursement.

Additionally, the budget provides navigator funding, Covered CA state premium subsidy funding, and establishes the Office of Health Care Affordability. More details of this budget’s health care investments can be found at Western Center’s updated 2022 Health Budget Scorecard.

HOUSING

As California faces dwindling affordable housing stock, skyrocketing rent increases, and as thousands of Californians wait for promised rent relief via the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), state leaders mostly funded existing programs in this budget and failed to make housing investments at the scale needed to tackle the housing crisis.

Eviction Prevention – Billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance have been requested, but the legislature capped assistance previously promised in SB 115 at $1.95 billion, while increasing application denials for unclear reasons. As such, this budget provides $30 million in increased funding for legal aid eviction defense to represent the thousands of tenants who will likely face eviction due to the state’s inability to properly manage ERAP.

Homelessness – This budget will result in more displacement of people experiencing homelessness with increased funding for encampment sweeps: $300 million for 2022-2023 and $400 million for 2023-24. There are no meaningful investments in permanent housing for our unhoused neighbors. This budget also does not include investments for AB 1816 (Bryan) to go toward workforce development and permanent supportive housing for people who were recently incarcerated and experiencing or at risk of homelessness; rather, this budget funds temporary programs that often contribute to a revolving door of recidivism. However, this budget does finally invest in a program created nearly eight years ago for veterans and their families experiencing homelessness by allocating $50 million to Proposition 41 (2014).

Affordable Housing – This budget makes a $2 billion multiyear investment in affordable housing. The budget allocates $150 million over two years to preserve California’s existing highly prized and disappearing affordable housing stock. Since many Californians rely on mobile and manufactured homes for affordable housing, the budget invests $100 million over two years for mobile and manufactured homes. In an attempt to add to California’s affordable housing stock, the budget allocates $250 million for the Housing Accelerator Program to build affordable housing where builders can’t access tax credits, as well as $325 million over two years for the Multifamily Housing Program, two critical programs that deserve a larger investment. The budget allocates $425 million over two years for the Infill infrastructure grant program for capital improvement projects and $410 million over two years for Adaptive Reuse to convert buildings into housing, including a $10 million appropriation of existing funding. There is also an additional investment of $50 million for ADU financing on existing lots. While greatly needed, this funding should come with more requirements for the creation of affordable units for households with low and extremely low incomes.

Homeownership – Since homeownership is nearly impossible for many first-time homebuyers in California, particularly for non-white people whose generational wealth was stripped due to intentionally racist housing policies, this budgets makes a commitment to assist first-time homebuyers by establishing the California Dream for All program, providing $500 million to assist first-time homebuyers with lower down payments, more than 1/3 reduction in monthly mortgage payments, and $350 million over two years for the CalHome program.

Housing for Farmworkers – This budget invests in farmworkers, whose hard labor keeps many of us fed, by appropriating $50 million for the Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Housing Program. The program is intended to construct and rehabilitate housing for farm workers who often live in hazardous and uninhabitable housing conditions.

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For a PDF of this analysis, click here. For questions contact:

Access to Justice & Financial Security

Health Care

Housing & Homelessness

 

 

Local government is key to establishing equity in California

As the State of California considers reparations to correct fundamental economic harms caused by slavery, it is local governments that have the authority to either aid or thwart such equity initiatives. A dispute in Fresno, where proposed industrial expansion threatens a community-led plan to address generational equity concerns, is one example. In the coming months, the Fresno City Council and mayor will decide the fate of the southwest Fresno community, providing a potential case study for the ways racial, economic and environmental injustice can play out in California.

Read More

Up-to-date COVID-19 information

OVERVIEW

  • July emergency allotments for CalFresh food benefits will be issued August 14 (CalSAWS) and August 21 (CalWIN). June allotments issued July 17th (CalSAWS) and July 24th (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.