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Up-to-date COVID-19 information

OVERVIEW

  • FOOD
    • No one will be cut off from CalFresh food stamp benefits at this time. If you get CalFresh, you may get extra CalFresh benefits on your EBT card to help buy food during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in April, May, and June. More info here. (Espanol)
    • Families with children who get CalFresh, CalWORKs, Medi-Cal or foster care should get a P-EBT card by mail before May 22. If you do not and your children are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals, you may apply between May 22 – June 30. More info here.
    • Governor Newsom announced a new program for local governments to provide restaurant delivery service to older Californians. Information and sign-up details for interested participants and restaurants are available here.
    • The California Department of Education has posted a list of all school districts and locations offering grab-and-go meals during the COVID-19 school closure. They’ve also created an app to help families locate meals.
    • California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) can now purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.
  • HEALTH
    • Testing (when available) and treatment for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians. 
    • COVID-19 testing is already free for the majority of Californians with private insurance or Medi-Cal. Testing and treatment will not be used against anyone in a Public Charge analysis.
    • The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has a new Medi-Cal program for those who are uninsured and need COVID-19 testing and treatment, open to anyone not otherwise eligible for Medi-Cal. Apply directly in a community clinic or hospital.
    • Applications for Medi-Cal will be accepted without proof of income documentation during the COVID-19 crisis. This is also true for those seeking to renew existing coverage – your Medi-Cal will not be cut off if you are unable to provide paperwork right now.
  • HOUSING
  • FINANCIAL SECURITY
    • An executive order has been issued to allow current recipients of safety net programs in California (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption during this time.
    • California has established a $75 million Disaster Relief Fund to support undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19 who are ineligible for unemployment benefits and disaster relief, including the CARES Act, due to immigration status. Information on local partners for the program available here.
    • Governor Newsom announced an executive order requiring the exemption of federal, state, or local government financial assistance from debt collection and garnishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Governor Newsom signed an executive order restricting water shutoffs for homes and small businesses while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order also directs water agencies to restore water to those who had it cut off as of March 4th.
    • To ensure households keep essential Lifeline wireless and home phone service, the California Public Utilities Commission has temporarily suspended its rule requiring people with low-incomes to re-enroll in the Lifeline program. This will allow hundreds of households to retain service for the next 90 days.

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More on Health care

Medi-Cal covers all testing and treatment for the virus. For those with private insurance, current policy directives from the state of California say COVID-19 tests will be covered free of cost under all health plans regulated by the state. California DHCS has a new Medi-Cal program for those who are uninsured and need COVID-19 testing and treatment, open to anyone not otherwise eligible for Medi-Cal. Apply directly in a community clinic or hospital.

For care related to COVID-19, you should CALL your health plan for instructions. If you do not have a health plan, contact a local community clinic, or the Health Consumer Alliance hotline at 888‑804‑3536.

If you need health coverage right away, you can apply for Medi-Cal online at Covered California, and learn about more coverage options here. To receive information on options for testing and screening for the COVID-19, contact county public health departments.

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

Everyone is encouraged to seek care if they are sick, regardless of income or immigration status.

More on Housing

California Courts have issued rules that suspend most evictions during shelter-in-place.

The new rules include procedural protections for tenants that will achieve the priorities expressed by the Governor’s March 27th Executive Order, which states that a public health crisis is not the time to proceed with evictions. The rule suspends tenants’ obligation to quickly file a response to eviction cases, states that no default judgments for eviction will be issued against tenants during shelter-in-place, and suspends trials for eviction cases. Our summary of the rules on evictions and foreclosures can be found here.

Additionally, many local leaders have recognized the particular threat this crisis poses to low-income households, and have responded with local moratoria on evictions.

Here are a few helpful resources from our partners:

In the video below, Western Center attorney Madeline Howard speaks with Health Leads to give an update on tenant protections afforded by the state and local government. Madeline helps us understand the state-wide “eviction moratorium,” how to understand and leverage stronger local protections, and what may come next as leases turn over, and we prepare for the Shelter in Place to be lifted.

You can find more Information for Renters and Homeowners About Their Protections and Resources, from the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

More on Food Security

Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to allow current recipients of safety net programs (CalWORKs, CalFresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and Cash Assistance for Immigrants) to continue receiving them without interruption or need for re-certification, and it stops CalWORKs time clocks. The governor also issued an executive order making it so that when schools are closed because of COVID-19, school districts must safely provide school meals through the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option.

If you get CalFresh, you may get extra CalFresh benefits on your EBT card to help buy food during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in April, May, and June. More info here. Families with children who get CalFresh, CalWORKs, Medi-Cal or foster care should get a P-EBT card by mail before May 22. If you do not and your children are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals, you may apply between May 22 – June 30. More info here.

California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) are now able to purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.

On March 13th, a federal judge blocked a rule that would have forced 700,000 people off of SNAP food benefits (CalFresh in California), and the Trump administration says it will “hold off” on appealing that decision, which is good news.

More on Financial Security

The President signed the $2 trillion CARES Act, the Coronavirus relief package. It includes some direct payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and additional help for low-income communities and the organizations that serve them,  but it was passed without important benefits and considerations raised to address concerns for the poorest Americans, especially those who are living in deep poverty, people who are disabled or advanced in age, and people who are undocumented. The bill invests significantly more government aid for corporate America than it does for the people hit hardest by the crisis. We are hopeful that the fourth aid package, expected to be worked on by leaders while Congress is in recess for the next couple of weeks, will address these significant gaps.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients should have received AUTOMATIC COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. Additionally, California has established a $75 million Disaster Relief Fund to support undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19 who are ineligible for unemployment benefits and disaster relief, including the CARES Act, due to immigration status.

Western Center and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles created an FAQ for COVID-19 Stimulus Checks. (Espanol). Governor Newsom announced an executive order requiring the exemption of federal, state, or local government financial assistance from debt collection and garnishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) has suspended collection on debt imposed by state and local governments, including the juvenile and criminal legal systems and superior courts (traffic violations, infractions). This policy is in effect immediately.

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

California Child Support Services is temporarily stopping the automatic placement of bank liens and suspension of drivers’ licenses, effective on March 17, 2020. Note that there may be instances where actions were already in the process and you will need to contact the agency handling your case.

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued new guidance to counties intended to help CalWORKs families maintain income during the COVID crisis. Our explanation of that guidance can be read here.

To ensure households keep essential Lifeline wireless and home phone service, the California Public Utilities Commission has temporarily suspended its rule requiring people with low-incomes to re-enroll in the Lifeline program. This will allow hundreds of households to retain service for the next 90 days. The Lifeline program is also loading phones with apps to allow customers to apply for CalFresh food stamps and gain access to free school lunch programs and food banks through their mobile device.

California Courts have issued new rules that set bail for people accused of a misdemeanor or low-level felony at $0 during the emergency.

If an employee’s hours are reduced or their employer shuts down, Unemployment Insurance is available, and if a medical professional says someone is unable to work due to the virus, Disability Insurance is available.

As of March 17, Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to in-person visits, but you can contact them by phone and access online services.

Additional Resources:

**IMPORTANT: In this time of increased race-based discrimination in work, school, housing and community, and with reports of hostility directed toward people of Asian descent due to COVID-19, we call on our leaders to condemn hate speech and action, and to dispel myths about the relationship between race and the virus. State and local leaders, as well as public agencies, have a responsibility to correct the misinformation that people of Asian descent are more likely to transmit COVID-19. For an example of leadership in this area, see this letter issued by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

 

 

 

Black Americans Deserve Reparations – California can lead the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Background

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

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

The Intractable Black Wealth Gap

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

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

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

Our Organizations Urge Support for AB 3121

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

 

STATEMENT: NO CUTS on Californians in our State Budget  

Today, California’s Department of Finance announced significant revenue declines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement makes very clear the need for Congress and the President to immediately pass the proposed relief package for state and local governments.

Any attempt by California or other states to cut programs will lead to immense human suffering, and deepen and lengthen the recession. Cuts will worsen income inequality and harm people who are already most marginalized in our society.

Those disproportionately impacted by COVID and its economic implications — primarily Black, Latinx, and low-income people (many of whom are essential workers on which California relies), are the same people who will be most negatively impacted by state cuts, if that’s the route California takes. That is absolutely unacceptable, and it is not the correct strategy for California For All.

This is an extraordinarily difficult time, and we appreciate the tremendous responsibility the Governor and Legislature has right now. But it is our responsibility at Western Center on Law & Poverty to protect the Californians with the lowest incomes who bear the brunt of the economic burden in this state.

The only priority the Legislature and Governor should have right now is to protect every PERSON who lives here — from the pandemic, from homelessness, from hunger, and from financial ruin. The overall economy comes second, human lives come first.

It’s time for Washington to accept their responsibility and pass state relief now. Congress must enact a fourth Coronavirus response package ASAP, so states aren’t forced to make cuts that will turn this recession into a full blown depression.

California, NO CUTS on Californians in our state budget.

Analysis of Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Today, Congress passed a $2 trillion aid package, the third piece of federal legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. While this aid package includes some direct payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and additional help for low-income communities and the organizations that serve them, it was passed without important benefits and considerations raised to address concerns for the poorest Americans, especially those who are living in deep poverty, people who are disabled or advanced in age, and people who are undocumented. The bill invests significantly more government aid for corporate America than it does for the people hit hardest by the crisis. We are hopeful that the fourth aid package, expected to be worked on by leaders while Congress is in recess for the next couple of weeks, will address these significant gaps.

Western Center is working hard to make sure that both the missed opportunities in the CARES Act and additional investments are considered in the next COVID bill, and we look forward to working with California’s Senators and our Congressional Delegation to make sure that happens.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

The CARES Act expands eligibility and benefits for unemployment insurance, but it does not provide assistance for states to manage the cost of rising TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) caseloads, as was done in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). TANF, known as CalWORKs in California, serves the poorest families with children by providing them a basic needs grant, work training and support, homelessness prevention, and subsidized employment. It is critical that Congress and the President provide increased funding for state TANF programs in the fourth COVID package. Unlike many states, California spends the bulk of its combined federal and state welfare funds on direct cash aid and supports to families. Still, it only serves approximately 60 percent of eligible families with a benefit, and in most cases, isn’t even above half of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). As the needs increase and caseloads rise, the state may find it difficult to maintain the program at its current level. While California could receive about $1.6 billion for Supplemental Security Income recipients, and another $3.5 billion for the CalFresh (SNAP) caseload, we will need to keep working to make sure that national TANF investments include additional resources for low-income families to weather this storm.

The stimulus plan includes one-time income for many families and individuals, including very low income households. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide funding for households where one adult does not have a Social Security number (SSN). This means many households who pay taxes and may have American citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) in their households will receive nothing, despite the fact that payroll taxes are taken from their checks. Congress must address this gross inequity in the next COVID package; it will disproportionately deny aid to low-income workers of color, many of whom are essential workers on the front line of our service sectors.

For those families who are eligible, they will receive $1,200 payments for each adult and $500 for each child under the rebate program. These payments are available to households that filed a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019 even if the household payed no taxes. This is important because households with incomes under $25,000 are not required to file tax returns since they have no federal tax liability, so many do not routinely file taxes. As a result, many low-income families may not get a check unless they file a tax return by July 15th (the new extended tax filing deadline). This could prove challenging since many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) centers and other tax preparers are closed during shelter in place, and most of them would have finalized 2020 activities as of April 15th, the regular tax filing deadline.

Currently, the IRS has information on its website on free options for filing taxes. The IRS is required to do a public education campaign on the rebates, which should provide more information on what people need to do to get the rebates. The federal government has discretion on how to get payments to people, so what the options are for non-filers (beyond filing a regular return) is yet to be determined and might differ for different groups. California will need to explore how it can assist low income households with filing returns so they can secure the resources needed to meet their basic needs. A summary of the rebate process can be found here.

Both the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board (FTB) have long utilized tax intercepts to collect unpaid taxes from those getting tax refunds and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). According to the Tax Policy Center, the IRS will not be intercepting rebate checks to collect unpaid taxes. The Center also reports that the IRS has temporarily suspended interception of EITC payments for unpaid federal taxes. Click here for more on the IRS policy changes.

And today, after receiving a request from the Debt Free Justice Coalition, Western Center, and our Legal Services Allies, the FTB has announced it will use existing authority to immediately stop tax intercepts and all other debt collection practices (including bank levies and wage garnishments) for state government debt, with the exception of child support.

The CARES Act includes $900 million to help lower income households heat and cool their homes through the existing Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and another $1 Billion to Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) to help communities address the consequences of increasing unemployment and economic disruption. These are flexible funds to alleviate poverty, so there will be great variation from community to community for how these funds are used.

FOOD SECURITY

The Cares Act provides $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs in the form of additional funding for food purchases and demonstration projects to increase flexibility for schools; $15.51 billion for SNAP; $100 million for food distribution to low-income households living on Indian reservations and participating Indian Tribal Organizations; $200 million for U.S. territories that cannot access SNAP (Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa), in addition to annual block grant funding; and $450 million for commodities and distribution of emergency food assistance through community partners, including food banks.

The CARES Act investments in food security mainly support administration of existing benefits, and does not establish new benefits. It will help fund H.R. 6201 implementation, support caseworker staff needed to keep up with increases in applications and caseload, and fund waivers and other accommodations necessary to comply with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the impending recession that our economy will face. This is important not only because this workforce will be needed to help low-income Californians meet their basic needs, but also because the county social worker workforce is made up primarily of women of color.

We are disappointed the bill doesn’t include a needed benefit increase and pause on the implementation of Trump Administration cuts to SNAP food stamp benefits. We are committed to working with local, state, and national partners, as well as California’s U.S. Senators and our Congressional Delegation, to make sure the expected fourth COVID bill includes these investments and others that are necessary to address acute levels of hunger caused by extended school feeding and congregate meal closures, and prolonged stay-at-home orders.

HEALTH

Through the passage of the CARES Act, private health plans must cover COVID-19 testing free of charge. The CARES Act also requires health plans to cover vaccinations at no-cost when it becomes available. For older adults and individuals with disabilities, the CARES Act enhances several Medicare benefits, including coverage of COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available, more flexible provision of telehealth services, and a three-month supply of prescription drugs. For Medi-Cal beneficiaries who receive unemployment benefits under this act, these payments will not affect their Medi-Cal eligibility.

The CARES Act requires price transparency for COVID-19 testing but does not place a limit on testing costs which may skyrocket as the demand for testing increases and testing supplies remain low. Consumers will also face challenges to accessing affordable coverage for COVID-19 treatment. The CARES Act contains no prohibitions on surprise billing, such as additional costs patients often incur when using emergency care services, and no measures addressing the high out-of-pocket costs that many patients will have to pay for COVID-19 treatment. Even with this third emergency act, the federal government still has not authorized state Medicaid programs to cover COVID-19 treatment for those who are uninsured and undocumented.

HOUSING

The CARES Act provides for (1) a forbearance period for borrowers with Federally-backed loans who are financially impacted by COVID-19, (2) a moratorium on foreclosures of Federally-backed loans, and (3) a moratorium on evictions from public housing or housing with Federally-backed mortgages. 

Under the CARES Act, borrowers with Federally-backed mortgages may request a forbearance on the loan if they are experiencing a financial hardship during the COVID-19 emergency. The forbearance can last for 180 days and may be extended at the request of the borrower. No fees, penalties, or additional interest will accrue for borrowers during the period of forbearance. The CARES Act also provides a moratorium on foreclosures of federally-backed mortgages. Borrowers with Federally-backed multifamily mortgage loans may obtain forbearance of 30 days, which may be extended, and during the period of forbearance, are prohibited from evicting a household solely for non-payment. Importantly, the Act provides a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings for most federally subsidized rental housing, as well as for any housing that has a Federally-backed mortgage or multifamily mortgage loan if the eviction is based on non-payment.  Borrowers curious about their mortgages can look up the information through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or by contacting your own mortgage company.

The CARES Act also dedicates $4 billion to the expansion of the existing Emergency Solutions Grant program intended to be used for people experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness. These funds can increase shelter capacity, allow communities to reconfigure shelter space to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, deliver medical care to people who acquire the virus or may be at higher risk, and provide short-term rental or utility assistance so that people who have lost jobs or income don’t also lose their housing.  Although the funds can be used for emergency assistance, the needs of shelters (and creating alternatives to current shelter options) are so great that there is unlikely to be sufficient funds to address all the emergency needs that come with such high rates of joblessness. It is unclear how California will use this funding.

Western Center Statement On Supreme Court Public Charge Ruling

Today the Supreme Court chose to allow the Trump administration to enforce its cruel and inhumane Public Charge immigration rule, even though the underlying case has not yet been decided. The decision upsets historical legal precedent in which courts preserve the status quo while litigation is pending.

As we stated in our initial statement on the rule, and in our comments to the Department of Homeland Security, this ruling will have long term detrimental effects on the health of our nation. This rule change is a cruel action aimed at immigrant communities with the unrealistic intent to create a whiter, wealthier version of the United States that does not, has not, and will never exist. The administration’s continued attacks on our country’s already inefficient and unfair immigration system weakens our nation of immigrants.

We will explore all options to protect the wellbeing and safety of our clients and communities.

For more information:

Learn more about public charge at keepyourbenefitsCA.org (English) and tusbeneficiospublicos.org (Spanish). You can also text “benefits” (for English), “libre” (for Spanish), “福利” (for Chinese) or “lợiích” (for Vietnamese) to 650-376-8006.

Visit the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign website for fact sheets, community flyers, and more public charge details: https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/community-education-resources/

Contact the Health Consumer Alliance if you are worried about how your access to health care may impact your family’s immigration status: https://healthconsumer.org/

Find a trustworthy immigration attorney for individual counseling at the organizations on this list: https://www.cdss.ca.gov/Benefits-Services/More-Services/Immigration-Services/Immigration-Services-Contractors

Full Analysis of Governor Newsom’s proposed 2020-2021 state budget

For a PDF of this analysis, click here.

Last week, Governor Newsom unveiled his $222 billion 2020-21 budget proposal. Western Center’s summary of the proposal can be found here.

The state is in its 11th year of increasing tax revenue, and estimates a $5.6 billion budget surplus over existing obligations. The budget continues the practice of prioritizing saving state revenue for future years by increasing the Rainy Day fund to $18 billion and paying down state debts to reduce state payments in future years.

Governor Newsom is focused on addressing many long standing issues, particularly the homelessness and housing crisis. The budget proposes to allocate $1.4 billion to a variety of solutions, including $750 million in one-time funding to shore up board and care facilities, provide rental assistance to those at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and to fund adaptive re-use of existing structures to create additional housing that people experiencing homelessness can afford. The budget also includes substantial new funding for health care, including a proposal for the state to manufacture prescription medications and to expand health care to undocumented seniors.

The budget proposal does not include the third step of CalWORKs funding that would bring grants to 55 percent of the federal poverty level. Instead, the budget proposes a 3.1 percent increase for CalWORKs grants in October 2020. The budget also provides no increase in state funding for Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP) grants, keeping in place recession era cuts that have still not been restored.

Homelessness

The Governor’s budget proposes $750 million in one-time funds to be deposited in the new California Access to Housing and Services Fund, which the Governor recently created by executive order. The fund would be administered by the Department of Social Services, which would allocate dollars to “regional administrators” to be used to provide short- and long-term rental subsidies to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness, create additional housing units affordable to people with extremely low-incomes, and stabilize licensed board and care facilities around the state. How funds would be allocated and administered remains open to negotiation.

Housing

The budget proposes a one-time $500 million increase in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which funds the production and rehabilitation of housing affordable primarily to households with incomes between 30% and 80% of area median income (AMI).

Financial Security

CalWORKs: CalWORKs has gone through a period of substantial investment. In 2019, the budget included funding for a 13 percent grant increase, expanded the earned income disregard to $500 a month, and stabilized CalWORKs child care for families. This budget is not as ambitious as prior years, though it does provide a 3.1 percent increase in grants beginning October 2020. This will increase grants for a family of three by about $25 a month. However, it was anticipated that CalWORKs grants would be raised to 55 percent of the federal poverty level to ensure no child lives in deep poverty. This budget proposal will not achieve that goal.

The budget does include funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through. Under current law, the first $50 of child support paid by the non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is used to pay for the cost of welfare benefits to the state and federal government. Beginning January 2022, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support.

We are grateful the Governor heard parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children. The increases to child support pass through and relief from government-owed, uncollectable debt proposed by the Governor look like a good start. We are eager to see the associated proposed trailer bill law changes so we have more details, and look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

Fines and Fees: The budget proposes to expand the traffic court ability to pay pilot program statewide. Currently, an eight county pilot program (operational in four counties) allows persons to adjudicate traffic tickets through an online portal and reduce fines by at least 50 percent for low income drivers. The budget would expand this pilot statewide over several years to all counties. The pilot has yet to be evaluated.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders.

SSI/SSP: The SSI/SSP caseload continues to decline, and as a result, state funding for the state supplemental program (SSP) is declining. In the 2020-21 budget the administration projects a 1.6 percent decline in SSP spending to $2.66 billion, down from $2.73 billion in the 2019-20 budget. This continues a trend of declining state spending for disabled and elderly adults. As recently as the 2016-17 budget, the state spent $2.87 billion. Rather than invest savings from caseload declines into grants, the savings are going into the General Fund for other purposes. SSI/SSP grants are critical for paying the cost of housing; this failure to invest in SSI grants will put more recipients at risk of homelessness.

Health care

Expands full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible undocumented adults age 65+ (Health4AllSeniors): Building on the 2019 Budget, which made California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to adults up to age 26 regardless of immigration status, the Governor’s recent proposal includes $80.5 million ($64.2 million General Fund) to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible undocumented adults age 65 and older. This would benefit about 27,000 older adults, to be implemented no sooner than January 1, 2021. Full implementation costs are projected to be approximately $350 million ($320 million General Fund) in 2022-23 and ongoing.

Delays 2019 Budget Act suspensions from December 31, 2021 to July 1, 2023: The 2019 Budget made important Medi-Cal investments that were to be suspended on December 31, 2021 and the proposal delays these suspensions by 18 months. This includes restoration of Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extension of Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, expansion of Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, and Prop 56 supplemental payments to providers.

Funding for CalAIM (recently renamed to Medi-Cal Healthier California for All Initiative): The Governor’s proposal includes $695 million ($348 million General Fund) for CalAIM effective January 1, 2021 and ongoing. Despite the name change, the administration continues to advance policy changes released in October’s proposal. The proposal still terminates the Health Homes Program (HHP) despite loss of enhanced federal match rate and the Whole Person Care (WPC) program, and includes $225 million to implement the new statewide enhanced care management benefit through plans. Plans will have the option of providing housing transition services, currently provided under HHP and WPC, and other services In Lieu of Service. The Dental Transformation Initiative will end December 2020, but $112.5 million is proposed to continue and expand program elements including provider incentives for preventive services (expanded to adults); provider incentive payments for continuity of care (expanded to adults); caries risk assessment, and adding silver diamine fluoride as a covered service for children.

Termination of Dental Managed Care in Medi-Cal: The administration proposes transitioning Medi-Cal dental services from a managed care delivery system, currently mandatory in Sacramento and optional in Los Angeles, to a fee-for-service (FFS) system in January 2021. A net zero fiscal impact is estimated due to small administrative savings offset by higher dental utilization in FFS system. However, any transition will have to ensure existing consumer protections for enrollees in dental managed care, including network adequacy requirements, continuity of care protections, and a strong grievance and appeal process.

Medi-Cal Medication Assisted Treatment Benefit Changes: The administration proposes adding all FDA approved drugs (specifically buprenorphine and buprenorphine-naloxone combination) to treat opioid addiction as a Medi-Cal benefit. Currently, only methadone and naltrexone is covered for Medi-Cal enrollees needing Medication Assisted Treatment; adding two new drugs is estimated to cost $876,000.

Prescription Drug Cost Containment: The Governor proposes to continue last year’s Executive Order to carve-out the Medi-Cal managed care benefit from managed care to fee-for-service effective January 1, 2021 to include savings that are partially offset by creation of a new supplemental payment pool for non-hospital clinics for 340B pharmacy services. The Governor also proposes to establish the state’s own generic drug label to manufacture certain generic drugs, establish a single market for drug pricing within the state to combine purchasing power, and expand authority to negotiate with manufacturers internationally for Medi-Cal supplemental rebates.

Potential Public Option: With more details to come, the Health and Human Services Agency will develop options to strengthen enrollment, affordability, and choice through Covered California, including leveraging the network of existing public Medi-Cal managed care plans.

Office of Health Care Affordability: The administration proposes the establishment of the Office of Health Care Affordability in spring 2020 to increase price and quality transparency, and to reduce costs to generate savings to directly-impacted consumers.

Hearing Aids for Children: The budget proposes to create a state program to assist families with the cost of hearing aids and related services for children without health insurance coverage for households with incomes up to 600% FPL.

Behavioral Health: The administration proposes to establish the Behavioral Health Task Force Agency and strengthen enforcement of behavioral health parity laws. The Department of Managed Health Care’s enforcement will focus on timely access to treatment, network adequacy, benefit design and plan policies. The administration also supports updating the Mental Health Services Act to focus on people with mental illness experiencing homelessness, those involved in the criminal justice system, and for early youth intervention.

 

 

 

Some Counties Illegally Levy Juvenile Legal Fees—Low-Income Families of Color Are Hit Hardest

“Even with all this evidence that fees are recidivistic and fees are bad for children and bad for communities of color … we still end up with counties choosing to continue to collect them, and that’s really disappointing,” said Jess Bartholow, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which sponsored the original legislation. “Why would we allow these fees to continue to be out there and create harm?”

Read more

Western Center Reaction to Governor Newsom’s Proposed 2020-2021 Budget

First and foremost, Western Center is pleased that Governor Newsom’s proposed budget includes significant and innovative proposals to address the homelessness crisis in California, which will not only help the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness, but will also prevent more people from losing their housing. We are also pleased to see the Governor take another major step toward providing health care for all by expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults over age 65, and to see the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which makes our tax code more equitable for women, girls and young families.

We were hoping to see additional investments for CalWORKs and SSI grants in this proposal, since they are both crucial for lifting Californians out of poverty. We will continue to advocate for those increases in the final budget agreement.

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area. We will release an in-depth analysis next week.

Housing

The proposed budget appropriately treats the state’s homelessness crisis as an emergency. The proposal devotes additional resources to help people at risk of homelessness remain stably housed and to increase both temporary shelter capacity and permanent housing options for people already experiencing homelessness. We are pleased to see the Governor’s sustained commitment to addressing homelessness and look forward to working in partnership with his administration and legislative leaders to further develop effective, sustainable solutions to the crisis that prioritize residents living in poverty.

We agree with the Governor that the state must ramp up efforts to address the state’s shortage of housing, which is primarily a shortage at lower income levels. We are eager to work with the Governor to ensure that policies and programs to speed housing production prioritize the creation of units for households with the lowest incomes who are priced out of the rental market in every county in the state, protect low-income communities and communities of color from displacement, and increase access to high opportunity areas for our clients.

Financial Security

The budget includes funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through (read about it here). Currently, the first $50 of child support paid by a non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is kept by state and federal governments. In the Governor’s newly proposed budget, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support, beginning January 2022. It also includes funding to provide debt relief for child support owed to the government that is deemed uncollectable. We are grateful that the Governor has heard from parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children, and we are eager to see proposed associated trailer bill law changes for details. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

The budget also includes the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which will make our tax code more equitable, since taxes on period products and diapers are regressive to poor families and young people. We look forward to continuing work in the legislature to end unmet diaper need and period poverty in California.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders. We’re also happy to see that Californians with low incomes will soon be able to reduce the cost of their traffic fines and the overall impact of expensive traffic tickets, with this budget proposing to expand the traffic court ability-to-pay pilot program (currently operational in four counties) statewide over several years. The pilot has yet to be evaluated, so we look forward to details from the Judicial Council to see if the program’s reductions in fines and fees are adequate or need to reduced further.

Finally, to further enhance financial security for Californians, the Governor’s budget creates a new state version of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The proposed financial watchdog will hold banks and other financial firms accountable when they engage in unfair and abusive debt collection and banking practices. Medical, student loan, school lunch, and other forms of debt disproportionally burden people experiencing poverty; we expect this new agency to offer important protections for our clients.

Health Care

We applaud the Governor for continuing to move toward universal coverage by making California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors regardless of immigration status, taking a whole person approach to Medi-Cal, and cost containment with an eye toward quality and equity. We look forward to working with the administration and legislature to advance a budget that ensures equitable access to affordable, comprehensive, quality health care for poor Californians.

The Governor’s proposal also delays suspension of benefits and eligibility, by extending certain Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extending Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and expanding Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, all until July 2023.