Subscribe Donate

Category: Racial Justice

Home | Newsroom | Racial Justice

Want Equity? Start when kids learn how to read.

I am a parent in the process of looking for the best education path for my son. As an attorney at Western Center who often works on issues pertaining to child welfare, I am also interested in advocacy around access to and quality of education – especially for kids of color like mine. A lot of what happens in education is a direct reflection of our nation’s “commitment” to racial equity issues (which is to say, we’re not that committed), and to science. For those committed to racial equity and ending the school to prison pipeline, there is no other option but to be interested in and committed to this issue.

To make a long story short — there is well-researched scientific evidence about how people learn to read, usually distilled into what is called the “Science of Reading,” which has been around for 20 years. There are plenty of news reports, research papers, podcasts, social media groups, and conferences devoted to discussing the “Science of Reading” and best practices in reading instruction. Bafflingly, most school districts do not use curriculum that aligns with the science of reading. This partially contributes to 83% of Black kids and 60% of white kids not being proficient readers by the 4th grade. Unfortunately, the most recently released National Assessment of Education Progress “NAEP” scores show startling declines in math and reading proficiency among our nation’s youth, and widening gaps for Black and Latinx youth.

Change is on the horizon, however, in part because of books like “The Knowledge Gap” and other forms of advocacy, but it’s surprising that it has taken so long to catch on. As a nation, we have a lot of problems when it comes to listening to science. We blame Black and brown children for failing to meet reading proficiency standards despite evidence that we are not teaching them based on scientifically sound methods. We are wasting public funds, resources, and most importantly, human potential.

San Francisco Unified School District adopted a curriculum that is not at all aligned with the science of reading, which was actually banned in Berkeley as a result of a lawsuit because it does such a poor job of teaching kids to read. Meanwhile, in places like Milwaukee, parents have successfully advocated for more science-based approaches to learning. Colorado, Arkansas, Mississippi, and other states already have laws on the books requiring science of reading based approaches, which have achieved positive results.

From my view as an advocate and parent, the science provides a clear call to action for helping our kids reach their potential: (1) reading instruction should be part of general education through 5th grade and likely through middle school; (2) schools should be required to use curriculum aligned with the science of reading; (3) teachers should be trained in college on the science of reading, which would require new legislation in several states including California; (4) early childhood education students should be trained on early science of reading methods and how to spot early signs of reading difficulties.

Reading proficiency is fundamental in this society – especially when we talk about lifting families out of poverty. It’s a relatively easy intervention, we just need a commitment to following proven methods for teaching kids how to read. Sticking our heads in the sand when the evidence is clear is a disservice to children, families, and their communities – our systems of education must adjust to meet the needs of our kids.

EPIC News – October 2021


Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up

The California legislative season is over, and many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen to become law. Our 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up includes Western Center’s collection of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year. Highlights include:

  • SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act: Seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.
  • SB 65 – The California Momnibus: an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close the existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state.

Garden Party Success! 

A huge thank you to everyone who attended and supported this year’s Garden Party, our signature event highlighting Western Center’s ongoing efforts to fight poverty in California. Special thanks to this year’s incredible honorees and sponsors. If you were unable to attend Garden Party but still want to contribute, you can do so here. We need your help to reach our fundraising goal!

If you would like to see a snippet from Garden Party, check out our We Are Western Center video!


Meet Western Center’s Newest Team Members 

We are excited to introduce our newest team members, Lorraine López, Kathryn Evans, Abraham Zavala, and fellow Liv Williams! Find out more about Lorraine, Kathryn, Abraham, and Liv here.


Latina Equal Pay Day

October 21st was Latina Equal Pay Day, marking the number of days into 2021 Latinas had to work to catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made last year. Overall, Latinas make 57 cents to a white man’s dollar, if they are mothers, that number goes down to 46 cents. Latina Equal Pay Day marks the final Equal Pay Day of 2021 — Latinas must work the most to get paid the least.

Latinas are the foundation of so many communities, and ultimately, this country and many others. In the conversations about what work is considered essential, Latinas are often mentioned, yet they are hardly compensated accordingly. That is why Western Center worked so hard as part of the coalition that got SB 62 signed into law this year to protect California’s garment workers – many of whom are Latinas making well below minimum wage despite their critical role upholding the fashion industry. It is our hope that SB 62 sets a standard not only for how Latinas are treated and paid in the garment industry, but also that it continues conversations about reforms needed in other sectors.


Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up 

The  2021 California legislative season is over, and Governor Newsom has signed the bills that will become law. Many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen, including groundbreaking legislation like SB 62, which makes California an international leader in the fight to end exploitation of people working in the garment industry, and SB 65, which implements proven interventions to lower California’s unacceptably high mortality rate for Black and Indigenous people who give birth here. 

Below is our slate of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year.


HIGHLIGHTS

SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.  

SB 65 – The California Momnibus is an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state. 


FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 461 – CalWORKs Self Employment: Creates a more accessible pathway for CalWORKs recipients to choose self-employment as a work activity. This bill is timely as the state begins to rebuild its economy, which will heavily rely on the talents and creativity of Californians with an entrepreneurial spirit. 


HEALTH

AB 326 – Removes the sunset clause to permanently extend the Consumer Protection Program, which awards advocacy fees to any person or organization that represents the interests of consumers and has made a substantial contribution on regulations, orders, or decisions, within the Department of Managed Health Care.

AB 1020 – Enforcement of the Hospital Fair Pricing Act: We hope that passage of this bill means patients no longer need lawyers to benefit from the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. This bill rose directly out of our legal services partners’ experience in trying to enforce the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. Major components include prohibiting hospitals from selling debt to debt buyers unless they meet all the current standards applicable to debt collectors and agree to take a bill back if the patient should have gotten financial assistance, Medi-Cal, or another payor for their bill; requiring debt collectors and debt buyers to also send patients applications for financial assistance; and increasing eligibility for patients for financial assistance from 350% of the poverty level to 400%.

AB 1355 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Expands Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries to ensure more beneficiaries can access medically necessary care. Also improves the state’s fair hearing process. 

SB 644 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Allows California’s unemployment department to share information with Covered California when someone applies for or loses benefits to help individuals apply for Covered California or Medi-Cal.


HOUSING

AB 832 – Extended the temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until September 31, 2021. The bill also created additional tenant protections in court that may halt an eviction if the tenant qualifies and has an approved application for rent relief. For more information, please refer to our COVID-19 tenant relief fact sheet. To apply for financial assistance please visit housingiskey.com.

AB 838 – Enforcement Response to Housing Complaints: Prohibits local code inspection agencies in California from implementing restrictions or preconditions before responding to tenant habitability complaints. The bill specifically prohibits code enforcement agencies from refusing to inspect a unit based on unreasonable conditions, including on the basis that the tenant is behind on rent, is alleged to be in violation of their lease, or is currently in an unlawful detainer (eviction) or other legal dispute with the landlord.

AB 1304 – Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Strengthens requirements for cities and counties to analyze and proactively address fair housing issues as part of their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The bill requires the housing element to include an analysis of how the jurisdiction’s inventory of housing affirmatively furthers fair housing; requires that in assessing contributing factors to fair housing issues, jurisdictions look through both a local and a regional lens, take race into account, and examine historical context; and requires jurisdictions to state explicit goals, objectives, and policies related to affirmatively furthering fair housing. 

SB 91 – Expanded protections provided by AB 3088 (2020) and established a statewide rental relief program that pays up to 100% of arrears, prospective rent, and utilities for households experiencing COVID-19 financial hardships. The bill also extended a temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until June 2021. SB 91 prohibited landlords from charging or attempting to charge late fees and explicitly prohibits the sale or assignment of any unpaid COVID-19 rental debt. 

PRESS RELEASE: Co-Sponsors Respond to Signing of The California Momnibus Act (SB 65) into Law

For Immediate Release

SB 65 Secures California’s Position as a Leader in the Movement to Improve Pregnancy and Birthing Outcomes

SacramentoToday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB 65 (Skinner), The California Momnibus Act, marking a significant victory for maternal and infant health in California. The California Momnibus is an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close the existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state. 

The California Momnibus Act sponsors applaud Governor Newsom for taking this pivotal step towards ensuring that birthing people and their families are supported in their birthing experience. A report released earlier this month by the Maternal and Child Health Division of the California Department of Public Health revealed that the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women was four to six times greater than that of other racial and ethnic groups, indicating a widening disparity. Although California has reduced maternal mortality rates over the past 30 years, mortality and morbidity for Black and Indigenous/Native American pregnant people, women, and infants remain markedly higher than the state’s average.

Said Sen. Skinner, who is the principal author of SB 65 and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus: 

“Despite our medical advances, more U.S. babies and mothers die during birth than in all other high-income countries, and these preventable deaths are disproportionately higher for black families. This is unacceptable. I was so honored to Author SB 65, and to work with the Momnibus Coalition. Its passage will help close racial disparities in maternal and infant deaths and save lives.”

Said Nourbese Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness Action Project:

“California has led the charge when it comes to tackling maternal deaths and severe injury due to pregnancy in the country. But we know there is a long way to go, particularly when it comes to tackling the egregious death rates of Black mommas. With this signature, California takes a huge step in reimagining maternal care for our most vulnerable pregnant folk while setting the bar for the rest of the country. We can’t thank the Governor, Sen. Skinner, and her staff enough, as well as the broader legislature for investing in pregnant folks and babies.”

Said Amy Chen, Senior Attorney at the National Health Law Program:

“The California Momnibus tackles head-on some of the most pressing maternal and infant health disparities in our state, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color NHeLP is grateful to have been part of the statewide coalition that came together to push for its passage. We now stand ready to roll up our sleeves and work in partnership with the state agencies and community stakeholders to ensure smooth implementation of all parts of the bill,”

Said Jen Flory, Policy Advocate, Western Center on Law & Poverty:

“We are thankful to the Governor for recognizing the need for California to face its Black maternal health crisis head-on. It’s not enough to identify the deep inequalities that created this crisis. By passing the California Momnibus bill, our state is making a down payment on the investment needed to correct the disparities Black and Indigenous birthing people have faced for too long. We are also thankful to all of the organizations, individuals, and legislative members that have led in this space to reimagine what joyous birth should look like.” 

Said Shannon Olivieri Hovis, Director, NARAL Pro-Choice California:

“It has never been more critical for California to improve birth outcomes and close the state’s persistently high racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, especially for Black and Indigenous pregnant people. On behalf of NARAL Pro-Choice California and our 295,000 members, we are thrilled to see Governor Newsom prioritize birth equity today by signing SB 65 into law. Despite attacks on reproductive freedom across the country, California is continuing to lead the nation in maternal health and work toward a future where every body can access the care they need—no matter their income level, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or where they live or work.”

Said Holly Smith, CNM, MPH, FACNM, Health Policy Chair of the California Nurse-Midwives Association:

The pandemic affected families and birthing people in both predictable and unpredictable ways, and especially laid bare the health care inequities that exist for Black birthing people, indigenous people, and people of color. SB 65 directly addresses these issues in an innovative and multi-faceted way. On behalf of the members of the California Nurse-Midwives Association, we give credit to the selfless co-sponsors and coalition partners who put so much time and effort into this bill, to Senator Skinner and the co-authors who brought SB 65 to life and saw the value each section of the bill brings to improving maternal and infant outcomes, and to Governor Newsom and the First Partner for seeing the need and making this a reality (and a first in the nation!). We are eternally grateful.”

Said Stacey Brayboy, Sr. Vice President, Public Policy and Government Affairs for the March of Dimes: 

“The March of Dimes applauds the adoption of this critical legislation and the full breadth of maternal health reforms California has enacted this year. Sen. Skinner and her colleagues in the legislature have demonstrated vision and leadership by raising up the inequities endured by BIPOC mothers and infants and ensuring the state is taking bold steps to close the gap in outcomes. I want to further thank Governor Newsom for his support of these initiatives and his ongoing commitment to realizing the changes we need to ensure all mothers and babies have a healthy strong start.”

Said Felisa Vallejo, Solis Policy Institute Fellow with Women’s Foundation California:

“Today’s win is about reimagining birthing and pregnancy in California. This bill protects new Black and Indigenous life and honors the ability of all genders to give birth – an investment and recognition that’s necessary across the country. We thank the organizations, individuals, legislators, and Governor Newsom for giving life to birthing and pregnancy health for all Californians.” 

Earlier this summer, Gov. Newsom signaled California’s commitment to improving maternal health outcomes by incorporating critical components of the original parts of SB 65 into California’s final budget for 2021-2022. This means: doula services and extended postpartum coverage are included as Medi-Cal benefits; an increase in the CalWORKS supplement for pregnant people; and a guaranteed income pilot that prioritizes pregnant people will soon be a reality for a large swath of Californians. Although maternal health enjoyed significant wins through California’s budget this year, critical steps to achieve equity remain. The sponsors are thrilled that Gov. Newsom continues to see this commitment by signing groundbreaking legislation into law. 

Background on SB 65

Through meaningful and responsive interventions, SB 65 addresses the maternal mortality crisis in California and advances equity in birthing outcomes by:

  • Codifying and expanding California’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Committee to investigate maternal mortality and morbidity with a mandate to look specifically at racial and socioeconomic disparities; queer, trans, and gender non-conforming birthing outcomes, and make recommendations for best practices to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity;
  • Updating data collection and protocols for counties that participate in the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Process;
  • Clarifying that pregnant people are exempt from CalWORKS welfare-to-work requirements; and
  • Building the midwifery workforce by establishing a fund for midwife training programs that meet the priorities of admitting underrepresented groups and those from underserved communities, or prioritize training and placement of graduates in California’s maternity care deserts. 

SB 65 is sponsored by Black Women for Wellness Action Project, The California Nurse Midwives Association, March of Dimes, National Health Law Program, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Women’s Foundation of California Dr. Beatriz María Solís Policy Institute, and supported by over 70 health, rights, and justice organizations across California and the country.

Contact: cmckinney[at]wclp.org

###

EPIC News – September 2021


Accessing Health Care in a Disaster

September is National Preparedness Month, so Western Center’s health team created a resource to help Californians access health care during a disaster, and condensed it into a blog post. Survivors of disaster have a right to health care when, where, and how they need it – unfortunately, they might have to fight for it. We recommend reading the full resource for detailed information about special rights and remedies available to survivors seeking prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment, physician and specialist care, eligibility and coverage, health plan enrollment changes and more.


Awaiting the Governor’s Signature

The California Legislature is out of session – now we have until October 10th for the governor to sign our bills to make them law. We will provide a full roundup of our 2021 legislative efforts after things settle next month. In the meantime, here are a few priorities we are working hard to get the governor to sign:

  • AB 1020 – Health Care Debt and Fair Billing: Ensures Californians don’t need a lawyer to get financial assistance for hospital bills, and that more people are eligible for help with medical debt, which is the largest source of debt collection in the U.S. and disproportionately impacts people of color.
  • AB 1461 – Benefits for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and Asylum Applicants: To offer access to critical state and local services for non-citizen survivors of domestic violence and parental mistreatment, children who are abandoned or neglected, and people who fear persecution.
  • AB 1487 – Homelessness Prevention Fund: Helps California tenants access legal representation during eviction. Western Center policy advocate Tina Rosales wrote an op-ed explaining why AB 1487 is necessary, drawing on her experience working as a tenant attorney in Los Angeles.
  • SB 65 – California’s Momnibus Act: Implements interventions to address race-related pregnancy and birthing mortality disparities for parents and infants in California. Western Center policy advocate Jen Flory and coalition partner Nourbese Flint from Black Women for Wellness wrote an opinion in CalMatters outlining the need for SB 65.

Native American Day in California

September 24th was Native American Day in California, which is home to the country’s largest Native population, and second largest number of tribes. Native American Day honors those who first lived in what is now California, and this year Governor Newsom signed a series of bills aimed at advancing equity and providing support for Native communities across the state. As with all days, weeks, and months of acknowledgement, there is still much to be done not only to repair past and present injustices, but also to incorporate Native wisdom into plans for a more inclusive, sustainable future. The federal Native American Heritage Month is in November.


Latinx/ Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th – October 15th is Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, when we recognize the incredible contributions, talent, culture, spirit, and diversity of Latinx/ Hispanic communities in the United States and beyond. Diversity is one of the most dynamic parts about the Latinx/ Hispanic experience, which is reflected in ongoing conversations about how people choose to identify. This piece from NPR provides context for the development of the term “Hispanic” in the United States, the history of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the ongoing conversations around it. And this piece from Human Rights Campaign does an excellent job explaining the rise of “Latinx” as a term that is more inclusive of gender non-conforming people.

With Latinx/ Hispanic people making up almost 20 percent of the U.S. population and close to 40 percent of the population of California, there’s a lot to do to achieve equity and much-needed representation for Latinx/ Hispanic people and communities. In 2021, Senator Alex Padilla became the first Latino Senator from California, despite the state’s high Latinx population. Padilla may be the first, but he cannot be the last.


“Party” With Us! 

Invitations are out for our annual Garden Party fundraiser on Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will honor five outstanding individuals whose work compliments Western Center’s mission, and there will be a special A-list musical performance just for attendees! It’s virtual, so join from anywhere. Get details and tickets here.


California bill aims to reduce deaths for Black mothers

“If you really want to address the issue, it is going to take a serious investment and resources, whether that means providing every Black mother a doula or really investigating what’s happening when Black mothers die,” said Jen Flory, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supports the bill.”

Read More

 

 

OPINION: How to improve California’s deadly record of outcomes for Black births

Nourbese Flint, Executive Director at Black Women for Wellness Action Project, and Jen Flory, Policy Advocate at Western Center, penned an op-ed in CalMatters explaining the need for SB 65 to combat California’s rising mortality rate for Black people who give birth.

Read Here

 

 

 

California voters rejected ‘zero bail.’ Now lawmakers weigh new overhaul of system

“Even with the changes this week, the legislation is supported by groups including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Californians for Safety and Justice.

“We strongly support SB 262 because it moves us closer to a pre-trial system that prioritizes public safety and not the size of a person’s bank account,” the three groups said in a statement. “We continue to champion the bill with its changes because it takes California further from its habit of perpetuating cycles of debt and poverty via incarceration — particularly in over-policed Black and brown communities.”

Read More

 

 

EPIC News – August 2021


Back to Session

The California Legislature is back from summer recess, which means it’s down to the wire for getting bills passed. The last day for each house to pass bills is September 10th. Check here for the status of Western Center bills as they reach the end of this year’s session.


Fighting to End Wage Theft in California’s Garment Industry

Earlier this month, to kick of the Legislature’s return, our partners at Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles loaded a bus at midnight, after a long day of work, to come to Sacramento to advocate for SB 62, The Garment Worker Protection Act, which seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages. We are co-sponsoring the bill with the Garment Worker Center for the second year in a row because California is home to widespread workplace injustice. In fact, Los Angeles is understood to be the sweatshop capital of the United States.

Currently, many brands producing in California (some selling $78 t-shirts) pay garment workers as little at 11 cents per piece – leaving wages well below the state minimum. California can and should do better to ensure economic dignity for the thousands of workers in its substantial garment industry by passing SB 62.

Check out the video from our day in Sacramento with the Garment Worker Center.


Big Win in Los Angeles for COVID Tenant Protections

Last week, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Los Angeles’ COVID tenant protections, which were challenged by The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. Western Center and our partners at Public Counsel, The Public Interest Law Project, and Susman Godfrey LLP represent two tenants’ rights organizations, ACCE Action and Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), who successfully sought to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ordinances.

The recent Ninth Circuit decision is an important affirmation of the ongoing need for COVID protections to protect public health and keep people housed.

Western Center senior attorney Nisha Vyas explains more about the case here.


Women’s Equality Day & Women’s Equal Pay Day

August 26th was Women’s Equality Day, the day we remember the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted some women in the United States the right to vote. Of course, back in 1920 there were plenty of other systemic barriers to voting, especially for women of color. Too much of that struggle still exists today, which is why we must remember the fights that brought us the rights we have now, as well as the work that remains. To that end, we hope every California voter reading this will cast a ballot in the Gubernatorial Recall Election on or before September 14th.

Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is coming up on September 8th; according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, Native Women earn approximately 60 cents on the dollar of white, non-Hispanic men. September 8th is the day Native women must work into 2021 to make what white men made by the end of 2020. The Equal Pay Day movement includes days of acknowledgement throughout the year that represent the dates women must work into a new year to be paid what men were paid the previous year.


Garden Party: Mark Your Calendar! 

Western Center’s annual Garden Party fundraiser is Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will highlight our work from the year and honor the amazing contributions of five stellar individuals. And since it’s virtual, you can join from wherever you are!

Get details and tickets here.