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Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-2023 California Budget Proposal

Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2022-23 California state budget. In total, the administration projects a $45 billion surplus — a combination of higher revenue collections for the past two budgets and higher than anticipated revenue for the 2022-23 budget. As the governor noted in his press conference, if current economic trends continue, the surplus could grow even more by the time the proposed budget is revised in May. The budget includes a record $36 billion reserve.

SUMMARY

The governor’s proposed budget includes a historic investment in health care by expanding Medi-Cal eligibility for those currently excluded from the program due to immigration status, and by eliminating Medi-Cal premiums for children, pregnant people, and people with disabilities. It does not eliminate the burdensome “share of cost” that many people on Medi-Cal still pay as a monthly deductible.

The budget also includes expanded funding to house people experiencing homelessness, a large investment in health care related workforce development, and an expansion of proposals intended to reduce poverty such as increasing CalWORKs grants, passing on all child support to families formerly on public assistance, and expanding the state child tax credit to households with no reported income. The budget also proposes to fund 36,000 new childcare slots for working families, but this means approximately 150,000 families will remain on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, this proposal misses an opportunity to build on significant progress made through existing poverty-reduction initiatives. Despite the expiration of the very effective federal child tax credit increase, the governor’s proposed budget does not backfill that lost income for California families. It also fails to fund more stimulus payments for Californians with low incomes. Additionally, it does not provide a cost-of-living increase for the SSI/SSP grant as required by state law, and it does not accelerate the SSI/SSP grant restoration scheduled for January 2024.

The need for rental and utility assistance in California has greatly outpaced federal funds allocated to the state. While California was recently allocated an additional $62 million in federal funds to address the growing need, the state needs about $2 billion. The governor missed an opportunity to supplement the federal dollars with surplus from the General Fund. However, California will continue to advocate for additional funding from the federal government.

Despite the large surplus and number of proposed initiatives, the governor’s proposal uses just $20 billion for the needs of Californians. More than half of the surplus is being used to fund reserves and to pay off long term debt. Of the $20 billion being spent, the governor proposes to use 86 percent for one-time expenditures. The reluctance to invest in ongoing needs means proposals that could make a major impact, like funding a broadly available rental assistance program, are not part of the discussion. The legislature should review the governor’s budget with an eye toward meeting more of the short- and long-term needs of all Californians.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s proposal expands Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status. This would make California the first state in the nation to cover all adults, and together with the recent increase in the income level for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as the scheduled elimination of the Medi-Cal assets test by January 1, 2024, all adults under 138 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for free, full-scope Medi-Cal. The governor’s proposal also eliminates premiums for children, pregnant people, and the Working Disabled Program, and expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, there are affordability, provider payment, and workforce investments.

Medi-Cal

  • Health4All: The governor’s proposal expands full-scope Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 700,000+ undocumented adults ages 26 through 49, effective no sooner than January 1, 2024, with estimated costs of $819 million total funds ($614 million General Fund) in FY 2023-24 and $2.3 billion total funds ($1.8 billion General Fund) at full implementation.
  • Zero out premiums: The proposed budget includes $53 million total funds ($19 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $89 million total funds ($31 million General Fund) ongoing and trailer bill language to reduce premiums to zero for Medi-Cal and other Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs. This includes Medi-Cal premiums for children above 160 percent of the poverty level, the 250 percent Working Disabled Program premiums, as well as the premiums for pregnant women and infants under the Medi-Cal Access Program (MCAP) and County Children’s Health Insurance Programs (C-CHIP).
  • Justice-related initiatives: The proposal includes $50 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 to implement the CalAIM justice-related initiatives with implementation beginning January 2023. This includes pre-release applications, pre-release “in-reach” services, and coordinated re-entry. There will also be trailer bill language to extend the duration of suspension of Medi-Cal benefits when an individual is incarcerated to increase the likelihood that coverage is maintained.
  • Dental Lab Processed Crown (AKA Custom Crown) Coverage: The budget includes $37 million total funds ($13 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and trailer bill language to update adult coverage requirements to include lab processed crowns for posterior teeth, in place of stainless-steel crowns. Also related to dental, the administration proposes to extend dental managed care contracts and procure new contracts no sooner than January 1, 2024.
  • The governor’s proposal includes the following provider payment investments:
    • Proposition 56 Supplemental Provider Payment Backfill: To address declining tobacco revenue, the proposal includes an increase of $29 million from the General Fund to fully fund remaining Proposition 56 payments at their current level in FY 2022-23.
    • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventive, maternity, and behavioral health care measures and address gaps in care arising out of the pandemic, the proposal includes $400 million total funds ($200 million General Fund) in one-time funds, aligning with the goals of the Medi-Cal Comprehensive Quality and Equity Strategy.
    • Elimination of Certain AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions: The budget includes $20 million total funds ($9 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $24 million total funds ($11 million General Fund) ongoing to eliminate AB 97 payment reductions for nurses, alternative birthing centers, audiologists/hearing aid dispensers, respiratory care providers, durable medical equipment, oxygen and respiratory services, chronic dialysis clinics, non-emergency medical transportation, and emergency air medical transportation.
  • Discontinue Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP) and Expand Children’s Presumptive Eligibility (PE): The Department is proposing to sunset CHDP by July 1, 2023 via trailer bill language and replace with the Children’s Presumptive Eligibility Program, which will include all Medi-Cal providers.
  • Mobile Crisis Services: The proposal includes $108 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) and trailer bill language to add qualifying 24/7 community-based mobile crisis intervention services as a Medi-Cal benefit as soon as January 1, 2023. The benefit will be implemented through county behavioral health delivery systems by multidisciplinary mobile crisis teams in the community.

Other Health Proposals 

  • Office of Health Care Affordability: The proposal reappropriates funding for the Office that was originally included in the 2021 Budget Act (originally $11.2 million in 2020-21 and $24.5 million in 2022-23) and proposes statutory changes for its establishment. The Office is charged with increasing cost and quality transparency, developing cost targets for the health care industry, enforcing compliance, and filing gaps in market oversight.
  • Covered California: The proposal continues to deposit into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs the $333.4 million General Fund that would have been used for Covered California state premium subsidies (not currently needed due to American Rescue Plan Funds).  The administration intends to work with the Legislature to determine the best use of these funds based on the recent AB 133 affordability report produced by Covered California, after determining what ongoing federal support will be available. In addition, the proposal continues to include $20 million General Fund in 2022-23 to support the One-Dollar Premium Subsidy program, which zeros the cost of Covered California consumers for health plans due to federal policy concerning abortion coverage.
  • Behavioral Health Bridge Housing: The proposed budget includes $1.5 billion General Fund ($1 billion in FY 2022-23 and $500 million in FY 2023-24) for behavioral health bridge housing to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness with serious behavioral health conditions by purchasing and installing tiny homes and providing time-limited operational supports in various bridge housing settings.
  • Workforce Development: The proposal includes $1.7 billion in Care Economy Workforce investments, including $350 million General Fund to recruit and train 25,000 new community health workers as well as additional health care providers.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

In total, the governor’s 2022-2023 budget dedicates $9 billion for housing and $8 billion for homelessness. Largely building on last year’s efforts, this budget proposal attempts to chip away at the housing and homelessness crisis by streamlining production, increasing housing accountability, and funding homelessness solutions through a climate focused lens.

This “Housing as a Climate Strategy’’ focuses on preservation and production of affordable housing near schools, jobs, transit, density, and community hubs to fight climate change. Despite the well-placed investments in climate resilient housing, the budget falls short in supporting struggling Californians from eviction with the notable lack of state funding for eviction protection. The budget also proposes to battle the state homelessness crisis with an eye toward housing and behavioral health. While on the surface this plan addresses the long-standing need for better mental health for the unhoused community, it plays on the trope that all people experiencing homelessness have mental health conditions, rather than recognizing the very tangible fact that most Californians simply cannot afford the high cost of living, which has steepened since the start of the pandemic.

The governor is also increasing funding for “beautification” and “hazardous material removal” in encampments, which translates to increased sweeps, harassment, and further ostracization of people experiencing homelessness. With another budget surplus, we hope the budget’s May revision will use the additional funding to preserve and increase affordable housing, prevent needless evictions with increased funding for California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and provide tangle solutions to get people off the streets and into safe, stable, affordable, and permanent housing.

Affordable Housing and Climate 

  • $300 million one-time General Fund for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program to support land-use, housing, transportation, and land preservation projects for infill and compact development that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund to expand affordable housing development and adaptive reuse opportunities on state excess land sites.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund for adaptive reuse incentive grants to remove cost impediments to adaptive reuse (e.g., structural improvements, plumbing/electrical design, exiting) and help accelerate residential conversions, with a priority on projects located in downtown-oriented areas.
  • $500 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
    • $4.6 million in farmworker Housing Assistance Tax Credits.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) to provide loans to developers for mixed-income rental housing, specifically for households with incomes between 30 percent and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program to further preserve targeted units in downtown-oriented areas and continue increasing the state’s affordable housing stock.

Mobile Home Rehab

  • $100 million one-time General Fund for HCD’s Mobile Home Park Rehabilitation and Resident Ownership Program. These funds will finance the preservation and development of affordable mobile home parks.

Infill Housing

  • Infill Infrastructure Grant Program—$500 million one-time General Fund ($225 million in 2022-23, and $275 million in 2023-24).

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

  • California requested an additional $1.9 billion in federal funding to address the growing need for rental assistance and utility assistance for Californians. California was allocated an additional $62 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury. While grateful that California was allocated 30 percent of the total federal reallocation, this amount is woefully short of the need.  Currently, California needs almost $2 billion more than what we were originally allocated, and the need is growing. California will continue to advocate with the federal government to obtain additional rental and utility assistance.

Formerly Incarcerated Housing

  • $10.6 million one-time General Fund over three years to the Returning Home Well program that will provide transitional housing to parolees at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness.

Legal Services for Renters

  • $40 million investment in legal assistance for renters and homeowners.

Homelessness

  • $2 billion one-time General Fund, multi-year grant to cities, large counties and Continuums of Care working with the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal-ICH). Cal-ICH will work with grantees on their homelessness accountability plans.
  • $500 million one-time general fund dollars in housing encampment resolution efforts that will expand program jurisdictions investment in short- and long-term rehousing strategies for people experiencing homelessness.
  • $25 million in Clean California and $20.6 million for hazardous material removal at encampments.
  • $1 million investment in homeless youth programs.
  • $1.5 billion in General Funds over two years dedicated to resources to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing homelessness who have behavioral health conditions. This funding will be administered through DHCS’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure program to purchase tiny homes and facilitate bridge/transitional housing. Such funding can also be used for bridge housing including an expansion of Project Homekey Acquisition.
  • $5 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs Grants

The governor is proposing a 7.1 percent grant increase to CalWORKs grants starting October 1, 2022. The funding for the increase comes from Child Poverty Subaccount, a stream of revenue dedicated to CalWORKs grant increases. As a result of the 7.1 percent increase, maximum CalWORKs grants will equal 54 percent of the federal poverty level. For families not subject to sanctions, timed off aid or with an ineligible adult, the grant levels exceed the deep poverty level, which means a reduction in the well-documented, long-term negative impacts of deep poverty on children. Despite the increase in the grant level, the administration’s budget does not fulfill the commitment to increase CalWORKs grants so that no child is living in deep poverty. The so-called AU+1 approach requires significantly more investment than this budget provides. Below is a chart which shows current grant amounts, grant amounts with the 7.1 percent increase, the percent of the federal poverty level, what the grant would need to be to ensure an end to deep poverty, and lastly, the gap between the current grant and an end to deep poverty.

Workforce Development

The administration is proposing two major investments in workforce development. One is a $1.5 billion Proposition 98 General Fund effort to support the development of college and career pathways focused on education, health care, technology, and climate-related fields. Promoting pathways that allow students to move seamlessly from high school to college and career will improve the number of students who pursue and achieve post-secondary education and training.

The governor is also proposing to invest $1.7 billion over three years in care economy workforce development—across both the Labor Agency and California Health and Human Services Agency—that will create more innovative and accessible opportunities to recruit, train, and hire, and will advance an ethnically and culturally inclusive health and human services workforce, with improved diversity and higher wages. These programs will target students such as those in CalWORKs welfare to work.

Safety Net Reserve

The budget provides no increase in the safety net reserve, maintaining a $900 million level. While this amount represents an important safeguard against Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program reductions in lean budget years, the continuing growth in spending in both programs might require additional funds to preserve the effectiveness of the reserve.

Child Support Pass Through

The governor is proposing a major change to child support rules by allowing all child support paid by non-custodial parents to go to families formerly receiving CalWORKs or Medi-Cal. For decades it has been state policy for the state to retain any child support for the state to pay off the cost of providing welfare and medical benefits. In short, the state has reimbursed itself and made the families live with less income. When fully implemented, these families are estimated to receive an additional $187 million. While the idea of passing through all child support is certainly welcome, it is notable that the administration is proposing to do this only for families no longer receiving government assistance. The governor chose not to allow a 100 percent pass through to families currently on aid. The legislature may wish to consider expanding this proposal to pass through all child support to all families.

SSI/SSP Grants

The administration did not propose an increase in the SSI/SSP grants for 2022-23 budget, citing last year’s agreement to a two-step increase in SSP funding to restore grant cuts made by the state in the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The first of these grant increases went into effect on January 1, 2022, and in conjunction with a federal cost of living increase for the SSI portion of the grant, SSI/SSP grant levels went from $954 a month up to $1,040 a month for a single individual. The second step of grant increases is set to go into effect in January 2024.

In 2018, the legislature and then Governor Brown agreed to provide a state cost of living adjustment on the SSP portion of the grant beginning in January 2023. While that agreement is subject to funding in the budget, the administration chose not to include it in the January budget. As it currently stands, SSI recipients would not see any increased state funding for two years. The legislature may wish to consider whether to accelerate the second SSP increase to 2023 or to provide a cost-of-living adjustment.

Home Visiting

The administration proposes to increase funding for Home Visiting by $50 million ongoing for the Department of Public Health (CDPH) to expand the California Home Visiting Program and the California Black Infant Health Program, serving approximately 6,000 additional families over five years on top of 3,700 currently served by the Home Visiting Program and 1,650 served by the Black Infant Health Program. The administration does not propose increased funding for the CalWORKs Home Visiting program, which was cut in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. The budget proposes greater flexibility for home visiting models offered to meet the diverse needs of families across the state, expands home visiting services to additional counties, and makes them accessible to families with the highest need. Additionally, this proposal will support early literacy by including books and early literacy programming provided by home visitors, and will be further supported by a $350 million General Fund investment to recruit, train, and certify new community health workers.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The administration is proposing to allow families with zero reported income to be eligible for the $1,000 state child tax credit so long as the family would otherwise be eligible. The concept of a zero-earnings tax credit potentially opens the door for allowing people receiving SSI, SSDI, and Social Security to get the same state assistance that families receive from the state EITC and Child Tax Credit.

Civil Assessments

The administration is proposing to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income Californians by reducing civil assessments from a maximum of $300 to a cap of $150. Civil assessments are imposed on people in criminal and traffic courts when they fail to appear for a hearing, or they fail to pay a fine in a timely fashion. Legal service advocates tell us that many clients receive multiple civil assessments that increase the amount they owe and make it even harder to pay court ordered fines and fees. While this proposal goes part way in meeting the goals of legislators and advocates, as proposed, civil assessments would still impact Californians with the lowest incomes most, and leaves open the question of whether retroactive civil assessment debts would continue to be subject to collection.

California Food Assistance Program

The administration proposes phasing in the expansion the California Food Assistance Program to all Californians ages 55 and older, regardless of immigration status. This year’s budget proposal includes $35.2 million for initial planning phases of the expansion and allocates $113.4 million annually starting in the 2025-26 budget year for the full expansion.

Golden State Stimulus/Grants

The administration chose not to provide another round of pandemic stimulus payments. These payments, which went out to low- and moderate-income households, were instrumental in allowing families and individuals to absorb some of the costs of the pandemic and to give breathing room in household budgets. The grants were also a method for the state to reduce state expenditures below the Gann Limit, which caps the amount the state budget can increase from year to year. The governor noted in his press conference that the door is not closed on this and it may be under consideration for the May Revise.

For questions, contact:

  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy – mherald[at]wclp.org
  • Food Access: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org
  • Health Care: Jen Flory, Policy Advocate – jflory[at]wclp.org; Linda Nguy, Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org
  • Housing: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

Banning Hair Discrimination Emerges as Racial Justice Issue

“The campaign to pass the CROWN Act in every state and Congress began in 2019, when Dove, which makes shampoo and other personal care products, and advocacy groups the National Urban League, Color of Change and the Western Center on Law and Poverty co-founded a coalition to press for the hair anti-discrimination law. The law clarifies that Black people should be allowed to wear their hair as it grows naturally and not be forced to use chemicals to relax or straighten it.”

Read More

EPIC News – November 2021

We’re headed into the last month of the year, which means this is the last EPIC Newsletter of 2021!
Keep your eyes peeled in December for our end-of-year message to round out 2021 and welcome 2022.


Latinx Families File Lawsuit Against Harbor Regional Center 

Western Center and Disability Rights California filed a lawsuit on behalf of a parent group in Torrance, CA to stop discrimination against Latinx families at Harbor Regional Center. The regional center is supposed to provide services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The parent group, Padres Buscando el Cambio, is comprised of families whose needs have been ignored, and who’ve faced explicitly discriminatory comments from Harbor Regional Center staff.

As a recipient of state funds, Harbor Regional Center’s actions are not only unfair, they are also illegal. Our lawsuit seeks to compel the regional center and state to deliver services that meet the needs of everyone the center serves.


L.A. County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Food Assistance

Western Center, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and The Public Interest Law Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh (aka food stamp) recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food, despite a state mandate requiring such benefits be distributed in three days.

The lawsuit demands that the county comply with its legal obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits for those most in need.


Giving Season is Here!   

Tomorrow, November 30th, is Giving Tuesday – a global movement to amplify the power of radical generosity. There are so many ways to participate in Giving Tuesday, from random acts of kindness, to telling a friend how much you appreciate them, to making a donation to Western Center – the goal is a day filled with giving and generosity. How do you plan to participate?

If you were unable to join us for this year’s virtual Garden Party event, or just want to re-watch the festivities, you can find the recording of the program here. It’s also not too late to make a donation to support the event! Click here to make a donation.


Native American Heritage Month  

November is Native American Heritage Month, which according to the National Congress of American Indians “is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum paid tribute to the traditions and ancestry of Native Americans with a collection of events and resources throughout November. PBS also offers a collection of film, documentaries, and programs to inform and celebrate the history, influence, and contributions of Native Americans.


PRESS RELEASE: Latinx Parents Sue to Stop Discrimination by Harbor Regional Center when serving People with Developmental Disabilities

For Immediate Release

Latinx families already get fewer services than white families and are hit harder by closure of schools and day programs during the COVID pandemic.  

TORRANCE, CA—A group of Latinx families known as Padres Buscando el Cambio filed litigation to fight for more services for intellectually and developmentally disabled children and young adults who rely on Harbor Regional Center. The regional center, which has offices in Torrance and Long Beach, is supposed to provide respite services, one-to-one aides, in-home supports, day programs and other services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy. The parent group is made up of families whose children’s needs have been long ignored.

During the pandemic, when schools and day programs closed, these children and their families were left with little to no help during the day. Members of Padres Buscando el Cambio say that they were overwhelmed and in need of more help from Harbor Regional Center before the pandemic. During the pandemic, Latinx families’ lack of equal access to regional center services became unbearable.

In addition to challenging the actions of Harbor Regional Center, the lawsuit also names the California Department of Developmental Services, which is responsible for ensuring its regional centers comply with the law.

Mayra Jimenez, the leader of Padres Buscando el Cambio, says: “Harbor [Regional Center] and the state do not seem to recognize how much our children are suffering, especially during the pandemic. For example, young people with autism are upset that they cannot go to school and need support coping with the changes. Families need help but instead the regional center insists on proof that the school denied us first. That takes time, and we need help now. They need to take an individual look at each child’s needs and approve services to make up for not only what was lost, but also the new challenges we face because of the pandemic. Also, Harbor makes us jump through so many hoops and procedures to get even a little help and overstressed families cannot cope.”

The inadequate COVID services for Latinx families also make existing service inequities worse. Harbor Regional Center spends only 37 cents on Latinx individuals for every dollar it spends on white individuals. As a recipient of state funds, Harbor Regional Center’s actions are not only unfair, they are also illegal, according to the group.

“There is no justification for the way Latinx families at Harbor Regional Center are treated,” said David Kane, an attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Regional Centers like Harbor are mandated by the state to provide the kind of care these families are asking for. It’s bad enough they must fight to receive services — the racial discrimination takes the urgency of the situation to another level. This needs to be addressed ASAP.”

Latinx parents seeking help for their children from Harbor Regional Center also faced explicitly discriminatory comments from regional center staff. For example, when requesting more services or service hours for their children, service coordinators sometimes chastised parents with comments including, “It was your decision to have so many kids,” and “It is a parent’s responsibility to care for her own child.”

Citing unanswered requests issued months ago, the parent group first demanded that Harbor Regional Center – and then the California Department of Developmental Services – take urgent, corrective action to avoid a lawsuit. When these demands were not addressed, the group was forced to file its lawsuit.

Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi, Senior Attorney with Disability Rights California, agrees. “There is no denying that disabled people and their families are hurting, and that Harbor Regional Center and the Department of Developmental Services have a legal obligation to meet their individualized needs throughout this pandemic and beyond. We remain hopeful that the regional center and the state will recognize this suffering and work with us to develop a comprehensive approach to service delivery that meets the needs of the Latinx community.”

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org 

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Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. View a full copy of the complaint: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/cases/pbc-v-hrc.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and 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

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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.