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Category: Racial Justice

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Welfare: As US tightens work rules, California considers loosening them

Just as Republicans in Congress are moving to beef up work requirements for people who receive welfare, California lawmakers are moving to do the opposite.

Included in a recent state Assembly budget proposal, and in a bill the Assembly passed on Wednesday, is a plan to remake CalWORKs, the state’s federally funded cash welfare program that requires recipients to work or search for jobs using a list of approved activities.

Under the proposed state changes, recipients would gain greater flexibility to participate in activities such as going to school, domestic violence counseling, addiction treatment or mental health care. The proposal, estimated to cost $100 million, also would lessen financial penalties if recipients violate work rules.

That would make it likely that fewer recipients would get jobs and more likely California would miss a key federal work standard, for which it could be fined.

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After Years of Advocacy in Dallas and Around Texas, the CROWN Act Becomes Law

On March 22, WFAA reporter Tashara Parker stood before eight members of the Texas House of Legislature’s State Affairs committee in Austin, her hair swinging in a long braid behind her back. She had waited almost 11 hours to speak. At the podium, she asked the legislators to imagine “walking into work carrying the weight of an identity that was not your own.” That their natural hair—be it straight or textured, braided, in locks (also known as dreadlocks), or flat-ironed—was deemed “unprofessional.”

The subject of Parker’s testimony, House Bill 567, would make such discrimination illegal.

Standing for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, House Bill 567 would prevent discrimination against someone based on their hairstyle or hair texture “commonly or historically associated with race.” The bill overwhelmingly passed the State House of Representatives 143-5 April 13, and in the State Senate 29-1 nearly a month later on May 12. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law over the weekend. It goes into effect on September 1.

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Lawsuit alleging discrimination against Black students with disabilities ends in settlement

Black students with disabilities who attend public schools in Sacramento will receive more support to remain in class with their peers thanks to a settlement between a nonprofit and the school district.

After four years of litigation, the nonprofit, Black Parallel School Board (BPSB), and the Sacramento City Unified School District have come to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that alleged students of color, particularly Black students, experienced excessive and disparate exclusionary disciplinary measures such as suspension, expulsion, and involuntary and undocumented removal from classrooms.

“The settlement is a result of years of advocacy. Not just by the Black Parallel School Board, but by the broader community of Sacramento, advocates for disability rights and racial equity in education as well,” said Darryl White, senior chair of BPSB.

The BPSB is a community-based membership organization that developed in 2007 to serve Black children, primarily those attending public school in Sacramento. The nonprofit was assisted by the Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California, National Center for Youth Law and Western Center on Law and Poverty in coming to the settlement.

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Changes coming to Sacramento City Unified after discrimination lawsuit settlement

The Sacramento City Unified School District is required to make changes to ensure all students have access to an education.

The changes include reducing the disproportionate discipline rate of students with disabilities, especially Black children. It’s all part of a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit between the district, students and a Black-led organization.

Three students, along with a community organization named the Black Parallel School Board, filed the lawsuit against the district in Sept. 2019.

They accused the district of segregating students with disabilities — particularly Black students —from their peers without disabilities. They also claimed students with disabilities were placed in separate classrooms or schools, and that those students faced “excessive and exclusionary discipline” for behavior caused by their disabilities.

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Sacramento City Unified School District settles lawsuit over special education practices

The Sacramento City Unified School District has reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought on by the Black Parallel School Board and district families in 2019.

The BPSB is a nonprofit community-based organization that advocates for African American families within the school district.

The class action lawsuit claimed students with disabilities were excluded and segregated from classrooms, wrongfully suspended or disciplined, and were not receiving necessary resources within the special education program. It argued these issues impacted Black students with disabilities at a disproportionate rate.

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We Can End Food Insecurity: CalFresh Awareness Month

Over 3 million Californians use CalFresh, California’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). CalFresh offers individuals and families a food and nutrition safety net. Californians saw a boost in their allotments during the COVID-19 pandemic: however, those are coming to an end.   

Across L.A County community-based organizations are actively doing outreach to enroll community members in CalFresh. Community-based organizations meet people where they are, often have lived experience, and share the cultural and linguistic needs of community members.  

A community kick off event and resource fair was held Thursday, May 4th at Amelia Mayberry Park in Whittier, CA to highlight CalFresh Awareness Month and connect families with this vital program.  

Other community events will be held throughout the month of May in partnership with 88 cities in the county, university and community college campuses, school districts, farmers markets, churches and others.  

This model of building on community networks has served as a “best practice” outreach strategy that has been implemented by other counties across California. 

Partnerships like these are possible thanks to funding from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Los Angeles Department of Public Social Services and Department of Public Health administer grants to community-based organizations who can raise awareness around food access and assist community members in registering for CalFresh.  

A recent study by the Public Exchange at the USC Dornsife College found that over 800,000 households in LA county experienced food insecurity between July 2021 to July 2022, an increase of 24% from the previous year. The impact on Black and Latino residents was three times higher than white residents.  

The hunger cliff continues to loom over many Californians. Without Congressional and State action, many Californians will see a steep decrease in their allotments, leading to preventable hunger.  

While politics are at play in the national scene, in our state there are important legislative efforts to increase CalFresh benefits, which have not kept pace with inflation. SB 600 by Senator Caroline Menjivar, co-sponsored by advocates like GRACE/End Child Poverty CA and Nourish CA, would raise the CalFresh minimum benefit to $50 a month.  

Food insecurity will be felt by communities that already face unjust economic and health disparities. Seniors are one of the many groups affected and in March we covered the story of two seniors struggling with food insecurity during their retirement. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. California, as the 4th largest economy in the nation, has the means and resources to ensure no one goes hungry. Food insecurity, like many other disparities, is entirely preventable. The pandemic showed how resources that are justly allocated can save lives and end poverty; will our lawmakers step up to prevent our State’s growing food insecurity?  

LA, Riverside And Orange Counties Will Be Among The First In California To Implement Judge-Ordered Mental Health Care

On a recent afternoon Diana and Lorrin Burdick share pictures and swap stories with three other parents over a lunch of chicken curry sandwiches and fruit salad. They’re hosting an informal but semi-regular support group at their home in suburban Rancho Cordova east of Sacramento.

“Yeah, she loves having family dinners. Sunday is family dinner day now,” says Elizabeth Kaino Hopper as she and husband, Marvin, show a recent picture of their 37-year-old daughter, Christine.

This ordinary lunch with friends is also a vital one: Every parent here has an adult child with a severe mental illness; a son or daughter who’s also struggled with homelessness, substance abuse and arrests. The gatherings give them the chance to share stories, strategies and challenges of having a child with a serious and untreated mental disorder.

“That’s pretty much what he looks like now,” says Diana Burdick as she shows the others a phone shot of her son, Michael, 49, who has lived on the streets for a nearly a decade.

“Aww, see, anybody looking at him would say, he’s not right, he doesn’t feel good,” Elizabeth Hopper says, shaking her head in between lunch bites.

Eight California counties are going first in a planned statewide, controversial experiment to try to fix a seemingly intractable problem every parent around the table is grappling with: How to get treatment and support for loved ones with serious mental health challenges, mostly schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Some of these people end up cycling in and out of police holds, jails, emergency rooms and homeless shelters and encampments. The nationwide problem is particularly acute in California, which accounts for nearly one third of all people in the United States experiencing homelessness.

Some cities including Los Angeles estimate that 10% to 17% of individuals who are unsheltered have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. But the fact that so many go without a formal diagnosis, experts say the true percentage is likely far higher.

Learning to Fundraise From a Place of Empowerment and Unapologetic Awareness

When community-centric fundraising (CCF) first popped on my radar in 2020, it felt like a family reunion. Suddenly, I had kinfolk nationwide asking the same questions that repeatedly bounced around in my head. Questions such as is fundraising supposed to be this complicated? How can one ultra-wealthy donor be the hero of everyone else’s story? And when do I get to take this mask off?

As with any budding movement, the critiques around CCF’s principles were plentiful, and the feigned interest equally so. Many were quick to dismiss community-centric fundraising as something that simply would not work. But for those of us who resonated deeply with CCF’s commitment to reducing harm and advancing social justice, we welcomed the opportunity to approach our work in new and bold ways.

Among the CCF family I have found is the development team at the Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP). As a consultant for WCLP’s development team, I am grateful that the organization’s fundraisers are as bold as they come. Not because the team has everything figured out but because they do not shy away from hard conversations about wealth, power, reparations, and the like. The team’s commitment to community-centric fundraising does not manifest as a checklist but rather as permission to question the model of fundraising we inherited. Centering community is the foundation of how we treat each other and hold space to challenge a system we often want to dismantle (a system that we also recognize pays our bills).

This January, WCLP’s development team convened for an in-person retreat to lean into the CCF principles and chart our path for the year. We left the retreat with a new development team mission statement, clarity on our shared values, and the resolve to continually wrestle with what is uncomfortable. Our team, composed of four women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, is fertile ground to try things differently and to fundraise from a place of empowered and unapologetic awareness.

Because we know our work is far from done, we want to share our journey with others. We hope our transparency inspires and catalyzes, and we look forward to learning from our extended CCF family along the way.

 

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Authenticity is crucial for wellbeing, says WoCC’s 2023 Womxn of Distinction Crystal Crawford ’91 | NYU School of Law

On February 28, the Women of Color Collective (WoCC) recognized Crystal Crawford ’91, executive director of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, as WoCC’s 2023 Womxn of Distinction at the student organization’s annual alumnae reception.

The award is given each year to a woman, non-binary, or gender non-conforming graduate of color who has significantly contributed to the legal profession and whose work embodies the reception’s theme—this year, “Building Bridges: Fostering Wellbeing.” Crawford is the 16th alumna to receive the award.

Crystal Crawford '91
Crystal Crawford ’91

“My time at NYU was so special,” said Crawford, who was a Hays fellow and co-chair of Black Allied Law Students Association at NYU Law. She emphasized the importance of community and authenticity for wellbeing, noting that several members of her community—her friends from Law School—were in the audience that night. Crawford said that her classmates as well as NYU Law professors Paulette Caldwell, Derrick Bell, Bryan Stevenson, and Leon Higginbotham have provided encouragement and inspiration throughout her career. “Such a wealth of race and social justice leaders and activists on whose shoulders I stand in the work that I do every day,” she said.

Crawford worked as a litigation associate at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips before moving into public service and nonprofit work. Before joining the Western Center on Law & Poverty in 2020, Crawford served in a number of leadership positions at organizations seeking to improve the wellbeing of people of color, including as a program director at the California Wellness Foundation, as CEO of the California Black Women’s Health Project, and as legal director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights.

“Crystal’s tireless work exemplifies the grit and dedication required to pursue justice,” said WoCC co-chair Sruthi Rao ’24 in her remarks.

While fighting battles to improve the health and economic outcomes of people of color, Crawford said, being authentic has helped her maintain her own wellbeing. “You have got to have a definition of who you are—and that’s an evolving definition, right?—and stand by it,” she said.

At the California Black Women’s Health Project, Crawford helped create the Black Women’s Mental Health Initiative in 2000 to advocate for policy change to better support Black women. The first step, Crawford said, was hosting townhalls and panels to ascertain where women were struggling. Grantmakers doubted that women would be willing to speak openly about their mental health, she recalled, but she stayed firm in her belief in the significance of this work for her community. The town halls were packed, she recalled: “Hundreds and hundreds of people were coming to these town halls and other forums.”

In her closing remarks, Crawford noted that a guiding mantra for her has been the Kwanzaa principle of kujichagulia, or self-determination. “This notion of defining who we are and not letting other people define us, that’s how you foster your own wellbeing,” she said. “Making sure that you define for yourself what you’re going to do. Don’t let anybody discourage you from doing something that’s kind of out of the box.”

Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

March 6, 2023
Following is a list of bills to help secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for low-income Californians that will be sponsored or co-sponsored by Western Center on Law & Poverty during the 2023 legislative session.

Healthcare

AB 1085 (Maienschein): Medi-Cal: housing support services.
The bill would require the Department to seek federal approval to make housing support services a Medi-Cal benefit for Californians experiencing homelessness. Housing support services help people access housing, remain stably housed, and are essential for individuals experiencing homelessness to access meaningful care.
(Co-sponsored with Corporation for Supportive Housing)
Fact Sheet

AB 1094 (Wicks): Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act.
This bill will ensure that a pregnant or perinatal person provides informed consent prior to drug or alcohol tests or screens being conducted on them or their newborn.
(Co-Sponsored with Drug Policy Alliance, Black Women for Wellness, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers)

AB 1157 (Ortega and Wilson): Rehabilitative and habilitative services: durable medical equipment and services.
This bill would clarify that durable medical equipment is a covered essential health benefit in California-regulated health plans and policies when prescribed by a doctor for rehabilitative or habilitative purposes. The bill would also remove limitations such as annual caps on durable medical equipment coverage.
(Co-sponsored with National Health Law Program)
Fact Sheet

SB 595 (Roth): Minimizing gaps in health coverage.
This bill is follow-up legislation to ensure that last year’s SB 644, which required Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information about those who applied for income-replacing benefits with Covered California to allow Covered California to outreach and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California, is implemented timely.
(Co-sponsored with California Pan Ethnic Health Network and Health Access)
Fact sheet

Housing

AB 653 (Reyes): Department of Housing and Community Development.
This bill would create a program to pair housing navigation, incentives, and deposit resources with housing choice voucher tenants to find and secure a unit. The bill would also require housing authorities that have low successful placement rates to work with the Department of Housing and Community Development to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing CA, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of CA and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP))
Fact Sheet

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing credit.
This bill would limit rent increases in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-Sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

AB 920 (Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.
This bill would add housing status to the list of protected categories under California’s anti-discrimination statute in order to prevent the routine discrimination of unhoused people by public and private entities that receive state funding.
(Co-Sponsored with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Disability Rights California (DRC), Housing California, and Public Advocates)
Fact Sheet

AB 1082 (Kalra): Authority to remove vehicles.
This bill would prohibit towing or immobilizing a vehicle due to unpaid parking tickets, increase the number of unpaid tickets from one to eight before the DMV can place a registration hold, and improve the guidelines for parking ticket payment programs.
(Co-Sponsored with End Poverty in California (EPIC), FreeFrom, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR))
Fact Sheet

AB 1085 (Maienschein): Medi-Cal: housing support services.
The bill would require the Department to seek federal approval to make housing support services a Medi-Cal benefit for Californians experiencing homelessness. Housing support services help people access housing, remain stably housed, and are essential for individuals experiencing homelessness to access meaningful care.
(Co-sponsored with Corporation for Supportive Housing)
Fact Sheet

AB 1418 (McKinnor): Limiting Racially Motivated Crime-Free Housing Programs and Nuisance Ordinances.
This bill would limit local crime-free/nuisance ordinances (CFNH) housing programs and nuisance ordinances, which typically include harmful provisions such as requiring landlords to evict tenants for alleged criminal activity. Often touted as crime-fighting tools, these policies represent a new phase in the evolution of segregationist housing laws designed to exclude people of color from communities.
(Co-Sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Disability Rights California, National Housing Law Project, and Root & Rebound)
Fact Sheet
Register support here

ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right.
ACA 10 will recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Should the measure pass in the legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote to add this right to the state’s constitution, creating an obligation on the part of state and local governments to take meaningful action to fully realize the right.
(Co-sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Housing Now, ACLU California Action, Abundant Housing LA, National Homelessness Law Center, and PowerCA Action)
Fact Sheet
Register support here

SB 460 (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing.
The bill would establish the first statewide Fair Chance Housing Ordinance (FCH), which would provide a pathway for individuals with criminal records reentering society to access, obtain, and sustain housing. This bill would prevent rental housing providers from screening for criminal history of housing applicants during the advertisement, application, selection, or eviction process, unless required by federal law.
(Co-Sponsored with All of Us or None, Just Cities, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Root & Rebound)
SB 460 Fact Sheet
Register Support here

SB 567 (Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act.
This bill would close the gaps in existing law that leaves millions of California renters at risk of exorbitant rent increases and allows housing providers to abuse “no-fault” just cause eviction protections.
(Co-Sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, and Public Advocates)
SB 567 Fact Sheet
Register Support here

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 94 (Davies): Administration of public social services: blocked telephone calls.
This bill would prohibit county departments of social services to call recipients from a blocked phone number.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: eligibility: income exclusions.
This bill would exempt any grant, scholarship, loan, or fellowship as income for CalWORKs.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 310 (Arambula): CalWORKs.
This spot bill would provide various reforms to the CalWORKs program.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, GRACE/End Child Poverty California, John Burton Advocates for Youth, and Parent Voices)

AB 325 (Reyes): Human services: noncitizen victims.
This bill would provide social services to immigrants who have applied for humanitarian relief including applicants who have applied for Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and survivors of domestic abuse who have applied for relief through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 380 (Arambula): California Labor Trafficking Prevention Act.
This bill would establish a Labor Trafficking unit within the Department of Industrial Relations the Division of Labor Standards.
(Co-Sponsored with Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Loyola Law School)

AB 843 (J. Carrillo): Restoration of electronically stolen CalFresh benefits.
This bill would place into law that recipients of the CalFresh program who have been victims of electronic theft are able to have their benefits restored. Today electronic theft of public benefit programs has become rampant and lucrative for thefts as these programs lack adequate protections from these forms of theft.
(Co-Sponsor with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 964 (Ortega): Prevention of human trafficking through state contracts.
This bill would enhance prevention of human trafficking through state contracts by requiring awardees of state contracts to submit a human trafficking prevention plan.
(Co-Sponsor with the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Loyola Law School)

AB 991 (Alvarez): Modernizing public benefit communication.
This bill would allow recipients of public benefit programs to provide information that has been requested by county departments of social services via email.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

AB 1094 (Wicks): Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act.
This bill would ensure that a pregnant or perinatal person provides informed consent prior to drug or alcohol tests or screens being conducted on them or their newborn.
(Co-Sponsored with Drug Policy Alliance, Black Women for Wellness, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers)

AB 1266 (Kalra): End Debtor’s Prison Act.
This bill will remove the possibility of bench warrants being issued for infractions. Today courts are able to issue bench warrants if someone fails to appear in court or doesn’t pay a fine.
(Co-Sponsoring with the Debt Free Justice Coalition, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area)

SB 36 (Skinner): Safe Haven for Abortion & Gender-Affirming Care Act.
This bill would strengthen our safe haven protections by making it illegal for bail agents or bounty hunters to apprehend people in California who have left another state to avoid criminal prosecution or imprisonment related to that state’s criminalization of abortion or gender-affirming care. The bill would also ensure that benefits such as CalFresh and CalWORKs would not be denied to individuals who left another state and traveled to California for purposes described above but would otherwise be eligible for such benefits.
(Co-Sponsored with Black Women for Wellness, Equality California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

SB 491 (Durazo): Access to Mail for Unhoused Californians.
This bill would create an option for unhoused Californians to pick up government related mail from a county department of social services such as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, election ballots, public housing waiting list notifications, student report cards, and much more.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

SB 727 (Limón): Forgiveness of coerce debt for survivors of human trafficking.
This bill would provide a pathway for survivors of human trafficking to have coerced debt forgiven that accrued during the time they were trafficked.
(Co-Sponsored with Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice)

Contact our Sacramento Advocates: For more information about Western Center on Law & Poverty and our advocacy priorities, go to www.wclp.org.

Health
Linda Nguy
[email protected]
916-282-5117

Sandra O. Poole
[email protected]
916-282-5141

Housing
Cynthia Castillo
[email protected]
916-282-5103

Tina Rosales
[email protected]
916-282-5118

Public Benefits and Access to Justice
Christopher Sanchez
[email protected]
916-282-5104