A Summer of Advocacy: Protecting Tenants & Securing Budget Wins
New Blog Post: Voices From the Holiday Strike Line
In our ongoing work to address unjust fines and fees, today we announce a court granted preliminary approval of a settlement that returns over half a million dollars to low-income, system-impacted families in Riverside County. Western Center and co-counsel brought Freeman v. County of Riverside to suit in 2020 to seek reimbursement for families from whom the County illegally collected millions of dollars in daily “costs of support” for each day a youth spent in a juvenile institution. In 2018, we successfully sponsored California (SB 190), which prohibits counties from continuing to assess parents for the costs related to their children’s detention in juvenile facilities – but SB 190 did not address debt collection for previously imposed fees and Riverside County continued to collect them. Our lawsuit challenged this ongoing collection, claiming that the County disregarded its statutory and constitutional duties to assess a family’s ability to pay and secure necessary court orders before charging them. With this victory, Riverside County families who were subjected for many years to illegal collection of juvenile fees move a step closer toward justice — in the form of cash reimbursements.
Western Center Joins Disability Rights California in Fight Against CARE Court Implementation
Last week, we joined Disability Rights California and the Public Interest Law Project to file Disability Rights California v. Newsom in the California Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the statute creating CARE Courts. The statute singles out unhoused people diagnosed with schizophrenia, and subjects them to court orders imposing involuntary treatment. While the legislation was billed as a solution for homelessness, it does not appropriate any money to build or preserve affordable housing or for increased mental health services. Instead, it threatens to take away the liberty of unhoused people based on a judge’s speculation that they are “likely” to become a danger to themselves or others. The petition argues that this violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the California Constitution. We are honored to support DRC, the sole petitioner and lead counsel, with Western Center alums and primary attorneys for DRC, Melinda Bird and Lynn Martinez.
California Says Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Likely Run Out of Funds With Over 140,000 Applicants Still in Limbo
In our ongoing case against California’s Housing and Community Development for failure to meet due process standards in informing applicants why their application for emergency rental assistance was denied, a lawyer for the State of California argued that the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program would need to spend its remaining $177 million on administrative costs if forced to comply with the court’s order to provide basic constitutional due process, leaving no money for tenants. The state claims it will pay its private contractor most – if not all – of its remaining funds just to fix its flawed application process and provide basic information to tenants it believes are ineligible for assistance – information that should have been provided at the time of denial, so applicants have an opportunity to appeal. It’s extremely frustrating that the state has been fighting so hard to avoid giving tenants this basic information that should have been provided from the start. We are alarmed by the state’s threat to use the program’s remaining funds to pay an out-of-state contractor $177 million just to tell tenants the reason they are being denied. This threat raises very serious concerns about how the Department of Housing and Community Development has managed this funding,” – Madeline Howard, senior attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Western Center’s Analysis of the 2023-2024 CA State Budget
On January 10th, Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2023-24 California state budget. To address a projected budget deficit of $22.5 billion in 2023-24, the Governor proposes to delay funding for new programs, and in some cases ties new program implementation to future year revenue. The Governor’s proposal avoids major cuts, retains significant budget reserves, and maintains investments from previous budgets, including Medi-Cal expansion to all income-eligible adults regardless of immigration status effective January 2024, grant adjustments for CalWORKs and SSI/SSP, and many housing and homelessness investments. While not austere, the Governor’s budget is conservative in its ambition to meet the needs of low-income Californians.
Western Center Welcomes New Staff: Xochi Flores and Sandra Poole
As Western Center continues to expand in 2023 to have greater reach and impact, we are thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to our team: Xochi Flores as Associate Director of Foundation Relations and Sandra Poole, as Health Policy Advocate. You can read more about their decades of transformational work in resource development, health justice, public benefits, and arts activism and check out our current open positions at the link below.