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Up-to-date COVID-19 information

OVERVIEW

  • June emergency allotments for CalFresh food benefits will be issued on July 17th for CalSAWS and July 24th for CalWIN. May allotments were issued on June 12th for CalSAWS and June 19th for CalWIN.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are free. Click here for more information.
  • Rapid COVID tests are also free, and can be shipped to you. Click here to order
  • Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians.
  • California’s eviction moratorium has ended, but you should still apply for rent relief if you need it! If you receive an eviction notice, do not ignore it. Seek local legal help right away.
  • California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief program can be accessed here, or call 833-430-2122.
  • Federal Child Tax Credit payments are not considered income for any family, and will not change receipt of public benefits.

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Food and Financial Security

  • Federal Child Tax Credit payments are not considered income for any family, and will not change receipt of public benefits, including unemployment insurance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, SSDI, TANF, WIC, Section 8, or Public Housing. Find out more about California’s Golden State Stimulus payments — if you qualify, and how to get it. También en español.
  • Restaurant delivery service is available for older Californians. Information and sign-up details for interested participants and restaurants are available here.
  • California households receiving SNAP food stamp benefits (CalFresh) can now purchase groceries online through a USDA pilot program.
  • Here is a Distance Learning Student Resource Guide from the California Department of Social Services. The guide includes information on free or low-cost internet, English language learning, adult education and workforce skills, video conferencing resources, and more.

Health Care

  • Keep your Medi-Cal contact information current. Make sure your county has your current address, phone number, and email address – especially if you moved since 2020. Later this year, counties will start contacting people to help them renew their Medi-Cal. If they cannot contact you, your Medi-Cal may end so you want to make sure they have your current information. Find your local county at this link.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are free. Click here for more information. All health plans must cover vaccine administration for free, and Medi-Cal covers vaccine administration for free.
  • Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is covered at no cost for all Californians. You will need to go to a state testing site, one run by your county, or get a test at a medical provider that can enroll you in a special Medi-Cal program for people without insurance. You can contact your county public health departmentlocal clinic, and medical provider to receive information about your options for free testing.
  • There is a conflict between the California regulation governing health plans for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and federal testing requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act. This conflict in current law might result in a health plan billing you for testing. If this happens and you want assistance with reviewing the bill, please contact Helen Tran at htran[at]wclp.org or (213) 235-2638.
  • Everyone is encouraged to seek care if they are sick, regardless of income or immigration status. For more information about your right to health care, visit the Health Consumer Alliance’s COVID-19 information site.

Housing

  • Here is Western Center’s Know Your Rights toolkit for California tenants. Inquilinos de California: Conozca Sus Derechos.
  • California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief program helps eligible renters and landlords with unpaid/future rent and utility payments due to COVID-19, regardless of immigration status. Get info, check eligibility, and apply here, or call 833-430-2122.
  • The fact sheet below explains the current protections and financial assistance available to California renters and landlords. Versions are also available in SpanishChineseRussian, and Vietnamese.

(Click image below to access PDF – Español aqui – Tiếng việt ở đây – Русский здесь – 这里的中国人)

  • The Eviction Laws Database captures state, territorial, and local laws covering the eviction process — from pre-filing to post-judgment, as of January 1, 2021. The database was launched by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in partnership with the Center for Public Health Law Research, and consists of two datasets:
    • State/Territory Dataset – covers eviction laws, regulations, and court rules that were in effect as of January 1, 2021 in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and eight U.S. territories
    • Local Dataset – covers eviction laws, including those at the county and local level, in 30 local jurisdictions in effect as of January 1, 2021

Additional Resources

 

 

 

 

The high costs of reproductive freedom 

At the beginning of May, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion informed the public of the court’s position on overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has been used to protect the reproductive rights of birthing people across the country since the 1970s. Protests began to erupt throughout the nation as the fear of losing reproductive protections became real and the urgency of the situation more apparent.  

The chances of Roe v. Wade getting overturned became real for me on October 26, 2020, when the U.S. Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to become a Supreme Court Justice. Justice Barret is clear about her political beliefs, specifically her position on Roe v. Wade. For decades, many states have pushed the Supreme Court to overturn this historic human rights case. With the addition of Justice Barrett to the bench, I knew the likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade increased exponentially. 

While Barrett’s confirmation was upsetting for many people, I found it terrifying. I am from Louisiana, a state well known for its conservative politics. I distinctly remember voting on a 2020 amendment that would add language to our constitution stating that the “right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution.” Much to my dismay (but not surprise), the amendment passed with 62% of the vote and is now part of the Louisiana Constitution. Legislation such as Louisiana’s amendment are referred to as “trigger laws”– laws that automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if Roe v. Wade is overturned. As of today, 13 states have passed trigger laws. 

In response to the public’s concern and the growing fear of losing federal abortion protections, states like California strengthened protections for reproductive rights in their constitutions. California, specifically, is also reinforcing its ability to be a “safe haven” for those who come from states with trigger laws. Recent legislation in California is focused on expanding access to abortion and protecting individuals from legal liability if they travel to the state to get an abortion. Theoretically, that’s progress. Unfortunately, California residents often struggle with restricted access to abortion services, which presents a challenge. 40% of California counties don’t have a clinic offering abortion services, rendering them unaffordable and inaccessible for many.  

Given soaring gas and plane ticket prices, travel within and to a state like California is a luxury not equally accessible to every person, and consequently, the promise of California as a safe haven is only available to those who can afford it.  

It’s no shocker that like most bad policies, the overturn of Roe v. Wade will have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. Research shows that nearly half of those who have sought an abortion live below the poverty line. If they are residents of states that have restrictive access to reproductive services—such as only having one clinic in the whole state—people dealing with financial struggles often must consider additional factors when assessing their ability to travel to a reproductive health provider. These factors often include finding childcare, their ability (or inability) to take time away from work, and securing transportation. 

As we consider the future of reproductive rights post Roe v. Wade, it is crucial that people with lower incomes are explicitly considered and protected. That’s why Western Center continues to actively advocate for the maternal and reproductive rights of marginalized birthing people. 

Last year, Western Center worked alongside coalition partners to get SB 65 signed into law. SB 65 aims to improve data collection on race and economic-based factors that lead to higher rates of maternal and infant mortality in Black and Indigenous communities. It also creates a fund to support midwives and guarantees the option of obtaining a doula as a Medi-Cal benefit. While SB 65 does not address abortion, its passage expands reproductive protections for many Californians and reinforces the ability of birthing people to have agency in their reproductive journey. It also brought important dialogue to the forefront of the birthing rights conversation about the medical vulnerability of people existing in the intersection of non-whiteness and poverty. 

Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right that should not only be accessible to those who are better off financially. Until the reproductive rights of all people are protected, regardless of their economic status, we have work to do. 

Dalyn Smith is an intern at Western Center. She is a junior at the University of Southern California and is part of USC’s Agents of Change Program. 

 

Language Rights and the Quest to Preserve My Own Cantonese Language and Heritage (Part 2)

*Click here for part one.

Last week for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wrote part one of a blog post reflecting on the legacy and future of the Cantonese language and how government policies influence both its preservation and disappearance. It’s a fascinating history to me because much of the knowledge is now buried “in a world dominated by Mandarin.” Mandarin is often the sole Chinese language taught at our universities and public schools (perhaps with the exception of the San Francisco Unified School District) and is the language of most new Chinese immigrants.

According to Dr. Sik Lee Dennig who researches the Cantonese language in North America, the first mass immigration of people from China to the United States took place during the Gold Rush era starting in the late 1840s. Chinese immigrants came from Sunning (now more commonly known as Taishan), located in the Canton province. In 1854, there were about 3,400 Sunning Chinese in San Francisco and the next year, that number doubled to about 6,900. The population of Sunning Chinese reached 27,000 by the end of the 1870s. The early Sunning immigrants worked in mines and railroads, and those who lived in the city worked in shoe-making and dominated the laundry business.

It was during these decades when the Sunning Chinese population was growing that three landmark cases representing Chinese American litigants made their way to the Supreme Court. Although none of the cases describe the plaintiffs as Cantonese in origin or speaking Cantonese, the history of migration patterns at this time and the names of the individuals strongly indicate they were Cantonese.

Chy Lung, a woman arriving from Hong Kong to San Francisco, overturned a California law that prevented foreign passengers aboard ships from setting foot in California if state officials determined the person to be “lunatic, idiotic, deaf, blind, crippled, or infirm, or likely to become so, or is a convicted criminal, or a lewd or debauched woman.” Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1875). Chy Lung was the first Chinese litigant in a Supreme Court case.

Lee Yick and Wo Lee, laundry service owners in San Francisco who were denied permits for being Chinese, overturned a city ordinance that was race-neutral on its face but discriminatory in application as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886).

Wong Kim Ark, a son of Chinese immigrants from Taishan (Taishanese is a major variety of Cantonese), secured birthright citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment. United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898).

According to Dr. Dennig, by the 1960s, about 40% of the Chinese in California were of Hoisan descent.  After China adopted the open-door policy in 1978, massive emigration from Hoisan resumed. In one study of the migration between the United States and South China, Taishanese outmigrants made up at least one-quarter of the number leaving Guangdong and almost 74% of them went to the United States. One estimate from the historian Mark Lai shows the number of Taishanese in the United States at around 430,000, or about 70% of the Chinese Americans in the United States in the 1980s.

During this time, in 1974, the Supreme Court decided Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974). Kinney Kinmon Lau, whose first language was Cantonese, along with 12 other Chinese American students brought bilingual instruction into our public schools and laid the groundwork of language access rights by establishing discrimination against limited-English proficient individuals as national origin discrimination in violation of Title VI.

To learn more about the Cantonese people in California’s history, Dr. Dennig recommends reading Gordon Chang’s Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad and the works of Genevieve Leung, a professor of Cantonese language at the University of San Francisco.

Wrapping up AAPI Heritage Month, I’m reminded that much of my advocacy for language rights and the rights of Californians to live free from poverty is personal. I’m never far removed from my own language struggles and the perseverance of the Cantonese people to live with dignity and power.

 

*This post contains contributions from Dr. Sik Lee Dennig, a former Cantonese instructor at Stanford University and founder of the Cantonese Alliance of North America, which is now offering courses for adult learners. Dr. Dennig was born and raised in Hong Kong and now resides in California.

 

Language Rights and the Quest to Preserve My Own Cantonese Language and Heritage (Part I)

During this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am reflecting on my Cantonese heritage, the Cantonese language, and ways we can advocate for greater language access for less commonly spoken languages in California.* The Los Angeles Times recently featured Dr. Sik Lee Dennig, once the only Cantonese lecturer at Stanford University, and her quest to teach and preserve Cantonese “in a world dominated by Mandarin.”

Often in policy and data, Cantonese and Mandarin are conflated into one category —Chinese— for both written and spoken forms. But spoken, Mandarin and Cantonese are two distinctly different languages in tone and the pronunciation of words, though they share some (or arguably, many) written characters. (For lessons on speaking and writing Cantonese, visit HamBaangLaang.)

My first language was Cantonese. When I started elementary school, I was designated as Limited English Proficient (LEP). Over the years, I’ve lost most of my Cantonese fluency despite being surrounded by Cantonese culture in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Some of the most popular parts of Chinese American culture are Cantonese in origin, such as dim sum (the Cantonese words literally translating to “so close to the heart”) and kung fu movies which were made in Cantonese in Hong Kong and influenced the development of hip hop in the 1970s.

Today, Cantonese is at risk of disappearing within two generations, largely due to China’s order to make Mandarin the official language of its government, school instruction, and news and publications. Hong Kong, the bastion of Cantonese where about 90 percent of people have Cantonese as a native language, is one of the main targets of this policy as the latest in the Chinese government’s litany of actions against Hong Kongers to suppress political speech and any dissent challenging the mainland government. Cantonese has become a language of rebellion used by many Hong Kongers—including pro-democracy protestors—to maintain their identity and freedom.

Government policy shapes the ways in which languages are preserved or eliminated. China’s recent action is one example. In the United States and California, we have attempted both. While English-only laws were struck down as unlawful, English remains the de facto language of our public and private institutions. We also have non-discrimination protections that require state- and federally-funded programs to provide meaningful access to people who speak limited English.

Still, these laws do not strictly mandate that government-funded programs provide the level of bilingual assistance needed by each person served. They instead require bilingual staff and translations only for non-English languages that meet a numerical threshold or concentration. Under the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act, state agencies must provide bilingual services in languages that are spoken by a “substantial number” of people, defined as 5% or more of the people served by a local office or facility.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federally funded programs are highly encouraged—not mandated—to translate materials into languages that are spoken by 5% of a population likely to be served, or 1,000 people, whichever is smaller. Moreover, to determine the mix of language services required—oral interpretation and written translation—Title VI guidance employs a four-factor totality of circumstances test to be applied on a case-by-case basis.

By relying on numerical thresholds and cost-benefit-need analyses, these laws exclude from our public programs languages that are spoken by hundreds of thousands of people. The consequences of such exclusion are even more pernicious and urgent. These laws create environments where it is difficult for people to meet basic needs by continuing to speak and write in their first, non-English languages. Second generations forgo learning and speaking their native language and that language disappears by the third generation. As advocates, we can be more aware and critical of how we interpret existing language access laws and their impact on driving lesser-spoken languages to endangerment or extinction within communities. These laws are meant to be inclusionary but end up being exclusionary.

For Cantonese in particular, California could be a sanctuary for the preservation and continuation of the language. We can continue to advocate for the distinction of Cantonese and Mandarin bilingual services in our public programs. We can also talk more about how Cantonese is deeply rooted in California history. In the early seminal civil rights cases, the litigants who were Chinese Americans spoke Cantonese and lived in California. (More on this next week.)

Many are now part of the movement to preserve Cantonese. Since leaving Stanford following the university’s decision to reduce the number of Cantonese course offerings, Dr. Dennig is now devoting her time to building the Cantonese Alliance of North America, a non-profit to connect Cantonese instructors, learners, and organizations to preserve and nourish Cantonese as a heritage language.

As for me, I start Cantonese class next month.

*As used here, Cantonese is an umbrella term encompassing the Chinese languages originating in the Pearl River Delta—the Guangdong (Canton) and Guangxi provinces—encompassing the language varieties of Hong Kong Cantonese, Guangzhou Cantonese, and Taishanese.

Read Part 2 of this post here.

CA must stop forcing elders & people with disabilities to pay more for health care than everyone else

$600 a month. Imagine living on that in an expensive state like California. That’s exactly what the state requires older adults and people with disabilities to do in exchange for health care through Medi-Cal. This year, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom must change that. Health care is one of the most expensive basic needs in our society — any commitment by state leaders to address inequality must include health care.

AB 1900 by Assembly member Arambula and co-author Assembly member Wood, which Western Center is co-sponsoring with Justice in Aging, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Disability Rights California, Senior & Disability Action, and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, will address the problem by increasing the amount of monthly income older adults and people with disabilities can keep for basic needs.

Currently, elders and people with disabilities with incomes below $1,564 a month qualify for free Medi-Cal. But low-income older adults and people with disabilities who are just a $1 over the limit are required to pay over $900 of their monthly income as a share-of-cost.

The share-of-cost works like a health insurance deductible, but resets on a monthly basis. This Medi-Cal program establishes a monthly amount that older adults and people with disabilities are allowed to keep to meet their basic needs, called the maintenance need income level. The rest of their income must go toward health care expenses. The maintenance need income level of $600 hasn’t been changed since 1989, even though it is nearly impossible for anyone in California to live on $600 a month now.

By increasing the amount of monthly income older adults and people with disabilities can keep for their basic needs — up to 138% of the federal poverty level (the Medi-Cal income level for nearly all adults), AB 1900 ensures that older adults and people with disabilities don’t have to wait another 30+ years for an adjustment since the federal poverty level is updated every year.

Most people with low incomes receive their health care for free or pay up to 8.5% of their income on health care coverage. It is unfair that older adults and people with disabilities are the only population forced to pay over 60% of their income to obtain essential health care. The current policy forces aging adults, people with disabilities and their families to make impossible choices between health care, paying rent, and affording food. When people cannot access needed Medi-Cal services they often end up hospitalized or institutionalized, or forced to rely on already stretched family members to provide unpaid care.

Ten other states have higher maintenance need income levels than California. It’s time to ditch the deductible and lead the nation in health care affordability. State leaders must fund AB 1900 in this year’s state budget.

 

 

Splashy proposals cannot replace what’s needed to address homelessness in California

California has had it with homelessness. Whether you believe it is far past time to address the housing shortage or just want to see people off the streets, there is a growing consensus that something must change. Governor Newsom and several members of the California Legislature want to address the crisis partially by way of a proposal called CARE Court. But is it the right approach?

The appalling growth of people experiencing homelessness is matched only by the complete inability of government, policymakers, or industry to fix it. As Winston Churchill once observed, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” When it comes to solutions to the homelessness crisis, California has deployed many failed techniques, including poorly planned shelters and police harassment toward people on the street. One thing we know works — giving people enough money to afford rent, is repeatedly derided as “too expensive” (keep in mind, California is in its second year of much higher than anticipated budget surplus).

Solutions to homelessness are not as complex as we are often led to believe. We need to increase grants to adults who are disabled so they can afford rent, like what’s proposed in AB 1941 (Salas). We need to provide increased tax credits to families experiencing poverty, as proposed by AB 2589 (Santiago). We need to provide housing and support services to people coming out of incarceration, as proposed in AB 1816 (Bryan). And importantly, we need to provide permanent and ongoing rental assistance to low-income families and individuals so they can stay housed, as proposed by AB 2817 (Reyes). Those are the kind of policies that will make a visible difference on our streets and in people’s lives.

Governor Newsom’s new proposal is called “Care Court,” but it’s not about care, it’s about control – or at least the illusion of it. The proposal will make it easier for the state, cities, and counties to force people into treatment, and if they don’t go willingly, subject them to involuntary confinement. Here’s another way to think about it: the proposal presents a shiny new political solution that in practice blames and targets the victims of California’s economic, policy, and social failures without implementing proven solutions state resources should flow to – like permanent housing, support services, and more money for rent via programs like SSI, Guaranteed Income, and General Relief. Sure, those are expensive investments, but nowhere near the cost of the crisis playing out on California streets.

The legislative journey for the CARE Court proposal is about to start and it may very well pass through both houses, but in practice, it is likely to fail. Involuntary treatment does not work, especially without housing and services to follow it up. Western Center, ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, and over 40 more organizations across California submitted an opposition letter to the legislative CARE Court proposal to highlight its fundamental flaws and to provide proven alternatives.

It’s not too late to do the right thing. California can provide large scale and ongoing rental assistance. Government can build thousands of units of affordable housing where the private market has failed. We can allow real rent control rather than the nod, nod, wink, wink version we have now. The one thing we can’t have is a system where the victims of policy incompetence are punished in such a potentially destructive way.

DICK’S WRITING TIPS: Feedback Is Good For You Only If You Digest It

Richard Rothschild (Dick) has practiced public interest law for over four decades, and he’s picked up quite a bit of knowledge along the way. Here’s a tip Dick shared with attorneys in our network, broadened out for public use. For more of Dick’s Tips, check out parts one and two of his tips for brief writing!

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People may say they really like getting feedback on their writing. The same people may also say they really like the taste of kale.

In fact, what we all actually want to hear is that our work is brilliant, and that not a single word needs to be changed. So good feedback, like kale, can taste bitter… but like kale, it’s good for you (or so they say). At least, it can be good for you if you know how to approach it. There are three steps involved:

Step 1: Arrange the feedback.

Find somebody with a reputation as a good editor. Hopefully, that will be your immediate supervisor, but even if that is not the case you probably know someone who fits that description. Tell that person that you want to improve your writing skills and are looking for honest and detailed feedback.

Make sure that once you receive the feedback, you review and engage with the edits and comments. Alerting your editor that you would like feedback is an implied promise that you will follow up once you receive it.

Step 2: Write a genuine first draft, not a “rough draft.”

Do not slap together some random thoughts and call it a first draft. Make your best arguments as well organized and worded as possible, then spend a lot of time editing the draft yourself before handing it to the editor.

That does not mean the draft has to be great or won’t need lots of editing and comments. But it does mean that it’s the best work you are able to do at the time. Editors usually know the difference and are loathe to spend more time editing than the author has apparently spent drafting.

Even with your genuine first draft, expect a lot of edits. I’ve heard knowledgeable writing professors caution that too many edits on a first draft is psychologically counter-productive. They advise editors to make a few global suggestions, followed by successive drafts in a multi-week process. Unfortunately, in the real world, particularly in legal services offices, drafts rarely arrive more than a couple days ahead of deadline. Conscientious editors often have little choice but to make substantial revisions.

Step 3: Consciously interact with the feedback.

This is the most important step and perhaps the most difficult.

Let’s say your editor is Maria. What do you do when she sends back an edited document whose primary color appears to be red? Take a deep breath, and pick your ego up off the floor. Carefully read through the comments, which are usually self-explanatory, and the edits, which often are not. For each edit, there are three acceptable internal reactions:

  • “I understand the edit and why it’s an improvement.” Think of ways you can apply that knowledge. If, for example, Maria changed a sentence from passive to active voice, look for other sentences in the brief that need the same change.
  • “I don’t understand the edit and will ask Maria about it.”
  • “I understand the edit, but don’t agree with it and will present my case.” Perhaps knowing the substantive issues better than your editor, you might be right. As an editor, I like it when that happens, and will freely admit to the author that I was wrong. It shows that the author is thinking strategically. (Excessive smirking and end zone dances are discouraged, however).

The key is engaging with the feedback and working to improve, not just for the current piece of writing, but for future work as well. This process, and maybe some kale, will make you stronger. Your editors, and more importantly, your readers, will appreciate that.

BenefitsCal – A New Way to Get CalFresh, Medi-Cal, & Cash Benefits

There’s a new way to apply for and keep your public benefits! As of September 27, 2021, BenefitsCal helps people with CalFresh, Medi-Cal, County Medical Services Program (CMSP), CalWORKs, General Assistance/Relief (GA/GR), and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI).

You can use BenefitsCal to:

  • Apply and renew benefits
  • Appoint an authorized representative
  • Upload documents
  • Report changes
  • Contact your caseworker
  • And more…

Read on for important details, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions.

When are BenefitsCal changes happening?

BenefitsCal is starting in phases depending on the county you live in. Here are the important details:

System downtime: For people in LA County, Your Benefits Now (YBN) will be unavailable starting on April 22, 2022 at 5pm. Visit this website for the latest status on system downtime.

*Tip: You can still access CalFresh applications at GetCalFresh, Medi-Cal applications at Covered California, and all other services by calling your county (search for phone number under “Apply by Phone” here). For Medi-Cal under new “accelerated enrollment” rules that can get you covered quickly, apply at Covered California.

  • September 27, 202139 counties started to use BenefitsCal instead of the old website (C4Yourself). At the same time, county eligibility workers started using their new computer system (CalSAWS).
  • April 25, 2022 – Los Angeles County will use BenefitsCal instead of the old website (Your Benefits Now, or YBN). County employees will continue to use CalSAWS.
  • October 2022 to October 2023 – The remaining 18 counties in six waves will start using BenefitsCal instead of the old website (MyBenefits CalWIN). County employees will also start using CalSAWS. You may need to wait for these changes in your county:
    • October 2022 (Wave 1) – Contra Costa, Placer & Yolo Counties
    • February 2023 (Wave 2) – Santa Clara & Tulare Counties
    • April 2023 (Wave 3) – Orange, Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties
    • June 2023 (Wave 4) – San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Cruz & Solano Counties
    • August 2023 (Wave 5) – Alameda, Fresno & Sonoma Counties
    • October 2023 (Wave 6) – Sacramento, San Francisco & San Luis Obispo Counties

How can applicants and beneficiaries access BenefitsCal?

When you first visit BenefitsCal, click on the “Log In” button at the top right. That will take you to a page that looks like this:

Then click “Create Account.” After you enter your information, BenefitsCal will gather information about your case from the old websites (C4Yourself & Your Benefits Now). Your login information from the old websites will not work in BenefitsCal.

Between October 2022 and October 2023: If you live in one of the 18 counties making changes during this time, you have to wait for your county to start using BenefitsCal in the six waves above. Once your county makes the change, you can create an account in BenefitsCal. Your login information from MyBenefits CalWIN (MBCW) will not work in BenefitsCal.

*Tip: Check out these helpful YouTube videos on how to create an account, apply for benefits, report a change, upload documents, reset your password, and more! Until BenefitsCal creates videos in languages other than English, use YouTube’s subtitles to select another language.

*Tip: These Quick Reference Guides include screenshots and step-by-step instructions (in English only) on how to apply for benefits, request an appointment, upload documents, and more! We await CalSAWS translating these guides into other languages.

Do I need to answer all of the questions in BenefitsCal?

Most BenefitsCal questions are not required. They are optional unless they include “(required)” in the question. Click the NEXT button to skip optional questions and continue with your application or request.

How can application assisters & community-based organizations (CBOs) access BenefitsCal?

BenefitsCal functionality for application assisters and CBOs will be limited at first. Assisters/CBOs can submit applications, upload documents, export & view reports (see more about this below), and check limited application status information (but not whether applications were approved or denied). More features will be added soon, possibly in September 2022. Assister/CBO accounts will allow users to handle applications in all 58 counties by October 2023.

What if I do not already have a CBO account?

If you do not have an account, you can request a new BenefitsCal login by selecting “Log In” and then “Register Your CBO Account.” Counties will approve CBO registrations. For more information, check out this YouTube video and this reference guide for CBOs.

How does a CBO account in BenefitsCal work?

CBO accounts in BenefitsCal will be set up with a “manager” role. This CBO Manager Account will be able to create assister accounts/logins for other people in their organization. They can also track and manage applications developed by the assister accounts that they create.

There is no limit to the number of CBO Manager Accounts and assister accounts, but CBOs should be strategic in how many accounts they set up. Organizations with multiple locations can choose to have combined or separate accounts. Counties are expected to have their own processes for managing and monitoring CBO Manager Account creation (to prevent duplication).

*Tip: Learn more about the CBO accounts in this Quick Guide.

What should I do if I have a problem with BenefitsCal?

Applicants should contact their county for help. Find your county’s contact information here and here. You can also report problems directly to BenefitsCal by submitting an online inquiry: visit CalSAWS.org, select the green “Ask CalSAWS” button at the top right, and submit your information.

BenefitsCal and CalSAWS have set up a “Command Center” to support county employees. Counties can contact office-level support staff, Change Network Champions, Technical Points of Contact, and other resources to get answers to functional questions and report challenges.

You can also contact an advocacy organization to help you navigate an issue and get a resolution. Here is a list of organizations and contacts that may be able to help you:

What are some limitations with BenefitsCal?

BenefitsCal will get better with time. Some features are still unavailable. Advocates are pressing BenefitsCal to fix them soon. Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. BenefitsCal sometimes asks questions that are not needed. Especially for questions about immigration status and people not applying for benefits, some questions are irrelevant. You can click the “NEXT” button to skip optional and irrelevant questions.
  2. BenefitsCal questions are translated into 12 languages. In Spring 2022, BenefitsCal will add Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese, Mien, Punjabi, Thai, and Ukrainian translations. Until translations are available, applicants should contact their counties for language assistance. (County contact information here and here).
  3. While the questions will be available in multiple languages, BenefitsCal only allows consumers and assisters to enter English-language letters and characters into the system. BenefitsCal will not accept other letters and characters (ñ, é, ó, Հայերեն, 한국어, русский, 中文, Tiếng Việt, ລາວ, etc.). In BenefitsCal, you will need to use English-language letters.
  4. The “Do I Qualify” and “See If You Qualify” chatbot screener may ask unnecessary questions. Remember you can always submit an application – even if the chatbot screener says you may not qualify.
  5. At different parts of the application, BenefitsCal will ask you for personal information, like your race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These questions are optional. Your answers do not impact your eligibility for benefits. Counties will only use the answers for civil rights statistics.
  6. If you are only applying for Medi-Cal, you do not need to confirm that your shots (vaccines) are up to date. This is only required for CalWORKs applicants under age 6. BenefitsCal will remove the question for Medi-Cal applicants soon.
  7. If you are only applying for Medi-Cal, you do not need to answer the question “Is anyone on strike?” This question should not be in the application.
  8. BenefitsCal may ask you to upload documents that are not required, including for people that are not applying for benefits. If you are nervous about submitting documents, you can ask county workers to confirm which documents are required to process your application.
  9. BenefitsCal did not develop an integrated Release of Information (ROI) for assister/CBO accounts to access case information. This is a pending request that will be resolved later in 2022. Since there is no way to grant permissions within BenefitsCal, only limited information is available on the website for assisters/CBOs. You can still have applicants sign an ROI and send it to the county to get information directly from a county eligibility worker.

If there are other suggestions you have for improving the BenefitsCal website, you can submit them through the BenefitsCal website under “share your feedback” at https://benefitscal.com/public/HPAOS.

Where can advocates learn more about BenefitsCal and CalSAWS?

Consumer advocates have been working for years to make BenefitsCal work. And we still have a lot of work to do! If you want to join our effort, check out this advocate toolkit and recorded training. For more information, please contact David Kane at dkane[at]wclp.org or the CalSAWS Advocate Co-Leads:

Jennifer Tracy: jennifer[at]jenntracy.com
Mia Keeley: mkeeley[at]cccco.edu
Logan Van Der Wolf: lvanderwolf[at]lalgbtcenter.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media owners own too much of our culture. We need change.

In 2019, alongside our partners at Dove, the National Urban League, and Color of Change, Western Center became a founding member of the CROWN coalition to stop discrimination based on hair – specifically, to protect Black people’s right to wear their hair naturally. Since the CROWN Act passed in California, similar measures have passed across the country, and conversations about discrimination and representation have spread like wildfire. Every day people share examples of overcoming discrimination and taking pride in representation – embracing their true, whole selves. Putting an end to race-based discrimination is one step in the fight for equity in workplaces, schools, and on our screens, and representation is another. There is also a deeper well to look to as we cleanse the groundwater of this country’s white supremacy – looking at who owns what.

Diversity in media is about more than representation on screen – it’s also about who has the power to decide what content is put in front of audiences and who gets to influence culture.  Media is culture, and culture shows our values. While we’ve seen a push for more diversity and representation on screen, not enough has been done to diversify media ownership.

Like other highly monopolized industries, mergers and acquisitions between media companies are frequent. As it stands, there are six major media companies and five major tech companies dominating the media landscape, meaning a relatively small number of people control film production, television, news, and other media. Through consolidations, large companies continue to set the tone for media discourse, ethics, and actions over smaller entities that try to compete or are eventually absorbed. That is why in 2022 so many people still are not adequately seen, heard, or represented in our content.

Everyone has a story, but when the same kind of stories with the same kind of characters continue to be uplifted over others, it’s a signal to the culture about who is important and relatable. But it is a faulty signal – the small, homogenous group of media owners who make decisions about “what audiences want to see” have too limited a perspective to really know. Even when project (Black Panther) after project (anything created by Shonda Rhimes) after project (Insecure) proves old business models wrong, the same people continue to hold the power to greenlight or cancel projects, and storytelling is stifled.

Ten years ago, writer and producer Issa Rae was told she needed a white character for her projects to be successful and for audiences to care. That sentiment, which still exists, is a product of the explicitly racist history of American media, founded by the same white supremacy as the rest of the country. But ever the trailblazer, Issa expanded the network of creators in Hollywood through her show, and continues to do so – an example of Toni Morrison’s wisdom: “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Issa stands on the shoulders of trailblazing creator/ owners like Oprah Winfrey, Ava Duvernay, Reese Witherspoon, and Tyler Perry, all of whom create countless opportunities for talented people from diverse backgrounds. But for every new model for content production and distribution, there is a legacy media brand holding back bourgeoning creators. And while companies like Netflix offer a welcome disruption for media production and distribution, when we look at ownership, it is clear there’s a long way to go.

It’s not just the media industry that needs a shift in ownership, in fact, the idea of ownership anywhere in the U.S. is complicated by its history of slavery. The racial dynamics of ownership are particularly stark in sports, where discussions about the need for change happen, but ownership largely stays the same. Of course, sports connect right back to media, and a small group of people unwilling to give up profitable reins to change racist systems.

There is a silver lining – the beautiful thing about culture is that it can be shaped into anything we want, and in that way, creators have the freedom to construct whatever narratives they want. However, as things stand, most don’t have the backing to reach a mass audience, so they’re stuck hoping someone with power will “take a chance” and see the value in their stories.

The media industry is notoriously hard to break into and extremely susceptible to “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” But media consumers should be able to find relatable content providing a true reflection of what modern society looks like. With that goal in mind, the evolution of the media landscape must include more open doors for diversity in media ownership so more diverse voices are supported, greenlit, and shared.

World Day of Social Justice Requires Reflection from California

February 20th is World Day of Social Justice — observed by the United Nations and people around the world. Since 2009, the UN has encouraged World Day of Social Justice as an opportunity to focus on social justice, draw attention to injustice, and inspire cooperative movements for change.

On this worldwide day of reflection and action, I wonder — how can California, a state with so much wealth, also have so many people experiencing poverty?

For many, California represents endless good weather, boundless natural beauty, and limitless opportunity unmatched by other places on Earth. But peek behind the golden curtain, and you’ll find poverty, homelessness, and other injustices that belie the golden image of the golden state. In a state with so much, it is unconscionable that there are so many Californians unable to share in that wealth.

For me, How?, Why?, and What The @!#$? come to mind.

I am proud that I joined Western Center last summer to be a part of the team that asks not only the questions above, but also works every day to answer them. Since Western Center’s founding in 1967, we’ve worked to ensure access for all Californians to justice, housing, healthcare, and financial and community stability. Our multi-pronged approach to systems change allows us to positively impact the lives of individuals while also creating change that ripples across the state.

Western Center’s litigation team trains and supports legal aid communities to help enforce laws where bad actors would ignore or take advantage. Our advocacy team advances legislation in Sacramento to build a better future for all Californians and stymie efforts that further entrench injustice and exploitation. We don’t do this work alone — we know that robust community partnership and coalitions of support are required to make the change we seek.

I invite you to join us.

You might think the most obvious thing I’m going to ask you for is a donation. And while yes, your financial support of our work is greatly appreciated and provides funding to power our mission, there are other ways I’d love for you to consider joining us as well.

Use your voice. It isn’t just lawyers or policy advocates’ voices that matter – yours does too! I encourage you to contact your elected officials in Sacramento, your county, and your local town to let them know what issues are important to you and what change you’d like to see. Make sure you’re registered to vote and vote every chance you get. Your voice matters.

If you’re not sure who your elected representatives are or how to contact them, you can find that information here. If you are not yet registered to vote, you can do that here.

World Day of Social Justice is a great opportunity to raise a hand and join the community of people and organizations fighting for change. As a donor, as a volunteer, as a social media follower – no matter how you engage, there is a space for you.

Today is a great day to reflect on how social justice resonates with you and to seek out organizations and actions that most speak to you. In addition to Western Center, I have a few suggestions for outstanding organizations you might also engage with:

If you’re reading this blog post, it likely means you are a supporter of Western Center and the work that we do. Thank you, today and every day, for fighting alongside us for social justice.