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What Solidarity and the month of May mean to me

If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery – the wage slaves … Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up… You cannot put it out..” –August Spies  before being sentenced to death in 1886 by an Illinois court.

The Haymarket Martyrs, as many familiar with U.S labor history term the group, received worldwide attention at the time of the event, but many today do not know they are the reason International Workers Day is observed worldwide on May 1.

On May 4, 1886 a Chicago rally in support of an 8-hour work day was held in Haymarket Square. Chicago at the time was a hub of labor organizing activity, and a day earlier violence had broken out at the McCormick Harvesting Company aimed at striking workers.

The  police tragically killed workers during the rally when they opened fire on the crowd. The Haymarket crowd had been relatively peaceful; they were responding and gathering to protest the police killings from the day before, but as the police began to disperse the crowd, an unknown person threw a bomb at police. Police responded with  gunfire,killing other police officers and civilians. The aftermath led to the round up, trial, and execution of eight radical unionists.

As we end the month of May, it is the first day of month, not the last, that led to reflections on labor’s struggle but also other May Days and the moments activism and hope with them.

As a community college student in 2006, I cut my teeth on Mayday  activism at East Los Angeles College. Federal anti-immigrant legislation  had caused massive rallies across the country, and LA was no dififerent. In Los Angeles, massive student were spontaneous and uncoordinated. Student groups across L.A worked together to make May Day 1, 2006 huge, and it was. Some of the high school and college students that walked out of class later became professional labor/community organizers, teachers, professors, policy advocates, lawyers, and doctors.

Then came May Day 2016 and May Day 2017, when I was organizing with the L.A Street Vendor Campaign, which these marches with  hot dog vendors fighting to have their labor be formalized and no longer criminalized.  This, of course, was before the bill to legalize street vending in California was passed. Seeing vendors lead the march, knowing many ran from the police with scalding hot equipment in fear of police violence, brought me such joy. They owned the streets in a peaceful demonstration of power. The visuals/optics and their chants I can still hear.

To me, May Day is the day workers across the world show their political power. But it is more than that. It is a day when the poor, the economically marginalized and empowered communities highlight their struggle. It is a day on which I’ve taken my children out to gather with other likeminded folks to celebrate and demonstrate people power. I want my children, the future, to know the worker struggle continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child Support Belongs to Children

California is transforming its child support system to direct more money to the children for whom the support payments are intended. This critical reform may seem like common sense, but only a few states have adopted a similar policy. For decades, federal law has required custodial parents who receive public benefits to assign their child support payments to the government as reimbursement for the cost of those benefits. As a result, when a noncustodial parent makes a child support payment, some of that payment could be intercepted and kept by the government.

In May, California took the first step to undo this harmful and misguided policy.  The state will no longer intercept child support payments intended for families who formerly received CalWORKs. This change means an estimated $160 million per year will go to families and children.. The state’s action is in response to years of advocacy, including ongoing efforts of the Western Center on Law & Poverty and its partners in the Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition. You can learn more about the Coalition here and read the Coalition’s statement on this important policy victory.

Yetmore work to be done. California continues to intercept approximately $150 million each year from low-income families who currently receive CalWORKs, and this policy has resulted in over $6 billion dollars of government-owed child support that causes incalculable financial and social harm.

The interception of child support payments stems from racist and sexist stereotypes about black families and those who must turn to public assistance. California cannot close the racial wealth gap and end child poverty until it reforms the child support program. The Coalition’s letters to Legislative Budget Leaders asking them to continue to reform state child support policies to better support low-income children and their families can be found here.

 

Should Sickness Lead to Bankruptcy? Help Us Protect Californians from Medical Debt

By Linda Nguy

Joy turned to concern shortly after Humberto Cruz and his wife welcomed their firstborn child into the world in 2010. Their baby required emergency services and an extended hospital stay at Queen of the Valley Hospital  in West Covina, California. 

What happened to the Cruz family next is a problem only California lawmakers can solve. 

The tough lessons began when Cruz learned his employer’s insurance coverage failed to add his newborn to his insurance coverage. He later learned the hospital failed to mention available financial assistance, forcing Cruz to shoulder all of the nearly $20,000 bill. 

Cruz’s former employer never corrected its mistake and Cruz was soon laid off from his job. When he was unable to take time off his new job to answer a bill collector’s court summons, the collection agency won a default judgment against him, later placing a levy on his bank account and a lien against his family home. 

Life events eventually led Cruz to sell his home. The agency seized $17,000 from the sale. When Cruz purchased a new home in 2016, the collection agency placed another lien on that home. Cruz eventually settled and paid off the judgment with credit cards and savings. The 12-year ordeal cost Cruz almost $23,000, leaving him emotionally spent, financially drained and uncertain about his family’s future.

Hospital debt constitutes more than 70% of medical debt, and hospital bills can be much larger than other types of medical bills, according to 2023 research by the Urban Institute. And a California Health Care Foundation survey found more than a third (38%) of Californians report owing medical debt, with Black, Latino/x, and low-income people among the most burdened.

Despite qualifying for financial assistance, patients still receive large medical bills from hospitals. Nonprofit hospitals, in particular, do not meet their community benefit obligations, according to a recent Lown Institute Fair Share Spending study.

In 2007, the Hospital Fair Pricing Act determined hospitals in California must provide charity and discounted care to patients who receive hospital care and are uninsured or underinsured. Subsequent updates, including requirements for emergency physicians and debt collectors, raising income eligibility for financial assistance, and improving oversight and enforcement have expanded patient protections, but more must be done. Home liens like those placed on Cruz’s family home by hospital debt collectors should be prohibited. 

We and our allies have successfully challenged certain hospital practices in court. Since Western Center and Consumer Law Center, Inc. settled their case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare last year for alleged violations of hospital financial assistance laws, Santa Clara County has written off $1.48 million in patient debt and refunded more than $304,000 to patients. But more needs to be done statewide to ensure patients are not saddled with unaffordable hospital bills.

Since the Hospital Fair Pricing Act’s passage in 2016, California’s uninsured rate has been reduced by more than half with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medi-Cal and created Covered California, as well as other Medi-Cal expansions. These policies have relieved much of the burden on hospitals to cover the cost of uninsured care. 

Now, more than ever, hospitals can and should provide greater financial assistance to relieve the harmful impacts of medical debt.

Californians who want to get involved can start by contacting their Assemblymember to support AB 2297, the bill to modernize the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. It does so by:

  • Prohibiting the use of lien on homes to collect unpaid medical bills from financially eligible patients
    • For many Californians, their homes are their greatest asset, and often the main way that families build generational wealth
    • However, a loophole allows debt collectors to place liens on patients’ homes to collect unpaid hospital bills
    • Home liens should be completely prohibited in the collection of unpaid hospital bills from financially qualified patients
  • Clarifying hospitals must review financial assistance eligibility at any time
    • While the law requires hospitals to process applications at any time, many hospitals impose arbitrary deadlines – allowing hospitals to disqualify eligible patients from financial assistance to expedite collections
    • The Department of Health Care Access and Information interprets this provision of the law to prohibit deadlines for applications, which should finally be made clear in the statute
  • Eliminating the consideration of assets from charity care eligibility
    • The Medi-Cal program recently eliminated the consideration of assets, and other states are looking to bar assets as well. California’s hospital financial assistance rules should follow suit

As Assemblymember Friedman, author of AB 2297, shared at the April 9 Assembly Health Committee Hearing: “I believe in a country [and state] as wealthy as . . . California, the whole concept of medical bankruptcy and medical debt  . . . is really unacceptable. It’s an abomination. . . .The fact that we are taking people’s homes and property or putting a lien on their home just because they want to get treatment for a sickness is something that shouldn’t happen.”

To learn more about the Hospital Fair Pricing Act, read our fact sheet here. For more information about WCLP resources, click here, and to follow the progress of our recent and past legislative initiatives, please visit our newsletter page here.

 

Will the Supreme Court Criminalize Poverty and Homelessness And if it does, what will California do?

Advocates working to house California’s homeless population exhaled last week when a bill designed to criminalize poverty, SB 1011, didn’t make it out of committee and onto the Legislature’s floor for a vote.

That bill would prohibit people from sitting, sleeping or placing personal property, among other actions, or face fines and incarceration—the worst possible approach to ending this crisis. It isn’t designed to reduce the number of unhoused people, only to make them disappear from view.

Our moment of relief, however, was just that, a moment. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering Grants Pass v Johnson, and it is entirely possible that the federal government will green light the same cruel policies criminalizing homeless people that nationally we are fighting to avert here in California.

The question to be decided by the Grants Pass case is whether a federal court can determine state policy with regard to homelessness.

In a class-action lawsuit, a group of homeless people sued Grants Pass, Oregon for making sleeping on public property illegal. Their argument: sleep is a physical need, Grants Pass has no shelters and the city is criminalizing not their behavior, but their poverty. The district court issued an injunction, halting enforcement of the law, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, writing that the city’s law violates the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.’

The Western Center joined with other civic organizations to file an amici brief with the U.S Supreme Court on April 2. The brief asserts that cities across California have unfairly scapegoated unhoused residents for a statewide affordable housing crisis that State and local governments created with decades of virulently racist anti-housing policies. As a result, thousands of long-time residents, disproportionately people of color, have been forced onto the streets. But instead of addressing the root causes of the affordable housing crisis,  California cities punish homeless residents, fining or arresting them for being poor.

But here’s what else should be understood about anti-homelessnes measures at the state and federal level that criminalize the poor; they pose a specific threat to Black people already suffering due to the state’s draconian and racially imbalanced policing laws and practices.

For context, these inhumane rhetoric and policies are surging alongside hyperbolic discourse about increased criminality supposedly plaguing our cities. The data, however, tells a different story. For example, violent crime declined 13% in 2013 according to the FBI. Similarly, retail theft appears to be down nationally.

But these policies are not just inhumane. They are anti-Black.

This shift toward punitive housing policies is occurring at a socio-political moment. Even the goal of racial justice is under attack. A drive for turning a blind eye to the racialized impact of these policy decisions, is the issue of the day.

Worse, California, the big blue progressive beacon of America, is leading the nation, not with effective policy solutions but rather with disproven policy proposals, steeped in anti-Blackness.

How do we know?

The data tells the tale. Black Californians are disproportionately impacted by houselessness and all of the on-ramps to houselessness: rental burden, evictions, and systems contact, to name a few. According to the Benioff Homeless and Housing Initiative, Black Californians make up 7 percent of the population but “represent more than a quarter of the state’s homeless population.” In addition, 70 percent of unsheltered people experiencing houselessness report a history of incarceration. The intersections between the criminal legal system and houseless are apparent from all available data.

For example, the 2024 Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report shows that traffic stops continue to be racially driven. Specifically, the data shows that “Black individuals were stopped 131.5 percent more frequently than expected given their proportion of the population.” Moreover, Black people are searched at a rate of 1.66 times greater than White people, despite the fact the contraband is found on Black and Hispanic people less and no action is taken after a stop and search more often.

The disparities in police and systems contact don’t stop there. A report by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights in San Francisco analyzed non-traffic stops and found that “among people who were issued a citation under local codes as a result of non-traffic stops, Black adults were up to 9.7 times more likely to receive citations than white adults.” It also found that Black men are incarcerated at a rate nearly 5 times their share of the male population California. Black women, it determined, are incarcerated at a rate “more than 4 times higher than their share of all women in California.”

It is this population, over-policed, over-incarcerated, forcibly impoverished by the unequal application law and often pushed into homelessness, that stands to suffer the most from Grants Pass and will suffer locally if SB1011 lives on –which although held up could still yet come to the floor for a vote.

Of course, none of this is unknown to the state. I was lucky enough to testify before the state’s Reparations Task Force on the issues of homelessness and gentrification highlighting this issue. And last week I testified at the Senate subcommittee.

 

We must face the reality that houselessness is a distinctly racialized problem. It requires solutions that actually consider those most severely impacted.

The Supreme Court’s decision is likely months away, but our decision should be made how. In criminalizing the poorest and most vulnerable among us, we would be adopting not only a failed strategy, but simultaneously doing something even worse: morally impoverishing ourselves.

This article has been updated since it’s original posting.

 

 

Electronic EBT Theft & Organizer Toolkit

In 2019, the problem of electronic theft of EBT funds became a front and center issue for many California officials. At the time it was estimated that monthly losses increased from less than $10,0000 to an average of $36,000. That number has now reached $10 million a month in benefits theft.

Many Californians continue to have their benefits stolen from their EBT cards. This typically happens in two ways. Either the person has had their EBT card “skimmed” with electronic equipment that picks up and takes your information. Or people are scammed by an unauthorized third party by giving out their EBT card number and/or personal identification number.

“I’ve been eating one meal a day for the last 3 days. I need help figuring out where my money went,” said Angelica Anon in email, who did not want to disclose her real name. She shared that she is unhoused and living in her car at the moment and was struggling to use her card at the grocery store. She had tried multiple times to use it but each time she tried she was told her balance was at zero. She knew she was in trouble. For certain, she had $223 dollars remaining on the card. She was there in person to speak to someone. She wasn’t the only one and she won’t be the last. This is an ongoing obstacle in the lives of many Californians.

Community members often reach out for assistance on getting stolen funds back. As community activists / organizers we are always looking for ways to share and popularize information. Share this wherever community convenes:

With electronic theft of EBT benefits impacting many Californians who need access to food, what can we do?

Briefly here are some things you should consider:

  1. Report the theft – You have 90 days to report the theft. Report right away!
  2. Cancel your card – contact EBT Customer Service Hotline at (877) 328-9677 (open 24 hours a day) to cancel.
  3. File a claim – File the “EBT 2259” claim form with the county within 90 days of electronic theft.
    1. You will need to identify the transactions that were illegal.
    2. The EBT Hotline can get you a 60-day transaction history.
    3. BenefitsCal has 3 months
    4. EBT Edge has 365 days
    5. Or you can ask the county to help you identify the illegal transaction(s)

For more detailed information, please see guide below:

ACTIVIST / ORGANIZER TOOLKIT: SPOTLIGHT ON ELECTRONIC EBT THEFT       Community Guide

 

EBT Electronic Theft Resources (ca.gov)

Celebrating Notable Women in U.S. History

“Slavery was Legal. Colonialism was Legal. Jim Crow was Legal. Apartheid was Legal. Legality is a matter of Power, NOT Justice”

Western Center on Law & Poverty for over 55 years, has advocated in every branch of government, from courts to the Legislature, on behalf of Californians experiencing poverty. . Through the lens of economic and racial justice, Western Center litigates, educates, and advocates around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration. As advocates we recognize that some of the most powerful gatekeepers, bridgebuilders, and architects of resistance in the communities we work with are women.

Women, especially women of color, are routinely erased from public memory and historical narratives of resistance. It’s undeniable that the contributions of women of color to historical resistance movements are often overlooked or minimized. While their invaluable efforts powered the abolitionists, suffrage, labor, and civil rights movements, mainstream narratives have frequently sidelined their stories in favor of highlighting male leaders. This Women’s History Month, we choose to recognize and celebrate the pivotal role women of color have played in shaping our collective history and fighting for justice:

Sojourner Truth was an evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery before escaping to freedom in 1826. After gaining her freedom, SoujournerTruth helped enslaved people escape to freedom and traveled the country to organize for abolitionism and equal rights for all. After the Civil War, she became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping the formerly enslaved find jobs and build new lives. While in Washington, DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid-1860s, when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding, she ensured his arrest and won her subsequent case. In the late 1860s, she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide formerly enslaved people with land, though Congress never took action.

Mary Ellen Pleasant was posthumously regarded as the mother of California’s civil rights movement.  She helped to lead the abolitionist movement during the Gold-Rush era and played a key role in helping to finance John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry in Virginia, a revolt by enslaved Black slaves and white abolitionists.. Pleasant also gave shelter, jobs, and money to enslaved people running to freedom through the Underground Railroad. In 1866, a street car conductor in San Francisco refused to let her board because she was Black. Pleasant sued and the case went all the way to the California Supreme Court. In a historic decision, the court ruled that segregation on streetcars was illegal in California.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. She was a researcher, writer, and journalist. Wells-Barnett was one of the first journalists to write about the conditions of African Americans throughout the South. After the lynching of one of her friends, she dedicated her career to exposing white terrorism. Wells was a skilled investigator and worked to uncover the truth behind several cases of Black men being lynched. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. Wells-Barnett traveled internationally to bring much needed attention to lynching. Often ridiculed and  ostracized by whit suffragettes  founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, to promote suffrage for Black women.

Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American civil rights and labor activist. Her support for causes such as the Black Power movement, feminism, and the environment spanned over 70 years. During the 1950s, Boggs moved to Detroit and began editing the radical newspaper Correspondence, which supported worker-centered revolution. Throughout her life, Grace Lee Boggs maintained the core belief that if people worked together, they could accomplish positive social change.

Dolores Huerta was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association and is one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century. A leader of the Chicano civil rights movement, despite racism and sexism, she helped organize the 1965 Delano strike of 5,000 farmworkers and was the lead negotiator in the workers’ contract that followed.

Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Hamer organized voter registration drives, including the “Freedom Ballot Campaign”, a mock election, in 1963, and the “Freedom Summer” initiative in 1964. Later she became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity.

Mae Mallory was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement and a leader in the Black Power movement. Mallory was bestknown as an advocate of desegregation and Black armed self-defense.

Sarah Deer, a member of the Muscogee Creek tribe, is a lawyer, professor at the University of Kansas, and advocate who has worked for victims rights and sexual violence prevention for decades. She was an instrumental activist in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act, which expanded tribal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence.

The CROWN Coalition was founded in 2019 by Western Center on Law & Poverty, National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Dove to create a respectful and open world for natural hair through research, national campaigning and political lobbying. Western Center and partners worked to pass the first CROWN Act (SB 188) in the country, prohibiting discrimination based on hair style and texture by extending protection under the FEHA and the California Education Code. Today, twenty-four states across the country have passed the CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) Act in response to Black people, especially women regularly face discrimination in schools and the workplace based on the texture and style of their hair. Hair is often a reflection of one’s personal identity and serves as a signifier of culture and ancestry. The CROWN Act impacts racial discrimination, pay equity, and just cause protections for people of various cultural backgrounds, but especially Black people. With over 31.6 million Black people in the U.S. labor force, the CROWN Act could help reduce discrimination for more than 12% of labor force participants (U.S. Census Bureau ACS 2021a). Over 200 years before the CROWN Act, the Tignon laws of the 18th century were laws that, at the request of white women, banned Black women in the Caribbean colonies and Louisiana from exposing their natural hair in public. Their hairdos were seen as a threat to the social stability and status of white women, who protested in a letter that  Black women “who dressed too elegantly” were attracting the attentions of white men. Resembling today’s West African Gele, a tignon is a type of head covering. It is a large piece of fabric wrapped or tied around the head to form a decorative sculpture concealing the hair. Tignons were worn by free and enslaved women of African descent in Louisiana from 1786. These laws regulated appearance and enforced the dress styles for women of color in a society dominated by whiteness. Many Black women continued to wear headwraps or tignons as a sign of rebellion and resistance.

“Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.” —Mary McLeod Bethune

 

Black Midwifery in the US

Since the inception of the United States, midwifery has been the most customary practice for pregnancy care and childbirth. Today, the primary care for pregnant people in most developed European countries is facilitated by midwives. However, in the United States a divide began to take root in the 1800’s, when white male physicians began to explore childbirth with greater interest. Their approach was based on a patriarchal and colonial framework that was highly experimental and racist, often times using enslaved African to test explicit drug therapies, shock treatments, and surgeries without any anesthesia.

Prior to the creation of formalized medical education in obstetrics and gynecology, midwives were the sole experts in birth work and medicine relied heavily on Native American and African American knowledge of plants and indigenous healing modalities. For millennia, birth work was considered a female occupation or “woman’s work” (Hoch-Smith and Spring, 1978; Leavitt, 1983; Rooks, 1997; Donegan, 1978; Litoff, 1990). The midwifery model of education was a indigenous model of apprenticeship under more experienced midwives that were often grandmothers who also learned from their grandmothers. In the United States midwifery was largely practiced by enslaved Africans who were responsible for women’s healthcare of all enslaved women on the plantation as well as the white women who owned them. A large part of midwifery apprenticeship on the plantation included various forms of training such as herbalism, procedures for dealing with birth complications, perinatal care, and serving as traditional healing.

Once the field of medicine became “professionalized” and legitimized by the legal system with the invention of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1927, physicians sought to dominate the field of birth work as its primary practitioners. Their claim to jurisdiction spurred racist propaganda campaigns depicting Black midwives as caricatures falsely accusing midwives of being “incompetent”, “witches”, “unclean”, “savages”, and “untrustworthy”. These physicians also lured white women to trust them because they offered “innovative” pain relief options such as opioid tampons, and mercury. In addition to the propaganda, because pregnancy began to be viewed as a pathological condition beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the 1900s, physicians claimed that only legally trained individuals could “treat” this “condition”. Such assertions/claims served as manipulative tools that “pushed the scales” in favor of physician-assisted births versus granny midwife assisted births.

The public perception of midwives began to shift as the midwives who had for centuries in the Americas served as the primary maternal and infant healthcare providers were essentially deemed illegitimate. These smear campaigns were supported by the white male physicians who were founders and members of State Boards of Health which controlled who was able to care for and treat women in childbirth. By the 1900s white male physicians attended approximately half of births, despite having little to no training in obstetrics.

In rural America, however, Black midwives continued to attend births especially for Black folks who lived in the segregated south and had no access to hospitals in their communities. In the Southern states, Black midwives, sometimes called “granny” midwives, attended up to 75% of births until the 1940’s.

Racist laws, educational restrictions, and campaigns against midwifery care led to the dismantling of the practice especially for Black women, for example:

  • The 1910 Flexner Report recommended hospital deliveries and the abolition of midwifery. The study has since been recognized for its racist, sexist, and classist approach to medical education.
  • “Twilight sleep” was introduced in 1914, an amnesiac given to women by white physicians preventing any memories of giving birth.
  • In 1915, Dr. Joseph DeLee – a prominent obstetrician – called pregnancy and childbirth “dangerous” and “evil.” Dr. DeLee promoted the use of forceps, sedatives, ether, and other interventions that needed hospital-level care. He argued that midwives were incompetent.
  • The Department of Indian Affairs passed legislation that moved births from the home to the hospital.
  • The Shepphard-Tower Infancy and Protection Act became a federal law in 1921. It encouraged states to develop their own maternal and child health legislation. Before these changes, lay midwives practiced mostly without restrictions. The new laws severely reduced their practice in many states. For example, Alabama began requiring all midwives to obtain a license, then later required nurse-midwives to practice only in hospitals. These changes prevented 150 “granny midwives” from practicing across the state practically overnight.
  • Public health nurse Mary Breckenridge founded Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in rural Kentucky in 1925 which led to the more formalized field of nurse-midwifery also developed at this time. Breckenridge’s racist rhetoric impacted Black midwives’ entry into the nurse midwifery route though Breckenridge has been for “creating a pathway for midwifery education and certification.”

The formalization of education and certification ultimately delegitimized apprentice-trained midwives in every community. Today, less than 5% of midwives in the United States are people of color. Disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality rates are striking; Black mothers are 2-3 times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers. This impact reflects the powers and forces that disconnected midwives from their communities.

Black Midwives that Birthed Communities

Mary Coley was born in Baker County, Georgia. She began training as a midwife under the tutelage of Onnie Lee Logan. She became an advocate for the health of Georgia’s black population and was known for her willingness to work with women regardless of race in a time of segregation. It is estimated that she delivered over 3,000 babies in her career.

Ms. Arilla Smiley was trained by the local Health Department in Brunswick Georgia and apprenticed with her mother-in-law. She received her license to perform midwifery in 1963 and retired in 1987. During her career as a midwife, Ms. Smiley delivered over 1,000 babies in Mitchell County.

Maude Callen was a nurse-midwife in the South Carolina Low country for over 60 years. Her work was brought to national attention in W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay, “Nurse Midwife,” published in Life on December 3, 1951.

Margaret Charles Smith delivered more than 3,000 babies. In 1949, she became one of the first official midwives in Green County, Alabama, and she was still practicing in 1976 when the state passed a law outlawing traditional midwifery. In the 1990s, she cowrote a book about her career, Listen to Me Good: The Life Story of an Alabama Midwife, and in 2010 she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Bibliography
Abbott, Andrew. 1988 The System of Professions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Donnegan, Jane B. 1978 Women and Men Midwives: Medicine, Morality, and Misogyny in Early America. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Fraser, Gertrude Jacinta. 1998 African American Midwifery in the South: Dialogues of Birth, Race, and Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Hoch-Smith, Judith and Anita Spring. 1978 Women in Ritual and Symbolic Roles. New York: Plenum Press.
Leavitt, Judith Walzer. 1987 “The Growth of Medical Authority: Technology and Morals in Turn-of-the-Century Obstetrics.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1(3). September. 230-255.
Leavitt, Judith Walzer. 1983 “Science Enters the Birthing Room: Obstetrics in America Since the Eighteenth Century.” The Journal of American History. 70(2). 281-304.
Litoff, Judy Barrett. 1996 “Forgotten Women: American Midwives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” Pp. 425-441 in Childbirth: Changing Ideas and Practices in Britain and America 1600 to the Present, edited by Phillip K. Wilson, Ann Dally, and Charles R. King. New York: Garland Publishing.
Pringle, Rosemary 1998 Sex and Medicine: Gender, Power, and Authority in the Medical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Radcliffe, Walter. 1989 Milestones in Midwifery and the Secret Instrument: The Birth of the Midwifery Forceps. San Francisco: Norman Publishing.
Rooks, Judith Pence. 1985 Midwifery and Childbirth in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Anaheim City Council opt to Impound Sidewalk Vendor Equipment the Day Before Valentine’s Day

Just before Valentine’s Day, I attended a City of Anaheim City Council meeting where the city voted to shower sidewalk vendors with heartbreak instead of appreciation and inclusivity.

The city council unanimously amended an existing sidewalk ordinance to include impounding of sidewalk vendor equipment and codifying non-vending zones.

The street vending issue has often pitted some brick-and-mortar business owners against vendors in Anaheim. Three or four business owners argued in support of these harsher measures for sidewalk vendors. They arrived that evening in full support of the proposed amendments to the sidewalk vendor ordinance. They operate along the busiest street corridor that leads to the biggest amusement parks and resorts in Anaheim.

It was a typical verbal back and forth, with vendors accused of unsightliness and even criminality, and vendors asserting that far from creating problems, they contribute to the city’s local economy.

I listened while a local hotel manager, blamed sidewalk vendors for deterring, “potential buyers from legitimate businesses, and.”  Another hotel manager argued that sidewalk vendors pose a threat to public safety. She cited a recent shooting directed at a street vendor. Yes! She blamed the victim for the violence brought on them stating, “they bring cash only business which makes them susceptible to more crime.” She continued to say that sidewalk vendors bring in an “unsavory crowd.”

When the item later came up, the city council asked for a staff report and the Deputy City manager noted that street vendors have not accessed Anaheim’s permit process. Since 2018 only about five flower vendors and no food vendors have obtained permits.

The report, however, left me wondering about the city’s approach to sidewalk vending. It seemed to focus on enforcement and stereotypes, while not addressing the glaring gaps in outreach and lack of intense educational efforts.

The evening’s absurdity peaked when the report cataloged taco stands as “large scale operations” as the most problematic vendors, even linking taqueros to human trafficking rings. Yet when asked by council members for confirmation of suspected trafficking, none was supplied by city staff.

There was a lot of bureaucratic conflation of types of vendors. Health and Safety buzzwords were dropped throughout the presentation. Yet, no distinction was made between merchandise vendors and food vendors. All vendors in no vending zones will face confiscation of property as an enforcement mechanism. They will have the ability to confiscate sidewalk vendor equipment without the presence of County of Orange Health Inspectors alongside them.

Their focus will remain on large scale sidewalk food vendors and event and resort area vendors. Anaheim code enforcement patrols 6 nights a week with two of those nights alongside County Health Inspectors.

These enforcement efforts have led to, “141 citations in 2022 to 423 citations in 2023; in addition, in partnership with Orange County Health Inspectors staff confiscated the food and/or equipment of 112 vendors in 2022 and 174 vendors in 2023,” according to the Deputy City Manager.

The overzealousness to enforce and confiscate property is worrisome, cities should place their efforts in educational and informational outreach. They should understand that as folks acclimate to County of Orange Health requirements, education serves as a better measure towards compliance.

How many sessions for sidewalk vendors were held by the city? The staff report gave no quantitative data of how much resources were put into informing sidewalk vendors. These are important questions to ask when looking at the dismal number of permits.

Are cities putting more effort into enforcement measures or bridging gaps to truly make these permits accessible to these sidewalk micro entrepreneurs?

Cities wouldn’t have to invest so intensely in enforcement if you invested in a more informative/educational approach.

Anaheim, impounding equipment will economically devastate vendors, it will not improve compliance. Cities should work with their local health department to collaboratively find ways to increase permit numbers through education and outreach.

Making Food Prescriptions a Reality in California

If you are a Type 1 diabetic there are two constants in your life: the rising cost of insulin or the constant pain of the pricking needle. Now, imagine your doctor offered a new alternative to help manage your glucose.

What if your doctor could prescribe food tailored to your specific nutritional needs?

Unbeknownst to many, such a program has been in the works for the past five years. Food prescription pilots outside of the state have been around for decades. Around 2018 California officially began its food as medicine services. By early 2022, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) began a 5-year initiative to reform Medi-Cal, called CalAIM.

CalAIM is attempting to address the root causes and complex health needs in various communities across the state. Beginning in 2022 the DHCS began to offer 14 community support services that health plans can opt-in to, they provide an alternative to higher-cost medical services. Designed to address people’s health-related social needs, some of these community supports include navigation services for housing and sobering centers. By the end of 2022, all 58 counties in California offered at least two community services,  while 16 counties offered at least 10, and 3 counties (Sacramento, Riverside, and San Diego County) offered all 14 community support services.

The second most popular service among all counties is the Medically Supportive Food & Nutrition (MSFN) support. The spectrum of medically supportive food and nutrition interventions includes: medically tailored meals, medically supportive meals, food pharmacies, medically tailored groceries, medically supportive groceries, produce prescriptions and nutrition supports when paired with food provision. Different counties have different approaches to where and how food is received. Whatever the approach, around 26,000 Medi-Cal members have used this community support.

These amazing food and nutrition supports have been proven to be successful at helping people to treat, manage, or even prevent chronic health conditions as seen in pilots and studies not only across California but also nationally. These programs are an especially critical tool towards achieving health equity goals since BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by health issues and poverty. A recent study shows that Black Californians are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white Californians and more than 10% more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Western Center’s own Whitney Francis shares her experiences on the frontlines of this work, “Having previously worked in food pharmacies, I’ve seen first-hand how our patients were empowered to manage their health through accessing fresh produce weekly, especially for patients who struggled with issues such as food and housing insecurity.”

The time is now to make Medically Supportive Food and Nutrition (MSFN) accessible to more Californians. We need to be scaling this CalAIM support up; this means investing in outreach and education to make providers and patients aware of this community support and how to access it, assisting food/nutrition providers in establishing contracts with health plans, and establishing Medically Supportive Food and Nutrition as a permanent part of Medi-Cal.

Last year, Assemblymember Mia Bonta from Oakland introduced AB 1644, a bill that would transition medically supportive food and nutrition services a from an optional service under a time-limited waiver to a permanently covered benefit under Medi-Cal. While the bill did not get past the Appropriations Committee, the Medically Supportive Food & Nutrition coalition, co-led by SPUR and the Food as Medicine Collaborative who co-sponsored AB 1644, are preparing to reintroduce a similar bill, AB 1975. One of the major updates to the bill this year is more robust language incentivizing sourcing food from small and medium-sized farms, minority-owned farms, and farms using organic, regenerative, and other climate-smart practices – if passed, this would be a big win for the health of Californians, the planet, and our local economies.

California needs this — make no mistake this is an opportunity to invest in the long-term health of Californians. The benefits of food as low-cost medicine far outweigh the immediate costs it is said to incur for our state.

Whitney Francis agrees, she says, “these kinds of health interventions help to bridge the siloes between healthcare and social and economic factors that impact one’s health. That’s why I’m excited to support advocacy efforts to expand access to these services under Medi-Cal.”

I agree with my colleague, 2024 should be the year we make medically supportive foods and nutrition a more accessible reality.

There is no other time than now to take bold steps and get AB 1975 across the finish line and make an impact on Black and Latinx lives and offer food as medicine.

To stay updated on legislative advocacy for AB 1975, you can visit MSFNCA.org/contact and sign up for the Medically Supportive Food & Nutrition coalition updates.

‘Tis the Season…To Donate (Unspoiled) Food

By Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, WCLP Outreach & Advocacy Associate

One in five Californians suffers from chronic hunger, but a growing food rescue effort is poised to shrink that number.

About two years ago, one of the most significant waste reduction mandates went into effect across the state. SB 1383 ambitiously seeks to reduce organic waste  by 75% by 2025.  This means that around 20 million tons of potential waste may soon be diverted from landfills to kitchen tables.

Throughout California, municipalities  are setting up  programs to  ensure that grocery stores, produce marts, corporate kitchens, schools,  and other commercial food generators  set protocols to inspect leftover food before it spoils and see that it reaches those who are hungry as fresh as possible. For years prior to SB 1383, many food generators resisted donating food. Now with legislation, a robust network of waste reduction programs and streamlined donation processes,  support is growing.  

For example, Food Finders, which has a network of over 470 partners across five counties in Southern California, has been helping food generators comply with the mandate. In particular, they facilitate same-day, donor-to-recipient delivery of edible foods.

Thanks to SB 1383, food rescue programs reach out to organizations to ensure organizations know how to communicate with local public works departments to help them become compliant. During the COVID-19 epidemic, enforcement lagged, but the work of educating food donors is back on track. 

When Food Finders engages with new partners, it provides guidance that includes defining what is “edible” food. Presently, the definition can vary, say, from store to store, because there is no federally mandated expiration date. One store may pull food three days before expiration date, others may pull it the day of. The next step for averting food waste? Federal expiration standards.

A recent study found that more than 90% of Americans misinterpret food labels, leading to the disposal of perfectly good food. This, in many ways, exacerbates the issue of “donation dumping.” 

As the work in food recovery continues without a federal mandate clarifying what is spoiled, we must remind ourselves: if you won’t eat it, don’t donate it. 

 

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