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Households caught in health-care mismatch quagmire

Many Californians complain about trying to get issues resolved with Medi-Cal, the state and federal health program for the poor that now covers one-third of the state’s residents.

Other Californians similarly complain about Covered California, the state-run health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

Now imagine being in a family with members in each program. For those 600,000 individuals, getting and keeping insurance can be a quagmire.

“We hear a lot from our local programs about mixed-status families getting passed back and forth” between Covered California and Medi-Cal, said Jen Flory, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Homeless woman’s case sharpens focus on justice system and mentally ill

The list of Trishawn Cardessa Carey’s prescriptions fills a page in her case file: clonazepam for seizures and panic, methocarbamol for muscle spasms and quetiapine for spells of psychosis. She suffers delusions, paranoia and “dramatic mood swings.”

For years, the homeless woman has lived off Social Security tied to her mental disability — a doctor diagnosed her with schizoaffective disorder — and she has cycled into and out of L.A. County jails 10 times since 2002, according to court documents filed by her attorney, Milton Grimes.

Carey now could face decades in prison after picking up an LAPD officer’s baton and raising it in the air during a violent skid row incident earlier this year. The case spotlights a challenge for officials as they begin a new effort to improve the way Los Angeles’ criminal justice system handles offenders with mental illness.

Retired UCLA law professor (and Of Counsel to Western Center) Gary Blasi, who has studied homelessness, said Carey’s case underscores the need to rethink how the criminal justice system handles the mentally ill.

“They are just dealing with symptoms,” he said. “They are doing nothing more than recycling people through the criminal justice system.”


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Jerry Brown signs bill to help domestic violence survivors

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill by San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu allowing domestic violence victims to break a lease in order to move to safer housing.

Current state laws allowing domestic violence victims to terminate a residential lease were set to expire at the end of this year. Assembly Bill 418 makes those laws permanent and makes it easier to terminate a lease without filing a police report or obtaining a restraining order, according to Chiu.

In addition, the bill reduces the obligation for victims to pay the remaining rent from 30 days to 14 days following termination, a change intended to make it easier to afford new housing.

“By reducing the rent obligation to 14 days, this bill frees up funds that could be the difference between a domestic violence survivor securing safe housing and experiencing homelessness,” said Anya Lawler, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.


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Drought preparedness water bills receive support from wildlife panel

SACRAMENTO >> Three bills focused on saving water passed out of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 7, authored by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, requires the installation of submeters in new multifamily residential buildings, encouraging responsible water consumption and conservation by providing residents accurate information about the volume and cost of their water usage.

“California’s water supply is under intense pressure from climate change, increasing population and development,” Wolk said. “Given the extent of the drought and the need for greater water conservation in California, all of the state’s residents should be armed with the knowledge of how much water they are using in order for them to take steps to reduce their usage.”

SB 7’s supporters include the Sierra Club California & Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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An ‘Ugly Policy’ Systematically Devalues Poor Children. One State Is Ready To Stop It

In most states, when a family in need has a new child, their welfare benefits increase to cover the extra costs that come with a new family member. But 16 other states operate differently, limiting benefits after a certain number of children in the express hopes of discouraging poor mothers from having more children.

California’s policy, the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) Rule, has been in place for more than 20 years. After 10 months of receiving benefits, families don’t get any extra money if they have additional children, although they get higher benefits for any children they had before enrolling. “Here, what we say is, if you come into the program with 10 kids, they all get benefits, but if you come into the program with one kid and have another kid, that kid gets denied,” explained Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate at Western Center for Law and Poverty. “The child exclusion law targets the child, targets children born into deep poverty, and suggests that they should never have been born.” “It’s got an ugly history, it’s an ugly policy,” Bartholow said  “I think it’s one of the worst policies in the country.”

But advocates think this may be the year they finally get rid of it. State lawmakers had originally tried to do away with the cap in a budget agreement earlier this year by allocating additional grant money for families on welfare who have additional children. It was eventually dropped from the budget and is now a stand-alone bill. Last month, it passed out of a Senate committee for the first time.

Advocates also feel optimistic about the effort’s chances this year. “We feel like we finally have the attention of the governor,” said Bartholow, whose organization is one of the main sponsors of the repeal effort. She thinks Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wasn’t even made aware of the issue in the first two years of the campaign to eliminate the cap, but now she knows that he has been personally briefed on it. “I also believe that he would sign a piece of legislation repealing a Maximum Family Grant,” she added.

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Exorbitant traffic fees stripped too many drivers of licenses

Everyone has a story: The time an unlicensed driver rear-ended me. The time an unlicensed driver ran a red light and killed a co-worker’s dog as her husband was walking the dog in a crosswalk. It seems as if there are so many unlicensed drivers in California that authorities are not capable of deterring the unlicensed from getting behind the wheel.

In fact, according to a report by Western Center, 17 percent of licensed California drivers have suspended driver’s licenses — not for dangerous driving but for failing to pay off citations for minor traffic offenses. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice faulted authorities in Ferguson, Mo., for engaging in a toxic pattern of burying African American residents in fines and penalties for minor offenses with the goal of serving “revenue not public safety needs.” It turns out California has been dishing out the same dirty treatment to its diverse commuting class.

“We literally stumbled onto this issue,” one of the report’s authors, Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, told me. “No one was keeping track of all these things we were loading onto the court system, and no one was keeping track of the number of suspensions.”


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Brown, lawmakers agree on $115.4 billion California budget boosting social welfare, schools

A $115.4 billion budget deal would make California the largest state in the nation to offer state-subsidized health care to children who are in the country illegally while expanding other social welfare programs, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders said Tuesday.

Still, advocates who had pressured the Democratic governor to expand programs were disappointed. Brown rejected proposals to allow child care workers to unionize, kept a cap on welfare payments meant to discourage low-income women from having additional children, and rejected Medi-Cal payment increases to doctors and dentists.”This budget doesn’t do anything to stop punishing poor children,” said Mike Herald, legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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California State Senator Mark Leno’s Minimum Wage Bill Passes the Senate – $13 an Hour in 2017

Legislation that would help lift California’s low-wage earners out of poverty passed the Senate today.Senate Bill 3, authored by Senator Mark Leno, would raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2016 and $13 in 2017. The bill is jointly authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino.

“Despite our recovering economy, millions of Californians, many of them children, continue to live in poverty,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Full-time workers in this state should not be forced onto public assistance simply because they earn the minimum wage. It is time to lift up poor Californians and reward all hardworking employees with the resources they need to put food on the table for their families. Sub-poverty wages should not be legal in California.”

“SB 3 is the best opportunity that the state has to make a significant impact on poverty this year,” said Michael Herald, legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Low wage workers have suffered through decades of wage stagnation and rising inequality. SB 3 will put billions of dollars in the pockets of hard working Californians who will spend it on the necessities of life. The vote by the Senate today is a major victory, and we look forward to seeing it now pass the Assembly.”

SB 3 increases California’s current minimum wage of $9 per hour in two steps, to $11 in 2016 and $13 in 2017. Beginning in 2019, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually to the rate of inflation. The bill is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, United Food and Commercial Workers, SEIU California State Council and California Partnership. SB 3 is also supported by a long list of organizations and government leaders, including the Women’s Foundation of California, California Teachers Association, Children’s Defense Fund of California, California Association of Food Banks and California Catholic Conference of Bishops.

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California Budget To Break New Ground On Immigrant Health Care

A budget deal between Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders would make California the first in the nation to offer state-subsidized health care to children who are in the country illegally. The $115.4 billion agreement announced Tuesday is expected to win easy approval from the Senate and Assembly before the fiscal year begins July 1, and its immigrant health care provisions were touted by its backers as a necessity in the face of federal inaction.

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Meet Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at Western Center and let her give you a virtual high five for your great advocacy.

Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty, focuses on public benefits and other economic disparity issues that low-income Californians face. For them, she litigates, provides technical support to legal aid attorneys, and works on policy and legislation to secure public benefits and remove economic barriers to prosperity.

If you could give a high five to one of your legal heroes (living or dead), who would get it and why?
“This may read like a cop-out, but my high five goes to all of the advocates, nationally and internationally, working to secure civil and human rights and to uphold the dignity of poor people and minorities, and who strive to knock down systems of inequity by challenging the racism, sexism, ableism, mentalism, classism, and every other unmentioned “ism” that work to keep people poor and isolated. It’s tough work that we all do for little material reward or praise, but it often results in small and big positive changes that are enumerable. I’d give all of us two snaps and a cheer, too.”

Read the full interview here