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Western Center Roundup – March 2024

Celebrating Women’s History Month and Cesar Chavez Day

This month we pause to celebrate and recommit ourselves to centering racial and gender justice. We remain inspired by the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez, whose movement to center justice for farmworkers continues to inspire the work of Western Center and its allies in California and around the world. We also salute the trailblazers and history-making women we’re privileged to partner with every day in our fight for justice. Whether it’s leading the fight to protect access to affordable housing, ensuring all Californians have access to healthcare, or continuing to uplift and promote the CROWN Act, we honor all changemakers for their contributions to advancing racial and gender equity.

Congratulations to Western Center policy advocate Sandra Poole, who Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen recognized as a 2024 Women’s History Month Honoree for Assembly District 10, AAPI Equity Alliance Executive Director Manjusha (Manju) Kulkarni, on being named a James Irvine Foundation 2024 Leadership Award recipient; and Western Center board member Christine Chambers Goodman, on being named a Los Angeles County Bar Association Women’s History Month Honoree. Finally, our very own executive director Crystal Crawford, California Democratic Party Controller Carolyn Fowler, activist for the homeless Shirley Raines, and State Senator Lola Smallwood Cuevas were named Women’s History Month honorees by the New Frontier Democratic Club for their unwavering commitment to equity and social justice.


Blog Post: Recognizing Trailblazers This Women’s History Month 

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Western Center senior health advocate Etecia Burrell is helping us all pause to recognize the invaluable efforts of women of color in American history. In a recent blog post, she highlights a few women leaders whose work powered the abolitionist, suffrage, labor, and civil rights movements and whose stories have been sidelined to elevate men.

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Western Center Settlement Leads to a Reduction in Medical Debt

Last year, Western Center and Consumer Law Center, Inc. settled our case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare last year for alleged violations of hospital financial assistance laws, Since then, Santa Clara County has written off $1.48 million in patient debt and refunded more than $304,000 to patients. The settlement significantly improved the county’s hospital financial assistance program by adding more detailed information to patient notices, translating notices and posters into seven non-English languages and allowing patients to apply for financial assistance at any time during the collections process. To date, the Santa Clara Health Care Access Program is one of the most generous and innovative hospital charity care and discount payment programs in the state. This work has inspired new legislation to protect consumers from medical debt.


Blog Post: Tips On Preventing EBT Theft

More than $10 million is stolen from EBT recipients each month in California. This growing crisis thwarts access to healthy food options for California’s most vulnerable. In a recent blogpost, Western Center outreach and advocacy associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez shares tips to help Californians avoid EBT theft and protect precious resources. 


Blog Post: Tips On Preventing EBT Theft

More than $10 million is stolen from EBT recipients each month in California. This growing crisis thwarts access to healthy food options for California’s most vulnerable. In a recent blogpost, Western Center advocate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez shares tips to help Californians avoid EBT theft and protect precious resources. 

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ICYMI: Watch the first 2024 Meet the Advocates

ICYMI: Western Center on Law and Poverty’s policy advocates recently hosted a deep dive into our 2024 legislative agenda, including our bills on medical debt protections, increasing housing voucher utilization, reducing Black maternal mortality, expanding pre-enrollment in Medi-Cal, housing as a human right, and much, much more!

WATCH

Western Center Roundup – February 2024

Honoring Black History Month and the Critical Work Ahead of Us
As Black History Month comes to a close, we honor the life and legacy of Professor Derrick Bell, one of Western Center’s founding members, past executive director, and a leading voice in the school of thought that would become critical race theory. We honor WCLP’s rich history, standing on the shoulders of giants, as we continue the critical work of eliminating anti-Blackness in Health, Housing, Public Benefits, and Access to Justice. We continue to expand our team to even more effectively tackle issues that disproportionately impact the Black community like the housing crisis, the burden of medical debt, and birthing justice and equity.

Blog Post: Black Midwifery and Birthing Justice
In a recent blog post, Senior Health Advocate Etecia Burrell delves into the racist roots of “professionalized” medicine as it relates to obstetrics and gynecology, Black Americans’ long history as birthing guides, and the current state of the centuries old practice of midwifery in America today.  Read the full blog post here.

 

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Blog Post: Anaheim City Council Stiffens Penalties for Street Vendors

Western Center Outreach & Advocacy Associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez recently wrote a blog post that highlights recent changes to Anaheim’s harsh vending policies.

This month Anaheim City Council voted to impound street vendor equipment and codify into law non-vending zones, moves he says are fueled by stereotypes that suggest street vendors deter customers from visiting brick and mortar businesses in the city. Read the full blog post here.

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Join Us for the Next “Meet the Advocates”
March 12th at 12:30-1:30PM
Join Western Center on Law and Poverty’s policy advocates for a deep dive into our 2024 legislative agenda, including our bills on medical debt protections, increasing housing voucher utilization, reducing Black maternal mortality, fighting for Medi-Cal continuous coverage, housing as a human right, and much, much more! The presentation will be followed by a Q&A.
REGISTER

Last Chance:  Apply for Reimbursement of Electronically Stolen Benefits
If you had cash aid or CalFresh benefits stolen without losing custody of your EBT card, you may have been a victim of electronic theft. This training tells you how to ask for reimbursement if your benefits were electronically stolen. It includes links to the claim form and resources.  If the benefits were stolen between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023, you must file a claim form by February 29, 2024.
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Justice, USA Documentary To Premiere on MAX

Marshall Goldberg’s documentary Justice, USA is set to premiere March 14, 2024, on MAX. The movie puts viewers in the shoes of indigent defendants, offering an inside, 360-degree look at the criminal justice system in some of the most racially-divided cities in the United States.

Shot over seven months in Nashville with almost no restrictions, this six-part series for MAX bears witness to everyday life in the men’s jail, the women’s jail, juvenile court, and the courthouse. There are no narrators and no experts. Justice, USA simply lets the cameras roll so we see and hear directly from the people who make up the system – inmates, lawyers, deputies, administrators – in their own voices.

To learn more about this groundbreaking documentary, click here.

LEARN MORE

Join our Team
As Western Center continues to position itself for greater reach and impact in 2024, we currently have three positions open: Policy Advocate – HousingSenior Health Attorney or Health Attorney, and Senior Communications Strategist.

Please share these opportunities widely with your networks!

LEARN MORE

Western Center Roundup – January 2024


Western Center’s Analysis of Gov. Newsom’s Budget Proposal

In response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2024-2025 budget proposal, Western Center issued an analysis on the impact his proposed funding priorities would have in several key areas of concern. These include: access to housing, health care, and public benefits for Californians. Note that this analysis is the first in a series of communications Western Center will distribute this session as we advocate for just budget priorities. Read the full analysis here.
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WCLP Blog: Making Food Prescriptions a Reality in California

Western Center Outreach & Advocacy Associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez recently wrote a blog post uplifting California’s innovative food prescription pilot programs. 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. Read the full blog post here.
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Western Center’s Newest Team Members
Western Center continues to grow to meet the needs of Californians with low incomes. Please join us in welcoming our newest team members, Etecia Burrell, Senior Health Advocate; Rebecca Gonzales, Policy Advocate, and Danny Sternberg, Attorney. We are overjoyed to have them on the Western Center team!

Join our Team
As Western Center continues to position itself for greater reach and impact in 2024, we currently have two positions open: Policy Advocate – Housing; and Senior Communications Strategist.

Please share these opportunities widely with your networks!

LEARN MORE

Western Center Roundup – December 2023


Settlement Finalized in Katie A. v. LA County Mental Health Lawsuit
After more than 20 years of litigation, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, has given final approval to a settlement in the longstanding case Katie A. v. Los Angeles County. The Court’s action ends a federal class action lawsuit that, over time, led to significantly improved mental health services for children and young adults in foster care or who face imminent risk of placement in foster care.

Filed in 2002, the suit alleged the county and state agencies failed to provide legally mandated health care services to youth in its custody. The lack of mental health services harmed foster youth by increasing the likelihood they would be removed from their homes.  Removals compound trauma for foster youth, making the lack of appropriate care even harder for children already struggling with mental illness.

“In the beginning of this lawsuit, we saw many youth have multiple moves due to behaviors that weren’t being addressed with treatment, and they were losing important connections to family and community,” said Antionette Dozier, one of Western Center’s lead attorneys on the case.


Tis the Season to Donate (Unspoiled) Food
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.

FULL BLOG

Western Center Roundup – October 2023


Hunger Persists but So Do We
A new report from the United States Department of Agriculture shows a sharp rise in food insecurity in 2022, the latest numbers available. A staggering 17 million households struggled to get enough food in 2022, a jump from 13.5 million households who were food insecure in 2021. Hunger, like poverty, is a policy choice and is not inevitable. Our Public Benefits and Access to Justice team continues to monitor the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the federal level, including suing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect food benefits in the face of Congressional inaction and winning guaranteed October benefits for over 40 million Americans. Our plaintiff, Jacqueline, spoke with CalMatters about struggling to make ends meet. Just this month, Chris Sanchez, policy advocate, was featured in Food Research & Action Center’s list of 12 Latinx advocates “who are leading the charge to end hunger and poverty.”

2023 Legislative Successes

This year, Governor Newsom signed four of our co-sponsored bills into law:

SB 567 (Senator María Elena Durazo), the Homelessness Prevention Act will close the loopholes in the AB 1482 (Chiu), the Tenant Protection Act, another WCLP co-sponsored bill in 2019 that established the first statewide just cause eviction protections and rent stabilization ordinance in CA. SB 567 will provide both a private and public right of action for violations of AB 1482 and will close loopholes in owner-move-in and substantial rehabilitations evictions. These are the two most common protections that unscrupulous landlords violate. Co-Sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, and Public Advocates.

AB 1418 (Assemblymember Tina McKinnor), Limiting Racially Motivated Crime-Free Housing Programs and Nuisance Ordinances ends predatory local laws that have unfairly increased evictions and further exacerbated California’s housing crisis. This bill will prohibit a local government from, among other things from requiring or encouraging a landlord to evict or penalize a tenant because of the tenant’s previous history with law enforcement, their association with another tenant or household member who has had contact with a law enforcement agency or has a criminal conviction, or to perform a criminal background check of a tenant or a prospective tenant. Co-Sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Disability Rights California, National Housing Law Project, and Root & Rebound.

SB595 (Senator Richard Roth), Minimizing Gaps in Health Care Coverage clears up language in another WCLP co-sponsored bill from 2022, SB 644 (Leyva) requiring Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information about those who applied for income-replacing benefits administered by EDD with Covered California to allow Covered California to outreach and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California. SB595 prevents insurance agents and enrollment brokers from cold-calling individuals to offer healthcare coverage and allows Covered California to conduct timely and targeted outreach to individuals. Co-sponsored with the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and Health Access.

SB 727 (Senator Monique Limón), Forgiveness of Coerced Debt for Survivors of Human Trafficking will provide a pathway for survivors of human trafficking to have coerced debt accrued during the time they were trafficked forgiven. Co-Sponsored with Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.

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A Night to Remember – Reflections from Garden Party 2023
Over 300 people gathered at the Ebell of Los Angeles last week in celebration of Garden Party 2023, our annual fundraiser and night to honor anti-poverty trailblazers. Read about this spectacular night!
FULL BLOG

Western Center Roundup – September 2023


Celebrating Latino Heritage Month

Western Center celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th, and recognizes the achievements, culture, history, and more contributions of people of Hispanic and Latinx descent. California is home to 15 million Latinos, with a large population of younger folks who are shaping the future of our state and are overwhelmingly optimistic about the opportunities available. In recognition of this powerful and growing diverse group, our latest Meet the Advocates webinar was in partnership with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California , a statewide policy and advocacy organization protecting and advancing Latinx health equity. Our event was focused on Medi-Cal renewals and how to ensure Latinx communities, communities with low-incomes, and communities of color are enrolled in or able to maintain life saving coverage. We hosted the webinar in both English and Spanish, featuring Western Center senior attorneys David Kane and Helen Tran,and Ana Tutila a promotora from Orange County. Recordings of the webinar are available in English and Spanish.



New Class Action Lawsuit: Over 40 Million Americans At Risk Of Hunger If Federal Government Fails To Act

Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund have filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prevent a delay in providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to over 40 million Americans. Congress must pass either appropriation bills or a “continuing resolution” to temporarily continue federal funding by September 30th, or else the federal government will shut down. Earlier this month, the Census Bureau reported a rise in the poverty rate, increasing to 12.4 percent in 2022 up from 7.8 percent in 2021, “the largest one-year jump on record.” The increase is largely due to the end of pandemic era programs like additional SNAP allotments to individuals and families. “It’s unconscionable that Congress would allow partisan fighting to get in the way of 42 million Americans putting food on their tables,” said Jodie Berger, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty.“The USDA must ensure SNAP recipients do not experience gaps in benefits regardless of any impending government shutdown. Children should not go to bed hungry, and people should not have to choose between paying rent and eating. The neediest people living in the richest country in the world deserve to have food on the table.” In a major victory, we secured guaranteed October SNAP benefits for over 40 million Americans for this October and years to come.

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How Grocery Mergers Harm Communities and Food Access

An impending grocery store merger between Albertson and Kroger spells trouble for millions. The merger would create less competition, harming workers, consumers, and diminishing access to strong wages, nutritious foods, and pharmaceutical needs. Corporate games drive and exacerbate poverty and we must stand strong against such harmful decisions.

“We must not forget the workers who kept us fed during difficult times, times they were experiencing and enduring too. Hundreds of thousands of people became unhoused and turned to SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh benefits in California, to get by because wages did not increase significantly. As communities with low incomes, communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and children continue to recover, this merger and others like it will only increase avoidable food insecurity,” writes Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, Outreach & Advocacy Associate.

READ THE BLOG



Welcome Brandon and Whitney to Western Center!

Brandon Greene joins our team as the Director of Policy Advocacy. Previously, he held roles as the Director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California, the Manager of the Civic Design Lab in Oakland and as an Attorney and Clinical Supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center. He brings a wealth of advocacy experience in racial, economic, and systemic justice. Brandon looks forward to driving policy change and incorporating learnings from California’s historic reparations report.

Whitney Francis is our 2023-2024 Peter Harbage Fellow. Every year, the Peter Harbage Fellowship provides one exceptional young person a year-long experience to deepen learning and capabilities in leadership and health care policy within California. We are excited to work with Whitney as she applies her experience in food justice, city planning, and systems change to Western Center’s health policy work.

MEET OUR TEAM


Western Center Roundup – August 2023


Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Black August, and Black Philanthropy Month

This month, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other giants of the civil rights movement. The march and King’s remarks that day are lodged in Americans’ collective memory as a turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Last Saturday, more than half a century later, a multiracial coalition of thousands of people gathered once again on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to demand social, racial, and economic justice and decry the people and systems that are trying to undo the progress we’ve made over the past 60 years. We recognize that all of our struggles are interconnected, and that liberation requires all of us to play a role in fighting oppression. Black August is a commemoration of the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, a call for the release of political prisoners, a condemnation of the conditions in prisons, and a continued fight for Black liberation. This month is also Black Philanthropy Month, founded by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland in 2011, as a global celebration and intentional campaign to elevate giving and funding equity. The theme of this year is “Love in Action,” inspired by the writings of bell hooks on love as a driver of true social change. She wrote, “But love is really more of an interactive process. It’s about what we do, not just what we feel. It’s a verb, not a noun.” Our development team continues to intentionally uplift the practice of putting love into action by applying community-centric fundraising principles in their work with the support and guidance of our philanthropy consultant, April Walker from Philanthropy for the People



New Settlement: Affirming Access to Charity Care

Earlier this month, we announced our landmark settlement in a charity care case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare with co-counsel Consumer Law Center, Inc., addressing the county’s failure to adequately inform patients with low and no incomes of the hospital’s charity care and discount payment policies. As a result, the County has updated their notices on how patients can qualify for free and discounted payments and expanded the number of languages notices are available in. An estimated 43,000 former patients of Santa Clara Valley Healthcare have received notice of possible billing corrections and refunds. “Medical debt, particularly hospital debt, burdens many Californians and forces them to forgo medically necessary care and other life necessities. We hope this lawsuit will give thousands of Santa Clara residents some financial relief,” said Helen Tran, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

News coverage of the settlement can be viewed in Kaiser Health News and KTVU.

 

Learn More



9/19: Pasa La Voz and Meet the Advocates – Medi-Cal Renewals

For this next Meet the Advocates, we’re excited to partner with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Their “Pasa La Voz” project aims to spread awareness and education about health, and to provide community resources to Latinx families and individuals in a culturally and community-informed manner. On Tuesday, September 19th from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM, join Western Center senior attorneys David Kane and Helen Tran and Ana Tutila, a Promotora in Orange County with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California as they discuss the importance of Medi-Cal renewals for California’s health and racial equity goals – and the current challenges facing those renewing their coverage. Millions of Californians who depend on Medi-Cal are going through the renewal process for the first time since before the start of the pandemic. We’ll be diving into the work advocates and community-based organizations are doing to support people enrolled in Medi-Cal to keep their coverage, highlighting on-the-ground challenges enrollees are facing, and discussing the policy changes needed to improve this process.

RSVP


Western Center Roundup – July 2023


Advancing Economic and Racial Justice

This month, Western Center recognized the anniversary of significant national wins and reminders of the distance we need to go in securing economic justice and workplace protections for all Californians. Alongside our CROWN Coalition partners, Dove, National Urban League, and Color of Change, we celebrated the fourth annual Crown Day, marking California’s historic, first in nation CROWN Act banning race-based hair discrimination. We are energized by the groundswell of activities to bring these protections nationwide – as we recognize Black Women’s Equal Pay Day in late July – representing that Black women must work a full year, plus an additional almost 8 months to match what men in similar positions make in just one year. Nationally, Equal Pay Day—representing all women—is March 14th. Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day is April 5; Latina Equal Pay Day is October 5th; and Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is November 30th. We close this Disability Pride Month honoring the activists and attorneys whose tireless fight brought us the Americans with Disability Act 33 years ago, making the United States the first country to pass comprehensive protections for the basic civil rights of people with disabilities, outlawing discrimination against individuals with disabilities in schools, employment, transportation and other key parts of public life for the more than 61 million Americans living with disabilities, so they can participate fully in society. 

 

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JOIN US: Wednesday, August 2nd Poverty is Not a Joke Comedy Benefit

Just Announced: Cameron Esposito (Take My Wife, Queery) will be hosting our inaugural comedy benefit, this Wednesday at the Dynasty Typewriter in Los Angeles. Taking the stage is: Aparna Nancherla (BoJack Horseman, Bob’s Burgers, Corporate), Jackie Kashian (Stay-Kashian, The Dork Forest, Jackie and Laurie Show), Chike Robinson (2023 New Face of Comedy – Just for Laughs Festival, 2022 Comic to Watch – NY Comedy Fest), plus a notorious SPECIAL GUEST who is currently on a sold-out tour. All funds raised will benefit our work to eliminate poverty and advance racial justice. Tickets are limited, so grab yours today! Doors open at 6:30 PM and the show runs from 7:30 to 9 PM.

 

TICKETS



Western Center’s Overview Of The Final 2023-2024 California State Budget

The Governor and Legislature reached their 2023-2024 budget agreement, including a package of implementing bills detailing how California will spend $310 billion in revenues, manage a deficit, and maintain reserves for future uncertainty.

After years of a budget surplus, California is forecasting a downturn in funding due to a combination of capital gains losses and delayed tax filings due to natural disasters, but California remains strong. The final budget reflects $37.8 billion in total budgetary reserves and additional funds from the Managed Care Organization tax.

While the budget agreement avoids cuts to critical programs that communities with low incomes and communities of color rely on and investments in our safety net, there are still major gaps in the investments needed to build an equitable and thriving California.  

READ OUR ANALYSIS



NEW BLOG: California Steps Up To Stop Big Tobacco From Maliciously Targeting Black Communities

For decades Big Tobacco has targeted Black communities with their advertising. Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, our Outreach and Advocacy Associate, details the history and tactics of Big Tobacco and discusses the steps California has taken to protect public health, especially Black public health.

“This is an industry rooted in racism, white supremacy, and nefarious capitalism. The colonialist and extractive production models used by tobacco producers had detrimental effects on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people at its origins. Today, Big Tobacco actively continues to disrupt community health initiatives meant to improve health outcomes for profit,” Zavala-Rodriguez writes.

READ MORE

 



ICYMI: Western Center Annual Report

Western Center published our 2022 Annual Report showcasing the work we do in partnership with our movement allies, legal aid service providers, coalitions, pro bono partners, funders, policy makers, and community members to advance racial and economic justice.

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Western Center Round Up – June 2023

California Reparations Task Force Releases Historic Report 

Despite today’s SCOTUS ruling, we have much to celebrate today. After two years of research and public convenings, the California State Reparations Task Force released their groundbreaking official report to the Legislature today, outlining recommendations for reparations for Black Californians descended from slaves to compensate for harms caused by enslavement and racial discrimination practices. In Western Center’s 2022 Annual Report, Crystal Crawford, Executive Director lifted up the task force’s significance and impact on our work, “Defining and implementing meaningful and achievable reparations for the Black descendants of enslaved people (who remain unable to reap the benefits of the American economy and continue to be shut out from opportunities to thrive), is the next critically important phase in California’s groundbreaking reparations journey. Western Center deals with the fallout of our country’s anti-Blackness and legacy of slavery every day when we work to protect people impacted by poverty. The legacy of American racism has resulted in worse social outcomes by most measures — from COVID-19 death rates, to incarceration rates, to homelessness, to employment and education.”

We applaud the task force for their tireless and first-in-nation work to create this roadmap for change and invite you to read their recommendations. “California can very well be the test case and the blueprint for what can and should be done when it comes to this issue,” says Senator Steven Bradford (Gardena), Reparations Task Force Member.

READ THE REPORT

Celebrating PRIDE by Safeguarding Civil Rights

As we close out Pride Month, we celebrate the beauty and power of our LGBTQIA+ family and the history of radical advocacy. Last year, we were honored to co-sponsor SB 923 (Wiener), a historic bill that creates a workgroup to establish first-in-the nation quality standards for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex (TGI) patient experience and recommends related training curriculum, mandates health plans to require TGI cultural competency training for their staff, and requires plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services and we celebrated the signing of SB107 (Wiener), a historic bill to protect the civil rights and basic dignity of LGBTQIA+ people, helping trans kids and their parents have a safe place to go if they are threatened with prosecution or criminalization for being who they are and seeking the care they need. This month, and every month, we commit to the fierce advocacy required to protect the rights of our LGBTQIA+ family in the courts and in the Capitol.

 Tenants’ Rights Advocates Reach Landmark Settlement On Behalf Of Californians Struggling With Pandemic Rent Debt

Earlier this month, Western Center, along with co-counsel Public Counsel, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Covington and Burling LLP announced a landmark settlement in ACCE Action v. California HCD, a case brought by tenants’ rights advocates alleging that the California Department of Housing & Community Development unconstitutionally operated the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which led to qualified applicants missing out on the assistance they were promised after the pandemic destroyed many Californians’ livelihoods. More than 100,000 households are still waiting for a decision on their applications—and many of them are being served with eviction notices and being harassed by their landlords for rent they still owe. The settlement agreement will offer a renewed chance for applicants who remain in limbo to receive Covid-19 rental assistance, which remains essential to supporting and stabilizing families as the housing and homelessness crisis worsens in California.

The rental assistance program was intended to provide housing stability for low-income tenant families who were impacted by Covid-19, but delays and dysfunction left far too many eligible families facing eviction because they could not access this critical assistance,” said Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “We are hopeful that this settlement will create an opportunity for these tenants to finally receive the help they need.”

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Families, Youth To Receive Cash Reimbursements From Riverside County Following Lawsuit Settlement

National Center for Youth Law and Western Center on Law and Poverty recently settled Freeman v. Riverside, a class action lawsuit that challenged Riverside County’s practices of charging and collecting detention fees from parents and guardians with a child in the juvenile system. The court granted approval of a settlement that establishes a $540,307 fund to reimburse parents and guardians who made a detention fees payment to Riverside County in a juvenile case between December 21, 2016 through April 21, 2020. More information about the settlement and the notice for class members can be found here.

So many families in Riverside are able to breathe a sigh of relief as these unjust juvenile fees are wiped away and reimbursed,” said Rebecca Miller, Western Center’s Senior Litigator. “But many people in California are still burdened with unaffordable criminal and juvenile debts, even with laws that require the government to consider their ability to pay. Families with low-incomes and families of color face the brunt of this debt, stripping wealth from their communities and denying them a chance to thrive economically.

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NEW BLOG: How I Went from a Street Vendor to Organizing Street Vendors

For decades, street vendors provided food for their communities and law enforcement and health departments across the city of Los Angeles criminalized them for doing so. These vendors were disproportionately Black and Brown, often immigrants who provided food in low-income communities of color disproportionately harmed by food insecurity and food deserts. All of them operated in the informal economy, in a segregated system – upheld by outdated municipal codes and state retail food laws – that favored enforcement against and criminalization of street vendors.With SB 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, and SB 972, the California Retail Food Code Act, street vending has been decriminalized, and food codes have been modernized to include and welcome sidewalk food vendors into our economy. This complete one-eighty occurred because of community organizing done well. And yet, enforcement of these wins has been a challenge. Western Center recently joined as counsel in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging their unlawful and discriminatory “no vending zones.”
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Western Center Roundup – May 2023


Western Center Releases 2022 Annual Report

As we close Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, National Women’s Health Month, and Maternal Mental Health Month, we are reflecting on the words of social justice activist Grace Lee Boggs“We should not be waiting for singular charismatic leaders to tell us what direction to go, but instead be like midwives, supporting the birth of movements that are already emerging.” Our 2022 annual report outlines the work we do in partnership with our movement allies, legal aid service providers, coalitions, pro bono partners, funders, policy makers, and community members to advance racial and economic justice. Framed by the beautiful art of Kayla Salisbury and photography by Las Fotos Project, we tell the story of 2022 litigation, advocacy, and movement wins – and how historic investments in safety net programs, tenant protections, and health care coverage expansions reduced rates of growing poverty in the face of COVID-19’s continued economic devastation. 

 

Read the Report



Securing Transformative District Wide Changes for Black Students and Black Students with Disabilities in Black Parallel School Board v. Sacramento City Unified School District

Last week, we announced a transformational settlement agreement with co-counsel, Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California (DRC), and National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), in Black Parallel School Board v. Sacramento City Unified School District. The suit accused the district of discriminatory segregation of students with disabilities and Black students with disabilities into highly restrictive classrooms and schools, plus other harmful practices laid bare in a 2017 report, based on a district self-audit. The suit also highlighted the District’s failure to provide these students with the educational and supportive services that the law requires. Plaintiffs alleged this failure contributed to grossly disparate rates of suspension and expulsion of Black students—among the very worst in the state for Black boys in 2018-2019 —as well as for students with disabilities.

The settlement requires the appointment of an independent monitor to review existing reports and data on the District’s special education and school discipline practices and develop and implement an Action Plan to bring SCUSD in compliance with the law to ensure all students have equal access to a quality education. “We are optimistic about the independent monitor component of the settlement; it will create accountability and help guide and direct the District as it undertakes the essential work of dismantling a discriminatory system,” said Senior Attorney Antionette Dozier of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

 

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Join Us for the Next Meet The Advocates on Ending Poverty Tows – June 29th at 12PM

Not being able to renew a vehicle’s registration or even having your car towed because of unpaid parking tickets happens frequently enough to low-income people that it has a name: poverty tows. Join Patrice Berry of EPIC, Rebecca Miller and Cynthia Castillo of Western Center, for our next Meet the Advocates, focused on AB1082 (Kalra), a bill to stop authorities from towing legally and safely parked vehicles due to the owner having unpaid parking citations. Public records show that although the goal of these tows is to collect debt, poverty tows actually cost cities far more than they recover. Learn about the snowballing impact of poverty tows on Californians with low incomes –  and why the time is now to pass AB1082.  

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New Staff, Awards, and Acknowledgments

Western Center continues to grow to meet the needs of Californians with low incomes. Please join us in welcoming our newest team members, Monika Lee, Senior Communications Strategist, Eduardo Lopez, Public Benefits and Access to Justice Fellow, Lori McCoy Shuler, Senior Executive and Legal Assistant, and Katie McKeon, Housing Attorney! We also invite you to join us in celebrating Crystal D. Crawford, Western Center’s Executive Director as she receives the Excellence in Advocacy Award from Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation on June 3rd. We also send our congratulations to Western Center Board Member Dr. Megan T. Ebor‘s on her recent recognition with the Heart-Led Leader Award given by the Associated Students at San Diego State University.

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