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Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2024-2025 January Budget Proposal

Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2024-2025 January Budget Proposal

January 11, 2024

 

On January 10, Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2024-25 California state budget. The Governor’s $291 billion state spending plan estimates a $37.9 billion deficit, a smaller shortfall than the $68 billion the Legislative Analyst’s Office predicted last month but with ‘reasonable’ revenues according to the LAO. We appreciate that the proposal honors past commitments, including expansion of Medi-Cal to all income-eligible adults regardless of immigration status, and that there are no cuts to caseloads or grants to our most vulnerable families on CalWORKs and SSI. However, we are concerned with proposed cuts to CalWORKs supportive services, such as family stabilization programs, which fund programs that help families get back on their feet. Economic downturns hit low-income families the hardest and often result in a slower recovery period for these families; that makes it all the more urgent that we protect and strengthen California’s safety net.

 

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area.

 

HEALTH CARE

 

Continued and new health care investments

  • Maintains past budget actions on Health4All and Medi-Cal asset test elimination: The Governor’s proposal maintains previous year’s budget actions to implement full-scope Medi-Cal coverage expansion to all adults, regardless of immigration status. Effective January 2024, all Californians with incomes below 138% of FPL are eligible for Medi-Cal regardless of immigration status with no need to count assets.
  • Urge timely implementation of Share of Cost Reform and continuous eligibility for children: The 2022 budget deal to update Medi-Cal Share of Cost so that seniors and people with disabilities can afford to access needed Medi-Cal services and continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children ages zero to five is subject to contingencies, so we urge timely implementation of these critical programs.
  • Medi-Cal Caseload and Eligibility Redeterminations: The proposal assumes Medi-Cal caseload of 14.8 million in 2023-24, an increase of 583,000 individuals compared to the 2023 Budget Act due to overestimate of those who would no longer be eligible for Medi-Cal and resulting in increased costs of $2.3 billion ($499 million General Fund) in 2023-24 compared to the 2023 Budget Act.
  • Covered California: The proposal maintains key affordability measures for those in Covered California by including $82.5 million in 2023-24 and $165 million annually thereafter to support financial assistance for individuals purchasing coverage on Covered California. For the 2024 coverage year, these subsidies would result in elimination of deductibles and reduction in copayments and other health care cost sharing for more than 600,000 Californians.
  • Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative Wellness Coaches: The proposal includes $9.5 million ($4.1 million General Fund) in 2024-25 increasing annually to $78 million ($33.8 million General Fund) in 2027-28 to establish the wellness coach benefit to serve children and youth in Medi-Cal effective January 1, 2025.

 

Health measures/savings to close budget shortfalls

  • Safety Net Reserve Withdrawal: The proposal withdraws $900 million from the Safety Net Reserve (full amount) to maintain existing program benefits and services for the Medi-Cal and CalWORKs programs.
  • Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The proposal seeks early Legislative action to request the federal government approve an amendment to increase the tax to achieve $20.9 billion in total funding to the state, an increase of $1.5 billion over three years compared to the approved MCO Tax last December.
  • Assisted Living Waiver and Home-and Community-Based Services Waiver Slot Increases: The proposal increases slots for the Assisted Living Waiver and the Home and Community-Based Alternatives Waiver, resulting in $10.8 million net General Fund savings in 2024-25.
  • Health care worker minimum wage ‘trigger’ language: Last year’s chaptered SB 525 (Durazo) would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $25 for nearly 500,000 health care workers, with the first pay increases rolling out in June, but the Administration is seeking early legislative action in January to add an annual “trigger” to make the minimum wage increases subject to General Fund revenue availability.
  • Delay in behavioral health and workforce initiatives, including:
    • Behavioral Health: Delays $140.4 million General Fund from 2024-25 to 2025-26 for the final round of Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program grants; shifts $265 million from the Mental Health Services Fund that was appropriated in the 2023 Budget Act to the General Fund in 2024-25 related to the Behavioral Health Bridge Housing, and delays $235 million General Fund from 2024-25 to 2025-26.
    • Workforce: Delays $140.1 million General Fund to 2025-26 for the nursing and social work initiatives; $189.4 million Mental Health Services Fund to 2025-26 for the social work initiative, addiction psychiatry fellowships, university and college grants for behavioral health professionals, expanding Master of Social Work slots, and the local psychiatry behavioral health program.
  • Defers resources for recently chaptered bills: The proposal defers the consideration of resource requests associated with recently chaptered legislation to the May Revision, including: AB 425 related to Medi-Cal pharmacogenomic testing; AB 1163 related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender disparities reduction; SB 311 related to Medicare Part A buy-in; and SB 496 related to biomarker testing.

 

HOUSING

California is still reeling from the housing and houselessness crisis, compounded with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, accessing and maintaining affordable housing for low-income Black and brown families is nearly impossible. The Governor’s January Budget Proposal proposes $1.2 billion in stark cuts across various critical housing programs. The proposed budget will halt progress at a time when Californians are grappling with alarming housing cost burdens, widespread housing instability, and an urgent need to solve homelessness.

The following reversions and cuts to housing programs are proposed:

  • Infill Infrastructure Grant Program: A reversion of $200 million General Fund
  • Multifamily Housing Program: A reversion of $250 million General Fund
  • Regional Early Action Planning Grants 2.0 (REAP 2.0): A reversion of $300 million General Fund
  • Foreclosure Intervention Housing Preservation Program: A reduction of $247.5 million General Fund over the next three years
  • CalHome Program: A reversion of $152.5 million General Fund
  • Veteran Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program: A reversion of $50 million General Fund
  • Housing Navigators: A reduction of $13.7 million General Fund ongoing for Housing Navigators.

 

These cuts essentially zero out funding for the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, Multifamily Housing Program, Infill Infrastructure Grant Program, Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program, and CalHome Programs for the coming year. It also reverts $900 million of funds appropriated to these programs in 2023. These cuts will result in 6,400 fewer affordable homes and the loss of $1.6 billion in federal housing resources, at a time when housing instability and homelessness have never been greater nor more on top of voters’ minds.

 

As it relates to homelessness, the proposal maintains the previous multiyear budget allocation to address the houselessness crisis, including continued funding for Project Homekey ($2.8 million) and expanding Community Care programs ($860 million). Additionally, the proposal maintains its past commitments to the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention program, but there will be a need to secure future dollars for the 2024-25 budget to avoid a state funding cliff to local governments. Disappointingly, the Governor continues to fund houselessness encampment sweeps at $750 million instead of focusing on California’s commitment to Housing First strategies, such as funding affordable housing.

 

The federal government has stepped in and allocated California billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act. These funds have been allocated to construct and preserve affordable housing for all and to rehabilitating affordable housing for people experiencing houselessness. While this is much needed funding, it is crucialto ensure that the funding is used to stabilize low-income communities, rather than promote displacement, which has been a growing trend amongst ‘trickle down housing’ advocates.

 

In addition, the challenges of this year’s budget clearly underscore the dire need to not only place AB 1657 (Wicks), the statewide affordable housing bond, on the November ballot to ensure stable funding for critical affordable housing programs over the following four years, but also to create a permanent source of robust ongoing state funding for affordable housing and homelessness programs.

 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

 

CalWORKs: We appreciate that the proposal maintains grant levels for CalWORKs, which serves our poorest children, in households that are led by women of color, including 60% Latina and 17% Black, and includes intent to participate in the federal TANF pilot. However, we are concerned with potential cuts that may have significant impacts on families who continue to struggle to recover economically from the pandemic, including:

  • Family stabilization: reverts $55 million General Fund in 2023-24 and reduce $71 million General Fund beginning in 2024-25 and ongoing for family stabilization programs. These programs were created to strengthen CalWORKs families coming out of the Great Recession to ensure housing, mental health, safety, and family stability.
  • Employment Services Intensive Case Management: reduces $47 million General Fund beginning in 2024-25 and ongoing for county staff to provide one-on-one assistance to CalWORKs participants requiring exceptional support to overcome barriers to employment.
  • Subsidized employment: reverts $134.1 million General Fund in 2023-24 and reduces $134.1 million General Fund in 2024-25 and ongoing.

 

Child Welfare: Unfortunately, the proposed budget includes cuts in child welfare, including a $30 million cut in 2024-25 and ongoing to the Family Urgent Response System (FURS) which provides 24/7 emergency response for current or former foster youth, probation youth and their caregivers. There is also a $8.3 million cut to the Los Angeles County Child Welfare Services Public Health Nursing Program which ensures that foster youth receive necessary health screenings and expedited referrals. Lastly, there was a decrease of $195,000 in 2024-25 and $25.5 million in 2025-26 and ongoing to the housing supplement for foster youth in Supervised Independent Living Placements (SILPS) which helps stabilize older foster youth and helps to ensure that they will not become homeless.

 

Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): The proposal includes the federal SSI 3.2% cost-of-living adjustment and maintains last year’s 9.2% SSP increase that was implemented on January 1, 2024, for a grant amount of $1,183 per month for individuals and $2,023 per month for couples. The individual grant is 93% of the Federal Poverty Level using the 2023 index.

California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC): The proposal does not make a change to the CalEITC, but only proposes $10 million for tax credit outreach, education and free tax preparation. This figure is down from $20 million last year.

 

Overall Safety-Net Programs: We are encouraged that the proposal continues to fund expansions of life saving safety-net programs to all Californians and stand with immigrant communities who continue to advocate for the inclusion into critical safety-net programs that allow them to age with dignity, provide access to food, and access to wage replacement program.

 

For questions, contact:

 

Settlement Finalized in Katie A. vs. Los Angeles 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. 

While the County has instituted numerous new systems as a result of the lawsuit, perhaps most noteworthy is the now-standard practice for youth to receive intensive home-based mental health services that aim to keep youth with severe mental health needs in a homelike setting. Previously, they were more likely to have been  hospitalized or sent to a group home.

The County first settled the lawsuit in 2003 and agreed to provide mental health services, in addition to a long monitoring process. Plaintiffs filed a successful motion in 2009 to enforce the original settlement provisions.

Eventually, the plaintiffs reached separate settlement agreements with both the state and LA County in the case.

Co-counsel include: Disability Rights California, Bazelon Center for Mental Health, National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel.

 

In response to street vendor lawsuit, City Council members acknowledge the need to bring L.A.’s street vending ordinance into legal compliance, but the proposal still falls short.

In response to street vendor lawsuit, City Council members acknowledge the need to bring L.A.’s street vending ordinance into legal compliance, but the proposal still falls short.

Los Angeles – On Friday, October 20, 2023, a motion was introduced in Los Angeles City Council calling for the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance to be amended in order to comply with state law. Currently, the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance excludes sidewalk vendors from 9 City areas representing some of the most popular pedestrian areas of the City, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The motion proposes City officials create new vending rules for Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Bowl, to be crafted in consultation with the vending community.

The No Vending Zones in the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance, along with several other restrictive regulations, are currently the subject of a lawsuit filed in December 2022 by sidewalk vendors and sidewalk vendor advocates. The judge overseeing this lawsuit made an early ruling indicating that he found little justification for Los Angeles’ regulations under state law. Trial is set for February 2024.

We share the general goals described in this motion –  to create a lawful and successful sidewalk vending program that balances legitimate safety considerations with economic inclusion. In fact, street vendors have long been proposing these exact ideas, and have advocated tirelessly for inclusive and transparent policies that would allow these small businesses to operate with dignity and safety. So while it should not have required our lawsuit to motivate these actions, we appreciate the support of the council members authoring this motion, as well as this express acknowledgement that the City must bring its ordinance into legal compliance.

But this motion does not actually propose to eliminate the unlawful No Vending Zones, and it risks repeating the process that resulted in the illegal restrictions in the first place. The motion does not immediately end the City’s unjust exclusion of vendors from entire neighborhoods, nor does it address the deep financial, emotional, and psychological harms experienced by vendors from years of draconian enforcement of these unlawful and exclusionary policies. The motion does not address the illegal citation practices of the Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA) over the past four years, or provide redress to vending businesses that have been harmed by StreetsLA’s retaliatory actions. The motion does not address the other regulations we challenge in our lawsuit, including the unnecessary and potentially illegal buffer zones around swap meets and schools. Ultimately, the motion may lead to an unnecessary patchwork of confusing policies, still not aligned with state law.

Vendors cannot afford to continue to rack up thousands of dollars in illegitimate fines while a motion works its way through multiple committees and politicized discussions. Half-measure steps in the right direction will not resolve the litigation. Therefore, our lawsuit will proceed until the foundational legal issues underlying our case are resolved. And we will vigorously oppose any effort to use this motion, and its protracted timeline,  as justification for delaying full resolution of our legal claims. We continue to welcome a conversation with the City that centers the voices and experiences of vendors, but we are not deterred from pursuing our strong legal claims and we are confident that we will prevail in court if necessary.

 

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Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.

Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.

Public Counsel: Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal justice and opportunity for all for more than 50 years.

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

What would you do with an extra couple hundred dollars? How about an extra thousand, or more?

These questions are a welcome reality for many Riverside County families that were recently reimbursed after being charged with illegal juvenile court fees, and they could be a life-altering reality for many more community members who are still eligible for refunds — but time is running out.

Any parent or guardian who paid juvenile detention fees to Riverside County from December 2016 to April 2020 is encouraged to check their mail for a refund check.

The reimbursements are the result of a June 2023 settlement in a class action lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, brought against the County by parents and guardians impacted by juvenile court fees. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs — representing a class of some 1,200 people — alleged the County violated state and federal law when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families with children in juvenile detention, but failed both to ensure that families were able to pay the fees and to inform families of their right to challenge the fees. The plaintiff families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

“We sincerely hope that all community members are able to access the money that is owed back to them,” said Hong Le, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members. Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

Many checks remain uncashed

Riverside County, per the class-action settlement, agreed to pay $540,307 in refunds to class members. This came after the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees following the filing of Freeman v. County of Riverside in March 2020.

More than $150,000 in reimbursement funds remain uncollected following the distribution of checks this summer. That money could be life-changing for many eligible recipients who may be unaware of their eligibility, which is why the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty are recommending that community members check old mail they have lying around and that they encourage friends and family members who may have paid juvenile court fees to do the same.

Community members who have already cashed their checks have used the funds, among other ways, to get out of debt, to help with household bills, and to improve their living situations.

“If you think that you should have received a check, please call 833-472-1997 to see if you are eligible. The Settlement Administrator can reissue a check if it didn’t reach you. The settlement is the only case in the country where families are receiving refunds for fees charged to them when they had a child in the juvenile system. We don’t want any family to miss out on getting this money,” said Rebecca Miller, senior litigator with Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Visit here for more information about the lawsuit and settlement. Information from the Settlement Administrator can be accessed here.

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The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law and Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund Secure Momentous Win for Over 40 Million SNAP Recipients

For Immediate Release

September 21, 2023

Contacts: Monika Lee, [email protected]

Ashley LaFranchi, [email protected] 

Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund Secure Momentous Win for 40 Million SNAP Recipients

California – Millions of Americans with low incomes will now receive their food benefits without delay during the first month of a potential federal government shutdown, thanks to the government’s response to a nationwide class action brought by Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund. The USDA has committed to changing its accounting practice to now guarantee that over 40 million people will receive their SNAP benefits in October, beginning this year and continuing every year moving forward – regardless of a government shutdown. 

Previously, in the face of a government shutdown, benefits were only guaranteed through September, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year. This meant that each year people were unsure if they would receive life saving and hunger averting benefits unless Congress passed a budget.

SNAP recipients, represented by Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Impact Fund, filed suit in federal court in San Francisco on September 12, 2023, against the heads of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The suit, Erdmann-Browning v. Vilsack, seeks to prevent any delays in providing SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits if the government shuts down. Congress has still not passed a series of appropriations bills or a continuing resolution funding the government ahead of the September 30th deadline.

On September 19, the parties filed papers in court stating that the USDA has changed its accounting practices so that it funds benefits in advance of the month the benefits are available to households. This means that the existing SNAP appropriation was already available to fund the October SNAP benefits. This change is consistent with the federal definition of when federal funds are legally obligated.

Congressional political games continue to harm millions of people. The latest numbers from the Census Bureau show a staggering jump in poverty since the end of federal, state, and local pandemic protections. The poverty rate increased to 12.4 percent in 2022 up from 7.8 percent in 2021, “the largest one-year jump on record.” A combination of inflation, stagnated wages, increasing housing costs, and the end of pandemic era cash supplements has exacerbated the challenges people with low incomes face to make ends meet.  

“Today, we celebrate this important victory for over 40 million Americans who will now rest easy knowing their October benefits are guaranteed for the first time ever. However, we keep finding ourselves in this precarious situation year over year,” said Jodie Berger, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It is important that every advocate, non-profit, food bank, elected official, and agency join hands to underscore the importance of food access and nutrition for the health, well-being, and more of our communities.” 

“Millions of Americans, many of whom are seniors, children, and people with disabilities, will now have a better sense of where their next meal is coming from this October. Food insecurity, lack of access to food, and hunger are preventable, as we saw during the height of the pandemic when policymakers moved swiftly to protect people,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at the Impact Fund. “Elected officials must move with speed and urgency again, because hunger is already at crisis levels and food banks continue to be overwhelmed.” 

The work is not yet over. Stalemates in Congress and extended negotiations will continue to impact over 40 million SNAP recipients who represent about 10% of Americans, who face uncertainty this November and in subsequent months if Congress does not pass a series of appropriations bills or a continuing resolution.

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The Impact Fund uses impact litigation to support communities seeking justice and provides legal support for lawyers through grants, advocacy, and training events. For more information, visit www.impactfund.org

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Class Action Lawsuit: Over 40 Million Americans at Risk of Hunger if Federal Government Fails to Act

For Immediate Release

September 13, 2023

Contacts: Monika Lee, [email protected]

Teddy Basham-Witherington, [email protected]

Class Action Lawsuit: 42 Million Americans at Risk of Hunger if Federal Government Fails to Act

California – 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. 

The lawsuit asserts that the USDA should exercise available strategies to order the continuation of the SNAP benefits, while Congress works on passage of the funding bills. 

SNAP serves low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, providing benefits only to those whose net income is below the federal poverty level. The most recent USDA demographic data shows that 65% percent of SNAP participant households live in families with children, with 11 percent of the families receiving need-based cash aid; 36% are in households with members who are seniors or are disabled; and 41% are in households with low-wage. 

Since the end of federal COVID pandemic SNAP emergency benefits, advocates are seeing millions of families hitting a hunger cliff, overwhelming food banks with increased demand. Millions of people are eating less or are going hungry, impacting their physical and mental health, education, and employment. 

One plaintiff has multiple sclerosis and can no longer work. She and her family use the majority of their income to stay in motels to avoid living on the streets. When money runs out, they live in their van, which requires saving additional funds to buy ice for her medication that needs to be kept cool. She is entirely reliant on CalFresh, Californian’s version of SNAP,  for her family’s food. Without CalFresh, she and her family will go hungry. 

The second plaintiff is a young woman who recently found housing after two years of homelessness. She searched for and found a job, but without a four-year degree, could not earn enough to afford housing. She works as a part-time preschool teacher, going to college to increase her earning capacity. She receives CalFresh, which is crucial to her being able to meet her food needs, as her basic monthly expenses leave slim funds for food. 

Both plaintiffs would go hungry if their benefits are suspended, and fear that food banks and meal centers will be overwhelmed as all CalFresh recipients will similarly be seeking those services. Their stories will become even more common without action by the USDA and other agencies. 

With the filing of this case, the courts can issue a temporary restraining order to require the defendants to continue operation of the SNAP program and get benefits released to the 42 million Americans in need. 

“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.” 

“Food justice spans economic, environmental, racial, and social justice. Every agency and Congress person must take responsibility and accountability for the 42 million lives in their hands,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at The Impact Fund. “This case is about each and every one of the individuals, families, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on SNAP to survive.” 

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The Impact Fund uses impact litigation to support social justice for communities seeking justice and provides legal support for lawyers through grants, co-counsel and training events. For more information, visit https://www.impactfund.org/ 

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Trial Date Set For Street Vendors’ Lawsuit to End City of L.A.’s “Unlawful & Discriminatory” No-Vending Zones

TRIAL DATE SET FOR STREET VENDORS’ LAWSUIT TO END CITY OF L.A.’S “UNLAWFUL & DISCRIMINATORY” NO-VENDING ZONES

The vendors’ lawyers and three community empowerment organizations issued a statement after the trial-setting conference criticizing the City of LA’s leadership for its failure to take action.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 5, 2023 – Today, L.A. Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant scheduled a trial date for the lawsuit brought by sidewalk vendor advocates and two sidewalk vending business owners against the City of Los Angeles. The suit challenges the City of Los Angeles’ unlawful restrictions on sidewalk vending, which plaintiffs allege violate a 2018 state law, SB 946, that legalized sidewalk vending statewide. In particular, the lawsuit addresses the City’s no-vending zones, which ban vending businesses from some of the most pedestrian-friendly parts of the City. The trial is set for February 15, 2024. 

Three community empowerment groups – Community Power Collective, East LA Community Corporation, and Inclusive Action for the City – which are organizational petitioners in the suit, and their public interest attorneys – Public Counsel and Western Center on Law & Poverty – issued a joint statement after today’s trial-setting conference:

“Every day that the City continues to enforce these unlawful vending restrictions, it contributes to the harm and persecution of sidewalk vendors. Because of these restrictions, vendors must choose between costly tickets and harassment from the Bureau of Street Services (Streets LA) investigators, or operating in isolated and unfamiliar areas where they struggle to make ends meet. Operating in isolated areas also makes vendors more vulnerable to acts of violence and crime. Sidewalk vendors are hard-working small business owners trying to earn an honest living and provide for their families, but these illegal no-vending zones and other restrictive regulations ostracize and bar them from equitable economic opportunity.

We are disappointed that the City has not stepped up to resolve this issue, and is instead allowing this case to go to trial. Many City leaders have been vocal in supporting street vendors, and some have even spoken out against these unlawful restrictions. Yet, in practice, the City continues enforcing draconian policies that discriminate against vendors in favor of brick-and-mortar businesses, which are allowed to set up sprawling outdoor dining operations on our public sidewalks in the exact areas where even a small vending cart is prohibited. As a result of this economic protectionism in favor of wealthier businesses, vendors are left alone to protect themselves and their fellow vendors. In response, vendors have organized themselves and built localized systems of power to challenge the City’s exclusionary policies and assert their legal right to vend within the City’s no-vending zones as active participants in these communities.

Vendor leaders have continuously offered clear and thoughtful solutions that promote equal economic opportunity in Los Angeles while addressing legitimate health and safety issues. The City has the power to end these unlawful and discriminatory policies, yet in the nine months since we filed this lawsuit, it has continued to enforce them, enabling the financial, physical, and psychological harm of its own residents. Instead of choosing to support economic development and working-class, immigrant communities, the City continues to engage in costly litigation. 

We are prepared to go to trial and are confident that the facts and law are on our side. Sidewalk vendors are part of the economic, social, and cultural fabric of Los Angeles, they have organized to protect themselves and each other against discriminatory policies, and we are proud to stand alongside them as they fight for dignity and respect under the law. Our movement will continue to support these efforts, whether that is in the streets, the halls of power, or in the courtroom.”

The lawsuit was filed in December 2022 by street vendors and the above coalition of community empowerment groups. In March 2023, Judge Chalfant rejected the City’s arguments to dismiss the case, allowing the suit to continue. Public Counsel, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP represent the petitioners.

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Public Counsel: Public Counsel is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing civil rights and racial and economic justice, as well as to amplifying the power of our clients through comprehensive legal advocacy. Founded on and strengthened by a pro bono legal service model, our staff and volunteers seek justice through direct legal services, promote healthy and resilient communities through education and outreach, and support community-led efforts to transform unjust systems through litigation and policy advocacy in and beyond Los Angeles.

Arnold & Porter: With nearly 1,000 lawyers and 14 offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Arnold & Porter’s lawyers practice in more than 40 practice groups across the litigation, regulatory and transactional spectrum to help clients with complex needs stay ahead of the challenges they face.

Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.

Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.​

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Approximately 43,000 Former Santa Clara Valley Healthcare Patients to Receive Notice of Potential Eligibility for Charity Care or a Discount on Their Medical Bills

If you think you are eligible for possible billing corrections and refunds, contact Santa Clara Valley Healthcare at (408) 494-7850 for assistance. Patients may also contact the Health Consumer Alliance at (888) 804-3536 to receive free assistance about how to qualify for a refund.

Approximately 43,000 Former Santa Clara Valley Healthcare Patients to Receive Notice of Potential Eligibility for Charity Care or a Discount on Their Medical Bills

Santa Clara County, CA – Approximately 43,000 former patients of Santa Clara Valley Healthcare will soon receive notice of possible billing corrections and refunds. These corrective actions from the County of Santa Clara complement the significant enhancements that the County’s Board of Supervisors has made in recent years to the County’s hospital charity care and discount payment program, the Healthcare Access Program (HAP).

The increased patient outreach efforts are part of the settlement of a lawsuit that alleged the County did not adequately inform three former patients about its previous hospital charity care and discount payment policies after they incurred bills ranging from $8,000 to $35,000 between 2013 and 2017 and the bills were sent to collections. At the time of their hospitalization, one petitioner was uninsured, a single mother of two children, and a full-time student; another was uninsured and spoke primarily Spanish; and the third was unemployed and unhoused.

“Our goal in this lawsuit was to have better policies and processes in place at the hospital to inform patients of their right to charity care and to give patients who did not know about these programs in the past the chance to apply for discounts to their bills now,” said Fred Schwinn, Attorney with the Consumer Law Center, Inc.

The County’s patient notices include detailed information about how patients can qualify for free and discounted payments. The notices and posters advertising the program at the hospital are available in seven non-English languages. Written information about charity care and discount payments is given to patients at the time of service or mailed to patients within a few days after discharge. The County will also continue to assist patients with financial assistance applications and applications for government-sponsored health coverage such as Medi-Cal. Additionally, patients may apply for financial assistance at any time during the course of the collections process.

“Santa Clara Valley Healthcare prides itself on delivering quality healthcare for individuals and communities that face significant socioeconomic hurdles to receiving this basic benefit,” said Paul E. Lorenz, Chief Executive Officer for Santa Clara Valley Healthcare. “These newly implemented outreach efforts, combined with our current programs, multilingual approaches, and recent state-initiated efforts, will allow us to better serve those most in need.”

As part of settling this lawsuit, the County will provide an opportunity for patients whose bills were sent to collections between October 28, 2018, and December 31, 2021, to have their bills re-reviewed for full or partial discounts. Individuals who receive this notice will have 65 days to complete and return a form indicating their interest to apply. Individuals will then have an additional 150 days to complete their application by submitting documents to verify their information. Depending on when patients’ bills were sent to collections, they may qualify for different financial assistance programs. Patients may be eligible for refunds for amounts they overpaid and to have court judgments corrected.

“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. “We are impressed the County has committed to the enormous task of reconsidering past bills that may have qualified for free care or some level of discount.”

In California, all licensed acute care hospitals must provide financial assistance to uninsured patients and patients who have high medical costs. The County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors has long been committed to going above and beyond these requirements. In April 2020, the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of the Healthcare Access Program (HAP), which provides a full discount to eligible hospital patients whose yearly household income is at or below 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), as well as options for significantly discounted payments for patients whose income is between 401% and 650% of the FPL, making it one of the most generous and innovative hospital charity care and discount payment programs in the United States. For more information about the HAP, please visit this webpage.

Patients who receive a notice about this settlement may contact Santa Clara Valley Healthcare at (408) 494-7850 for assistance. Patients may also contact the Health Consumer Alliance at (888) 804-3536 to receive free assistance about how to qualify for a refund. 

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Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Located in downtown San Jose, California, Consumer Law Center, Inc., devotes its entire practice to protecting the rights of California consumers. CLC’s practice is exclusively limited to representing individuals in debt collection lawsuits and consumer class action cases against debt buyers and debt collectors. For more information, visit https://www.sjconsumerlaw.com/ and https://debt-defenders.com/.

About Santa Clara Valley Healthcare

Santa Clara Valley Healthcare (SCVH), California’s second-largest County-owned health and hospital system, is comprised of three acute care hospitals, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, O’Connor Hospital, and St. Louise Regional Hospital, along with a network of primary and specialty clinics. SCVH emphasizes quality care, research, teaching, innovation, and most importantly, a focus on coordinated, compassionate, and patient-centered care to every patient. Our mission is to provide high-quality, accessible healthcare and excellent service to everyone in Santa Clara County, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ability to pay.

Western Center’s Overview of the Final 2023-2024 California State Budget

Summary 

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. 

HEALTH CARE 

Health4All: The budget maintains full funding to expand full-scope Medi-Cal eligibility to all income eligible adults ages 26-49 regardless of immigration status on January 1, 2024.  

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The budget includes a larger and accelerated MCO tax with an earlier start date (April 2023 through the end of 2026). This results in $19.4 billion in total funding, which will offset the General Fund with the majority going to Medi-Cal investments. Medi-Cal investments include increasing reimbursements rates to 87.5% of Medicare rates for primary care, birthing care, and non-specialty mental health care. Other provider reimbursement will be decided and spent over a 4-to 5-year period instead of 8- to 10- year period originally proposed by the Administration 

Covered California Affordability Funding: The budget rejects the proposed sweep of individual mandate penalty funds to the General Fund. Funds will be used as intended to lower costs of Covered CA plans and provides $82.5 million ($165 million ongoing) from penalty funds to lower copays and deductibles for about 900,000 Californians beginning January 1, 2024. The budget includes a $600 million loan from the Health Care Affordability Reserve Fund to the General Fund, to be repaid in 2025-26. 

Medi-Cal Transitional Rent: Funding to Medi-Cal plans under CalAIM community supports to allow up to six months of rent or temporary housing to eligible individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. 

Medi-Cal Asset Test Clean-up Language: The budget includes cleanup language from the 2022 Budget that expands Medi-Cal access for older adults and people with disabilities by eliminating the Medi-Cal asset test effective January 1, 2024. 

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The budget includes additional funding to support the implementation of the CARE Act, including funding for earlier implementation for Los Angeles County and to double the number of hours per participant for legal services from 20 hours to 40 hours. 

HOMELESSNESS 

The Budget invests $3.5 billion in additional funding for homelessness programs, including $1 billion for the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention grant program, which funds housing, outreach at encampments, emergency shelters and more. While there were no cuts, these investments represent a small portion of what it would take to tackle the crisis. With an estimated 171,521 unhoused residents living on the streets or in their cars, California is home to nearly one-third of the country’s entire homeless population. Looking forward, we will continue to advocate for ongoing long-term investments to ensure that deeply affordable housing units do not continue to languish in the pipeline, unhoused Californians need not wait months or years to access an affordable and accessible housing option, and we stem the inflow of Californians into homelessness through protecting their rights and preserving their affordable housing options. 

2023-24 Homelessness Investments include: 

Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program: $1.5 billion over three years. 

Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program: $2.2 billion over five years for the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program, of which $50 million in 2022-23 is for the Department of General Services, with short-term statutory exemption, to deploy an estimated 1,200 small homes in the City of Los Angeles, County of Sacramento, City of San Jose, and County of San Diego as rapidly as possible. 

CalAIM Transitional Rent: $175.3 million ($40.8 million General Fund, $114.9 million federal funds, and $19.6 million Medi-Cal County Behavioral Health Fund) at full implementation to allow up to six months of rent or temporary housing to eligible individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. 

Encampment Resolution Funding Grants: $400 million in one-time General Fund for a third round of Encampment Resolution Funding grants. 

HOUSING 

The 2021 and 2022 Budget Acts invested a combined $21.5 billion over multiple years to advance the greater availability of housing throughout California. The 2023 Budget largely maintains a portion of these commitments and includes a housing package of $14.7 billion for 2023-24. Overall, the proposal includes $500 million continued annual investment in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, $100 million for the Multifamily Housing Program, and $100 million for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program. These programs have a proven track-record of addressing housing affordability and homelessness across California.  

2023-24 Housing Investments include:  

Multifamily Housing Program: $100 million in 2023-24 for the Multifamily Housing Program for a total of $325 million in 2023-24.   

Dream For All:$500 million one-time General Fund to the California Housing Finance Agency for the Dream for All program, which provides shared-appreciation loans to help low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers achieve homeownership.  

CalHome:$350 million one-time General Fund ($250 million in the 2022 Budget Act and $100 million committed for 2023-24) for the Department of Housing and Community Development’s CalHome program, to provide local agencies and nonprofit agencies with grants to assist low- and very-low-income first-time homebuyers with housing assistance, counseling and technical assistance. The Budget withdraws $50 million one-time General Fund in 2023-24, leaving $300 million for this program.   

Foreclosure Intervention Housing Prevention Program:The 2021 Budget Act included $500 million one-time General Fund for the Foreclosure Intervention Housing Prevention Program, which provides funds to various non-profit organizations to acquire foreclosed property and operate as affordable housing. The Budget defers $330 million of the $500 million one-time General Fund over four fiscal years—for a revised allocation of: $82.5 million in 2023-24, $85 million in 2024-25, $100 million in 2025-26, and $62.5 million in 2026-27.   

Downtown Rebound Program:The 2000 Budget Act included $25 million one-time General Fund for the Department of Housing and Community Development to provide funding for adaptive reuse of commercial and industrial structures to residential housing. The Budget reverts $17.5 million in unexpended funding that remained in this program after the Notice of Funding Availability.   

One-time investments, especially at this limited scale, are not sufficient to meet our state’s affordable housing and homelessness needs. While the final budget falls short of our requests to meet the housing and homelessness crisis at scale, we look forward to continuing our budget advocacy in the coming years to encourage the Governor and Legislative leadership to prioritize a comprehensive, long-term investment strategy that prioritizes significant, ongoing funding to solve homelessness and ensure that every Californian has a safe, stable home that they can afford. Ongoing investments can address the disproportionate harms of skyrocketing housing costs, housing instability, and homelessness on Black, Indigenous, and people of color, people living in poverty, and other marginalized communities. 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE  

CalWORKs: The budget includes a 3.6% increase to CalWORKs grants to continue efforts for No Child in Deep Poverty and makes permanent the 10% grant increase that took effect last October so no longer subject to a cut in 2024. Additionally, the budget requires CalWORKs grant display to account for households where the Assistance Unit does not account for all the people in the family, which applies to 60% of CalWORKs households. Unfortunately, the budget does not include Legislature’s proposal to implement the first phase of Reimagine CalWORKs despite UCSF’s new report that shows economic shocks are a key driver of homelessness that can be mitigated by reforming sanction. 

Food Assistance: The budget maximizes the new Summer EBT program, which will provide $40 per month in summertime food benefits to approximately 4 million children beginning in Summer 2024, bringing about $480 million in federally funded food benefits to California; initiates the CalFresh Minimum Nutrition Benefit Pilot Program, a $15 million pilot program to raise monthly minimum food benefits to $50 minimum from the current minimum of $23; approves the expansion of the California Food Assistance Program for adults age 55 and older, regardless of immigration status, to begin in late 2025, instead of January 2027; and approves improvement to EBT card security to protect CalFresh and CalWORKs families from theft. 

SSI/SSP: The budget includes an 8.6% increase to SSI/SSP grants and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program. Effective January 2024, this allocation will provide recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month and $1,928 per month for couples. 

Humanitarian support: The budget approves $150 million for the Rapid Response program, which funds sheltering and humanitarian support at the Southern border.  

Safety Net Reserve: The budget rejects the May Revision proposal to draw $450 million from the safety net reserve.   

For questions, contact: 

  • Health:  Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]wclp.org 
  • Housing and Homelessness: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org 
  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice:  Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org 

Tenants’ Rights Advocates Reach Landmark Settlement on Behalf of Californians Struggling With Pandemic Rent Debt

TENANTS’ RIGHTS ADVOCATES REACH LANDMARK SETTLEMENT ON BEHALF OF CALIFORNIANS STRUGGLING WITH PANDEMIC RENT DEBT

The agreement requires the California Department of Housing & Community Development to give pending and denied applicants a fair chance to receive Covid-19 rental assistance

LOS ANGELES—A landmark settlement has been reached in a case brought by tenants’ rights advocates alleging that the California Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) unconstitutionally operated the state’s Covid-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP or Housing is Key), which has 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.

California’s Covid-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created to provide direct assistance to low-income families struggling to pay rent during the pandemic. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action), Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), and PolicyLink—represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Covington & Burling LLP—sued HCD in June 2022 for several systemic failures in the program, including a confusing application process that led eligible tenants to be wrongfully denied assistance.

“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.”

“This settlement will mitigate some of the worst long-tail impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on our local communities, and Covington is very proud to have partnered with our co-counsel and clients in this important work,” said Neema Sahni, Partner at Covington & Burling LLP.

California identified more than $6 billion in rental assistance from the state and federal government for the Housing is Key program, which came at a critical time and should have made a profound difference for the hundreds of thousands of families impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic. More than half a million households applied to the program. Thus far, HCD has denied nearly 30 percent of applicants, according to an analysis of program data conducted by the National Equity Atlas (a research partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute). The vast majority of those denied (93 percent) have incomes below 80 percent of the area median income—the income threshold to be eligible for the program. Tenants did not receive any meaningful explanation of why they were being denied the help they needed to avoid eviction, and many had difficulty accessing the appeal process.

“We filed this case because we started to see a sharp rise in denials for tenants we knew were eligible, including clients of legal aid organizations across the state, who were relying on rental assistance to stay housed and off the streets,” said Faizah Malik, Senior Supervising Attorney at Public Counsel. “With the settlement of the case, many thousands of families will have another chance to receive the aid that they were promised.”

As part of the settlement, HCD has agreed to take several steps to improve its process for the remaining ERAP applications, including:

  • Providing tenants who are going to be denied all or part of the assistance they requested with a detailed explanation of the reason for denial, so they can address issues with the application and have a fair opportunity to appeal;
  • Ensuring that tenants subject to “recapture” of rental assistance funds have a fair opportunity to challenge the state’s decision;
  • Providing better access to the appeal process; 
  • Expanding funding to the Local Partner Network, which will assist tenants with navigating their pending applications and appeals;
  • Conducting an audit of prior denials to correct wrongful denials of assistance;
  • Improving language access and reasonable accommodation procedures; and
  • Providing greater transparency about who is receiving rental assistance and who is not, with data about the race, ethnicity, and zip code of people denied assistance.

Tenants who have been waiting for a decision on their applications will receive an update in the coming months and should regularly check their email, application portal, and postal mail for notifications. Tenants who have been evicted or moved since they applied for rental assistance should contact the Housing is Key program to update their contact information and ensure they receive any important notices. Those who receive a denial will have 30 days to file an appeal.

“SAJE has assisted hundreds of tenants on their rent relief applications, and many of the most vulnerable tenants are still in the waiting pool, confused and scared,” said Cynthia Strathmann, Executive Director of SAJE. “We hope that tenants now will finally get the information they need to get their applications approved so they can pay off their pandemic rent debt, a major source of continued stress and harassment.”

“This case brought us in contact with so many families who were evicted or facing eviction because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Jonathan Jager, LAFLA staff attorney. “We encourage any renters who are still waiting for an ERAP decision to not give up hope. Keep your contact information up to date with Housing is Key and reach out to the Local Partner Network if you have questions about any communications you receive from the program.”

Rent debt across California remains at crisis levels: an estimated 688,000 households across the state remain behind on rent, according to the National Equity Atlas. Altogether, they owe nearly $2.6 billion in total rent debt, with the average rent debt per household hovering around $3,700. The vast majority of these renters are low-income people of color who have suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. This persistent and mounting debt further illustrates the importance of this settlement to keeping families in their homes and curbing the surge of evictions that have followed the end of pandemic eviction moratoriums.

“I lost everything I had because of issues with the rent relief program. Right before the pandemic, I put my life’s savings into opening a restaurant. I was then forced to close down, and as a result lost my income, my business, and my entire savings trying to hold on to what I had. I applied for rent relief and at first was denied without explanation. Then I appealed, got approved, but have now been waiting for nearly 2 years for the money to come through. I tried calling the program for help dozens of times but got no help. A year into waiting for the funding, my landlord pressured me to move out, and I became homeless. Thousands of lives have been destroyed because of the failure to get the money out to families that they are due. I am hopeful that this settlement will finally bring us closer to some relief,” said Blake Phillips, former resident of Los Angeles.

“In creating the Covid-19 rent relief program, the state promised to cover 100 percent of pandemic rent debt for tenants in California. We brought this case to ensure that the state lived up to that promise so hundreds of thousands of Californians could survive the pandemic,” said Jefferson McGee, State Board Chair of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). “Housing is health and housing is a human right and we will keep fighting to make that a reality for our members.” 

More information on the details of the settlement can be found here. 

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About Western Center on Law & Poverty

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

About Public Counsel

Public Counsel is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing civil rights and racial and economic justice, as well as to amplifying the power of our clients through comprehensive legal advocacy. Founded on and strengthened by a pro bono legal service model, our staff and volunteers seek justice through direct legal services, promote healthy and resilient communities through education and outreach, and support community-led efforts to transform unjust systems through litigation and policy advocacy in and beyond Los Angeles.

About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is a nonprofit law firm that seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change, and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses, and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

About Covington & Burling LLP

In an increasingly regulated world, Covington & Burling LLP provides corporate, litigation, and regulatory expertise to help clients navigate their most complex business problems, deals, and disputes. Founded in 1919, the firm has more than 1,300 lawyers in offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington. Since its founding, Covington has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service. The firm is frequently recognized for pro bono service, including 11 times being ranked the number one pro bono practice in the U.S. by The American Lawyer. 

About the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE Action)

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action is a grassroots, member-led, statewide community organization working with more than 16,000 members across California. ACCE is dedicated to raising the voices of everyday Californians, neighborhood by neighborhood, to fight for the policies and programs we need to improve our communities and create a brighter future.

About Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)

SAJE is a 501c3 nonprofit organization in South Los Angeles that builds community power and leadership for economic justice. Founded in 1996, SAJE focuses on tenant rights, healthy housing, and equitable development. SAJE runs a regular tenant clinic, helps connect local residents to jobs, organizes for tenant rights, and fights for community benefits from future development through private agreements and public policies. We believe that everyone, regardless of income or connections, should have a voice in creating the policies that shape our city, and that the fate of city neighborhoods should be decided by those who live there in a manner that is fair, replicable, and sustainable. 

About PolicyLink

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity by Lifting Up What Works®. With local and national partners, PolicyLink works to ensure all people in America — particularly those who face the burdens of structural racism — can participate in a just society, live in a healthy community of opportunity, and prosper in an equitable economy. PolicyLink is guided by the belief that the solutions to the nation’s challenges lie with those closest to these challenges.