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PRESS RELEASE: LA County Agrees to Stop Delaying Food Assistance to Neediest Applicants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Court injunction will require county to process all emergency CalFresh applications in three days

Los Angeles, CA – In a major victory in the fight against hunger, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted today to enter into a permanent injunction for a case filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Hunger Action Los Angeles, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, et al., requiring the county to process and approve emergency CalFresh applications in a timely manner. The injunction will impact thousands of vulnerable families experiencing dangerous food insecurity in Los Angeles County each month.

“We wouldn’t tolerate it if the fire department took a day to respond to a fire, and we shouldn’t waste time when people are hungry,” said Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action Los Angeles, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The county has the resources, provided by the federal government, to respond immediately.”

The State of California requires counties to expedite food assistance applications for people with extremely low incomes who are homeless or whose housing costs exceed their resources or monthly income. But for more than a year, LA County consistently failed to process emergency applications for CalFresh—formerly known as food stamps—in under three days as required by law.

“We are heartened the county, in entering this agreement, acknowledges that hunger cannot wait,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “These are applications for emergency assistance, and the county must treat them with an appropriate level of urgency.”

Two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles—Hunger Action Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Community Action Network—along with an applicant affected by the delays, sued the county in November, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

“The county’s blatant disregard for people living in extreme poverty, who tend to be Black and Brown, was exacerbating racial inequities in disadvantaged communities like Skid Row and South Los Angeles,” said Todd Cunningham of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. “We sued to force the county to follow the law.”

Represented by NLSLA, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Public Interest Law Project, and pro bono counsel from Sidley Austin LLP, the groups presented the court with data showing the county had violated both state and federal law for months leading up to the lawsuit. In one month alone, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline in 53 percent of eligible applications, leaving 7,600 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. Some applicants had to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“Following the filing of the lawsuit, the county’s processing of applications has improved – but not nearly enough,” said Lauren Hansen of Public Interest Law Project. “Each and every one of these emergency applications must be processed immediately.”

Peter, a CalFresh applicant named in the lawsuit, was 17 years old when his father suffered a severe stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to continue his work as a day laborer. Peter should have received access to CalFresh in three days. Instead, the family heard nothing from the county for 17 days, at which time someone called and left a message. When Peter’s father tried to return the call, he got a “high call-volume” message and was disconnected. Then he received a letter stating Peter’s application had been denied.

A November 2021 report from the county Department of Public Health warned of the “devastating consequences” of food insecurity, which significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and psychological distress or depression. In childhood, food insecurity is associated with delayed development, diminished academic performance, anxiety and depression, and early-onset obesity.

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Hunger Action LA (HALA) works to end hunger and promote healthy eating through advocacy, direct service, and organizing.

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) consists of extremely low-income and homeless people, primarily those living in Downtown LA and South Central LA. LA CAN recruits organizational members and builds indigenous leadership within this constituency to promote human rights and address multiple forms of oppression faced by extremely low-income, predominately African-American and Latino, residents. LA CAN focuses on issues related to civil rights and preventing the criminalization of poverty, women’s rights, the human right to housing, and healthy food access. LA CAN also has projects focused on economic development, civic participation and voter engagement, and community media.

Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County. Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Sidley Austin LLP is a premier law firm with a practice highly attuned to the ever-changing international landscape. The firm has built a reputation for being an adviser for global business, with more than 2,000 lawyers worldwide. Sidley maintains a commitment to providing quality legal services and to offering advice in litigation, transactional, and regulatory matters spanning virtually every area of law. The firm’s lawyers have wide-reaching legal backgrounds and are dedicated to teamwork, collaboration, and superior client service.

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.

 

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Filed Against CA HCD for Violating Due Process Rights in Emergency Rental Assistance Program

For Immediate Release

Department denied 31 percent of rental relief applications without offering meaningful explanation of denial or a transparent appeals process

Oakland, CA – Community-based tenant organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) along with research and action institute PolicyLink have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for administering the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in a way that is opaque and disproportionately harms tenants on the basis of race, color, and national origin. The suit also challenges HCD’s refusal to provide public records that would shed light on its administration of the program. The organizations are represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

“Our analysis of the program data shows that denials have spiked since the program closed, and that 92 percent of denied applicants have incomes low enough to qualify them for the program,” said Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink. “So many renters have staked their families’ futures on this program, and they deserve every opportunity to access the relief they’ve been promised.”

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created by the federal government to keep vulnerable tenants housed as a result of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. California received $5.2 billion in federal funds and HCD was charged with creating an application process, screening tenants for eligibility, and distributing the federal funds.

“This lawsuit is necessary to stop the unfair and arbitrary rental assistance denials,” said Jackie Zaneri, senior attorney at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). “Tenants deserve to have their rental assistance applications fairly considered and to know why they were denied.”

The application process requires extensive paperwork, access to email and an ability to regularly check it, and the ability to navigate the system in English even if it isn’t the tenant’s preferred language. Tenants with limited English proficiency, disproportionately Latinx and Asian tenants, receive notices and requests for documents only in English. After going through that complicated process, tenants wait months for a response, and are receiving a variety of vague responses including approval for partial payments or a full denial of payment without adequate explanation. When PolicyLink requested public records about denials of rental assistance, HCD did not respond.

Vilma Vasquez, a tenant who worked with SAJE described navigating the process, “it was stressful, in psychological terms because sometimes I worried about not being sure if I would receive the payment or not, housing is vital for the life of any person.”

HCD does allow for a 30-day appeal window, but since tenants are not informed as to why they were denied, appeal is a struggle. There is also no transparency in the process around who reviews appeals, and tenants can’t make their case directly with a decisionmaker. As of June 1 2022, 138,000, or 31 percent of households whose applications have been reviewed, have been denied, putting thousands of people at risk of eviction. After an application is denied, a landlord can seek to evict a tenant under state law.

“Tenants are being denied rental assistance that they need to stay housed without being told the reason, or getting a fair chance to contest the denial,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The process is profoundly unfair, doesn’t meet constitutional standards, and fails to meet its most basic function – keeping Californians housed.”

Read the complaint HERE.

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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.

Public Counsel is a nonprofit law firm and the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. It serves communities locally and nationwide by advancing civil rights litigation, advocating for policy change and providing free legal services to thousands of clients annually.

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.

Western Center’s Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-23 May Budget Revision

The Newsom Administration released its 2022-23 May Revise budget, which includes a massive three year budget surplus of over $90 billion. While the budget includes many noteworthy proposals, overall it fails to provide robust help to those who need it most. Rather than target the surplus on increased tax credits and emergency relief for people with low incomes, the budget proposal provides more than $11 billion in tax credits to car owners, including households with incomes up to $250,000.

Paradoxically, the state has so much extra revenue that General Fund spending is limited since the increased revenue exceeds the State Appropriations Limit (aka the Gann limit). As such, the May Revise proposes large infrastructure spending that is not counted towards the Gann limit. While those proposals are not without merit, the Revise fails on fundamental anti-poverty measures, like backfilling the lost federal child tax credits proven to reduce child poverty, leaving hundreds of thousands of children at risk of unnecessarily falling back into poverty. The Revise also fails to fully eliminate civil assessment fees that disproportionately punish people experiencing poverty who cannot afford to pay a traffic ticket or take time to appear in court.

Care Court

The governor proposes $65 million to fund a new court process called Care Court, which would force unhoused individuals with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders into a court ordered treatment plan. Western Center has been tracking the proposal and vocal about our opposition since the governor revealed it in March, as it touches on each of our issue areas.

The Revise provides $39 million to the Judicial Council to run the court process, $10 million to finance a supporter program within the state Department of Aging, and $15 million to counties for training and technical assistance.

With its lack of necessary interventions, like a clear budget strategy and mechanisms for creating housing, we believe the framework of the proposal is fundamentally flawed. If implemented, it is likely CARE Court will lead to unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities and unhoused people and likely create a chilling effect that will prevent people from seeking services for fear of being institutionalized. Additionally, by involving the court system the proposal will perpetuate institutionalized racism and exacerbate existing disparities in health care delivery since Black, Indigenous and other people of color are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorders than white people. All evidence shows that adequately-resourced, intensive, voluntary outpatient treatment – not court-ordered treatment – is most effective for treating the population CARE Court seeks to serve.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

The governor’s May Revise proposes a $2.5 billion dollar increase for housing and homelessness programs from last year for multi-year investments to build housing and behavioral health housing. The Revise includes an additional $150 million to fund Homekey projects, $50 million to build interim housing and $500 million to accelerate affordable housing production and conversions of retail space in downtown corridors.

Even with the economic fallout of the pandemic raging on, the proposal does not include additional funding for tenants at the brink of eviction for their inability to pay rent. To confuse matters, the governor announced a $2.7 billion budget allocation for rental assistance, but it is not a new commitment. Rather, it’s part of the commitment the legislature made in February via Senate Bill 115, designed to ensure full coverage for rental assistance applications submitted before March 31. However, because of the burdensome application process, tenants accrue debt while they wait for approval and still face the threat of eviction for the months their application was being processed.

The governor’s proposal fails to comply with the legal requirement for the state to fully fund rental assistance applications submitted before March 31 by paying those tenants 100% of their accrued debt at the time they are approved. To keep tenants housed and fulfill the promise of the rental assistance program, the massive budget surplus must be used to fully fund tenants’ rental debt and ensure that vulnerable Californians remain housed.

Western Center will continue to advocate for other sponsored proposals missing in the May Revise, including $500 million in the Community Anti-Displacement and Preservation Program (CAPP) to acquire unsubsidized affordable housing and make them permanently affordable, $200 million in the Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program to provide stable housing and supportive services to formerly incarcerated people as outlined in AB 1816 (Bryan), and $150 million for eviction defense funding and community education and outreach.

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs

The May Revise proposes an 11.1 percent increase in CalWORKs, the largest one-year increase in the grant levels in recent memory. The funding for this comes from the Child Poverty subaccount which has seen a significant increase along with the overall budget. Even with this increase, CalWORKs grants for most families are still not out above deep poverty (50 percent of the federal poverty level). That is because most families have an excluded adult. We are calling on the legislature to fulfill the commitment made four years ago to fund CalWORKs grants at the assistance unit plus one level. See the chart below for what the gap will remain at:

Child Support Pass Through

The May Revise makes no change in the administration’s proposal to pass through all child support to former CalWORKs families. While advocates support the proposal, we seek to have it extended to current CalWORKs cases where families have lower incomes and could use the child support assistance immediately.

Food Assistance

The May Revise makes no change to the governor’s January proposal seeking to expand the California Food Assistance Program to Californians regardless of immigration status for those 55 years of age and older. Western Center stands with our partners advocating for the expansion of the program to include Californians of all ages. Many immigrant families were excluded from pandemic relief and continue to be left behind as we rebuild the state’s safety nets.

SSI/SSP

The governor’s May Revise budget makes no proposal to increase grants for blind, aged and disabled Californians. There is a provisional agreement to restore the remainder of the 2009 SSP grant cuts beginning in January 2024 but the governor did not include CA4SSI’s request to accelerate the grant increase to January 2023. By delaying the second restoration, the value of the grant will decline when compared to the federal poverty level.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s May Revision maintains the expansions proposed in the January proposal, including expanding Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status (Health4All), zeroing out premiums and copayments for Medi-Cal, and expanding Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, the May Revision makes new investments to increase the Medi-Cal doula reimbursement rate, provides navigator funding, and permanently extends presumptive eligibility for older adults and individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, the May Revision does not update the Medi-Cal share of cost, fully fund SB 65, or implement Health4All sooner than January 2024.

Below is summary of health proposals in the May Revision, which still needs to be negotiated with the legislature by the budget deadline of June 15th.

Medi-Cal

  • Increased Doula Reimbursement Rate: The May Revision proposes to increase the average doula service reimbursement rate from $450 to $1,094, which includes antepartum visits, delivery, and postpartum visits. The implementation date for the doula benefit will be shifted from July 2022 to January 2023 resulting in $974,000 total funds ($377,000 General Fund) in 2022-23 for this benefit.
  • $60M One-time Navigator Funding: The May Revision proposes to add $60 million total funds ($30 million General Fund) to the Health Enrollment Navigators available over four years through fiscal year 2025-26 to assist in outreach, application assistance, enrollment, and retention for difficult-to-reach populations, including the implementation of Health4All.
  • Presumptive Eligibility for Individuals 65 +, Blind, or Disabled: The May Revision includes $73 million total funds ($37 million General Fund) to continue Medi-Cal presumptive eligibility for older adults and individuals who are blind or disabled. Already permanent for other populations, this gives eligible older adults and individuals who are blind or disabled instant Medi-Cal eligibility for a limited time. Advocates are working to ensure this means two Presumptive Eligibility periods per year, as is currently available during COVID.
  • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventative, maternity, and behavioral health care measures, and to address gaps in care, the May Revision proposes an additional $300 million ($150 million General Fund) to the $400 million proposed in January for a combined $700 million in total funds.
  • Transitions to Managed Care: Under CalAIM, various populations are shifting to mandatory managed care effective January 2022 and January 2023. The May Revision proposes to delay the transition of ICF/DDs and Subacute Care Facilities into managed care from January 1, 2023 to July 1, 2023 to prepare for the transition. The administration also identified additional individuals subject to mandatory managed care that were assumed to already be included and will provide details on specific populations once determined.
  • LA Care Sanctions: The May Revision proposes budget bill language to use monetary sanctions collected from LA Care in the budget year to award grants to qualifying non-profit legal aid programs and organizations that serve Medi-Cal managed care enrollees in Los Angeles County or other impacted counties, for purposes of improving access to care in the Medi-Cal program.
  • Medi-Cal Media and Outreach Campaign: In an April budget change proposal prior to the May Revision, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) requested $25 million ($12.5 million General Fund) for a media and outreach campaign to encourage members to update their contact information with their counties, and to educate members of potential Medi-Cal termination if requested information is not submitted.
  • Additional AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions Elimination: In addition to elimination of AB 97 payment reductions in the January proposal, the May Revision proposes to include doula services, community health worker services, asthma prevention services, health care services delivered via remote patient monitoring, dyadic services, Medication Therapy Management, and continuous glucose monitoring system, supplies and accessories.

Other Health Proposals

  • Covered California: The May Revision proposes $304 million to extend California’s premium subsidy program for middle income Californians with incomes between 400 and 600% FPL. This represents a fraction of potential loss if federal relief is not extended.
  • Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative Grants: The May Revision includes $85 million General Fund for Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI) grants to schools, cities, counties, tribes, and/or community-based organizations. This includes grants to wellness and mindfulness programs as well as parent support and training programs.
  • Reproductive Health: The May Revision includes $57 million one-time General Fund to support safe and accessible reproductive health care, for a total of $125 million including investments in the January budget. Specifically, $40 million to DHCS for uncompensated reproductive health care, $15 million for the California Reproductive Justice and Freedom Fund at the Department of Public Health (DPH); $1 million to DPH for the Comprehensive Reproductive Rights Website, and $1 million to DPH for research on unmet needs for reproductive health care.

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PDF of this document available here.

For questions contact:

 

PRESS RELEASE: Tenants-rights Groups Sue CA for Failing to Provide Rental Assistance to Eligible Tenants

  

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

 

 

Lawsuit says Department’s cutoff date for assistance means many tenants who receive rental assistance are still at risk of eviction

 

Los Angeles, CA – The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is being sued by tenants’ rights groups Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) over its failure to provide the full amount of rental assistance intended by the law establishing the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), putting tenants at increased risk of eviction and homelessness. ACCE and SAJE are represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

As people waited for HCD’s often onerous system to process applications, HCD abruptly stopped accepting applications on March 31, 2022, cutting off people in need of assistance after that point even when they qualify for but have not yet received their full 18 months of rental assistance. Specifically, the suit says HCD is not providing assistance for prospective rent or expenses incurred after March 31, 2022, even for eligible households that submitted an ERAP application before applications closed. This means applicants who were unable to pay April rent or beyond could still face eviction even if HCD approves their application, thereby defeating ERAP’s goal of preventing eviction and stabilizing households.

“When I heard about the ERAP program, I got very happy because I was impacted by COVID-19, and I lost my job,” said Dionicia Cipres, tenant and SAJE member. “I sent my ERAP application and I got approved for a few months, but I was put on hold for February and March. I had initially put down the April and May rents on my application, but when the March 31st deadline was announced, those months were not included and had to be removed. I don’t know how I’m going to pay June because I don’t have steady income.”

As California considers new proposals to combat homelessness, the ERAP program is intended to stop people from becoming homeless where it often starts — eviction.

“I was temporarily laid off from my job because of the pandemic and have not been able to get back to work,” said Isabel Tabora, ACCE member and tenant. “I applied for rental assistance but was told by the state program that they will not help me for April and May, even though I can’t pay rent for those months. Now my landlord has given me a 3-day notice for April. I am afraid that I will be homeless without more rental assistance.”

The highly publicized decision by lawmakers for ERAP to cover 100% of an eligible household’s rent debt is essential for preventing evictions tenants will be evicted unless all of their rent debt is resolved.

“An eviction is a scarlet letter for most renters, but especially low-income renters who have fewer options,” said Jonathan Jager, staff attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “If the ERAP program is supposed to prevent homelessness, it doesn’t make sense to provide assistance in a way that still leaves tenants vulnerable to being evicted.”

Under HCD’s current practice, landlords can still receive large ERAP payments while their tenants are evicted for non-payment of April 2022 rent. The Census Household Pulse Survey estimates that 32 percent of California renter households with pending rental assistance applications were “not at all confident” in their ability to pay April rent.

“The pandemic and its economic fallout is not over yet, particularly for low-income Californians — we’ve heard from many tenants that they are unable to pay April rent and beyond,” said Greg Bonett, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “For a tenant to face eviction while the state sends their landlord a check is absolutely confounding. By cutting off rental assistance, HCD’s policy is largely harming renters of color and allowing landlords to get paid and still evict their tenants.”

The lawsuit seeks to compel HCD to immediately reverse policies that stop payments to tenants for debt accrued after the sudden and arbitrary March 31, 2022 cutoff date, and to make available the full 18 months of rental assistance to all eligible applicants.

“California received billions of dollars from the federal government and has a significant state budget surplus — more than enough to keep people housed through ERAP,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “In the midst of a homelessness and housing affordability crisis, the state must use its resources to keep people in the homes they already have so as not to compound the crisis.”

Read the complaint here.

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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.

 

Public Counsel is a nonprofit law firm and the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. It serves communities locally and nationwide by advancing civil rights litigation, advocating for policy change and providing free legal services to thousands of clients annually.

 

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.

PRESS RELEASE: Disability, Civil Rights Groups Say Fundamental Questions Must Be Answered Regarding ‘CARE Court’ Proposal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

After issuing a letter in strong opposition, groups request specific answers for core components of proposal

Sacramento, CA – With Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for a so-called “CARE Court” set to be heard by the legislature this week, and after more than 40 advocacy groups including ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, and Western Center on Law & Poverty submitted resounding opposition to its related bill, SB 1338 (Umberg & Eggman), advocates say fundamental questions remain unaddressed by the administration and bill authors.

The specific questions advocates have about the proposal include:

  1. How would the CARE Court respond to the crisis of insufficient housing and treatment availability for people who need either or both?
  2. How would the CARE Court avoid reinforcing systemic racial biases which result in disproportionate numbers of Black and brown people unhoused and under court supervision?
  3. How would the CARE Court achieve effective outcomes with coerced treatment where evidence has consistently supported adequately resourced voluntary treatment instead?
  4. How would the CARE Court avoid fast-tracking vulnerable people with disabilities to conservatorship and the diminution of their autonomy and legal rights?

The joint opposition letter sent to legislators this month unequivocally states that the framework of the proposal is entirely and irreparably flawed. Specifically, if these fundamental questions go unaddressed, the proposal is simply bill language without substance.

“Instead of creating a new court system to delegate medical care, California should guarantee housing for people who are unhoused and for those with severe mental health disabilities,” says Helen Tran, health attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Forcing people into court-ordered treatment without guarantee of permanent housing will create a continuous cycle of court intervention when people find themselves back on the street due to California’s severe lack of affordable, permanent supportive housing. State funds should be directed toward the creation of housing and supportive services to help people maintain their housing and health care needs.”

The groups say the proposed CARE Court model will lead to unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities and unhoused people and will likely create a chilling effect that prevents people from seeking supportive services for fear of being institutionalized or otherwise having their rights stripped. The proposal also feeds into the false narrative that most unhoused people have a psychiatric disorder.

“CARE Court is a fast track to re-institutionalize Californians living with mental health disabilities,” says Kim Pederson, senior attorney at Disability Rights California. “The state should invest in evidence-based practices for voluntary engagement in community-based, trauma-informed, culturally-responsive mental health services. Instead, CARE Court creates a punitive system under which a person must comply with court orders or risk being conserved and institutionalized. True recovery and empowerment can only come from providing people with meaningful opportunities to make their own choices about the services that will work best for them.”

Additionally, by involving the legal system the proposal will perpetuate institutional racism and exacerbate existing disparities in health care delivery since Black, Indigenous and other people of color are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorders than white people, and because there is clear evidence that adequately resourced, intensive, voluntary outpatient treatment is more effective than court-ordered treatment.

“At a time when there is an unprecedented housing crisis that disproportionately impacts Black people and other people of color, many of whom have already been entangled in failed legal and other systems, this proposal if enacted would have disastrous consequences,” says Brandon Greene, director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California. “What we need is investment in holistic community driven systems not punitive ones that further alienate and ostracize.”

Read the full letter of opposition.

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ACLU California Action is the statewide legislative policy arm of the ACLU affiliates in California. The ACLU works to protect civil liberties and civil rights and advance equity, justice, and freedom for all.

Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities.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.

 

Western Center’s 2022 Legislative Agenda  

Western Center’s policy advocates are hard at work in Sacramento to pass this year’s slate of bills to make California better for everyone. Here is our full 2022 Legislative Agenda.

HOMELESSNESS

AB 1816 (Bryan): Reentry Housing and Workforce Development Program

(co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership)

This bill will establish a funding source for permanent affordable housing and workforce development for formerly incarcerated people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. The bill is necessary to support people reentering society after incarceration to reduce recidivism and homelessness – 70 percent of Californians experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration.

AB 2230 (Gipson) – CalWORKs: Temporary Shelter and Permanent Housing Benefits

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will make significant improvements in the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) to minimize homelessness that CalWORKs families experience by repealing the limitations for receiving assistance through HAP. HAP is meant to assist families who have become unhoused and need immediate assistance. It is Western Center’s firm belief that families should not be burdened with additional program requirements to receive critical assistance for the health and safety of their family.

AB 2339 (Bloom): Emergency Shelters

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Public Interest Law Project)

There are upwards of 160,000 people experiencing homelessness in California, and 72% are completely unsheltered. While some California localities provide enough shelter beds, in others, there are either no shelter beds or only a small number. AB 2339 strengthens housing element law to ensure that zones identified for shelters and other interim housing are suitable and available. The bill also requires jurisdictions to demonstrate sufficient capacity on the sites to meet the identified need for interim housing for those experiencing homelessness.

SB 1017 (Eggman): Keeping Survivors Housed

(co-sponsored with California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, Dr. Beatriz Maria Solis Policy Institute – Women’s Foundation of California, Family Violence Appellate Project)

This bill allows domestic violence survivors who are tenants to maintain their current housing and avoid eviction by expanding allowable documentation for lease termination policies, allowing survivors to use eviction protections when the abusive person is on the lease but no longer residing in the residence, and by allowing survivors who live with an abusive person to remain in the unit on the same lease terms while removing the abusive person.

California Emergency Rental Assistance Program

While not a bill, Western Center and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation are working to obtain an extension of the current eviction protections implemented in response to the pandemic. To prevent mass evictions, displacement, and economic instability, the state must extend these protections as hundreds of thousands of tenants wait for rental assistance from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

HOUSING

AB 1911 (Gabriel): Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit

(co-sponsored with California Housing Partnership, California Coalition for Rural Housing, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and San Diego Housing Federation)

AB 1911 creates an Affordable Housing Preservation Tax Credit to support the preservation of tens of thousands of affordable housing units at risk of converting to market rate housing or displacing low-income tenants. California cannot afford to lose tens of thousands of affordable housing units in the midst of our current housing crisis. A targeted tax credit that encourages property owners to sell to affordable housing developers committed to long-term affordability would allow thousands of lower-income households to stay in their homes.

AB 2597 (Bloom, E. Garcia): Cool and Healthy Homes

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Inner City Law Center, Leadership Council, Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP)

AB 2597 will address a long-standing issue that is rapidly exacerbated by human-induced climate change: the safety of renters in their homes when outdoor temperatures rise. Excessive heat has a negative impact on health and quality of life and leads to an increasing number of deaths. State law has long required that rental units be able to maintain a safe indoor air temperature when it’s cold outside, but there is no analogous requirement that applies when the weather is hot. This gap leaves many renters living in homes that reach unhealthy and often dangerous temperatures indoors and disproportionately impacts low-income households and people of color. AB 2597 will update the state’s habitability standards to ensure that all rental units have a means of maintaining a safe indoor air temperature regardless of the temperature outside.

AB 2713 (Wicks): Tenant Protections: Just Cause Termination: Rent Caps

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation)

This bill cleans up loopholes in AB 1482, California’s first statewide just cause eviction protection and anti-rent gouging law. Since AB 1482 was enacted in 2019, several key loopholes (owner move-in, substantial renovation, and intent to remove the unit from the rental market) have been exploited by landlords attempting to evict vulnerable tenants. This law will require owners attempting to evict tenants for owner move-in to move into the unit within 90 days and stay at the unit for a minimum of three years. For owners attempting to evict based on substantial renovation, it will require owners to obtain the necessary permits for the renovations and justify why the improvements cannot be completed with the tenants in place. For evictions based on withdrawal from the rental market, the owner will be required to clearly explain in the notice to the tenant what the alternative use of the property will be and the necessary permits to convert the unit to the intended use. If the landlord does not meet those conditions post eviction, the tenant has the right to rent the unit under the previous terms of the agreement.

SCA 2 (Allen, Wiener): Public Housing Projects Two-year bill

(co-sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Coalition for Rural Housing, California Housing Consortium, California Housing Partnership, California Association of Realtors, California YIMBY, Housing California, Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, and Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing)

SCA 2 will place the repeal of Article 34 of the California Constitution on the ballot. Passed by voters in 1950, Article 34 requires a majority approval by the voters of a city or county for the development, construction, or acquisition of publicly subsidized housing. For decades the requirement has stifled the development of subsidized housing creating and perpetuating racially and economically segregated communities. The passage of SCA 2 would give voters an opportunity to eliminate an obstacle, enshrined in our Constitution, which currently undermines the ability to address California’s acute housing and homelessness challenges.

HEALTH CARE

AB 470 (Carrillo): Eliminating the Non-MAGI Assets LimitTwo-year bill

(co-sponsored with Justice in Aging)

This bill will clean up code for when the Medi-Cal assets test is eliminated on January 1, 2024, following the 2021 budget agreement that also raises the asset limits effective July 1, 2022.

AB 1355 (Levine): Expanding Independent Medical ReviewTwo-year bill

This bill will ensure more fairness in the Medi-Cal appeals process by expanding Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal members and services, and by standardizing the process state departments must follow when alternating judges’ decisions in fair hearings. Independent Medical Reviews use medical professionals with expertise in the medical service at issue, resulting in more favorable and clinically sound outcomes for patients than plan appeals and state fair hearings.

AB 1900 (Arambula): Share of Cost Reform

(co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Disability Rights California, Justice in Aging, and Senior and Disability Action)

This bill will make the Medi-Cal Share of Cost program more affordable by updating the maintenance need levels to 138% of the federal poverty level. Today, older adults and people with disabilities who are just $1 over the free Medi-Cal limit are forced to pay over $800 of their monthly income on health care and are expected to survive on just $600—the maintenance need level—to pay for rent, food, utilities, and all other expenses.

AB 1995 (Arambula): Eliminating Med-Cal Premiums

(co-sponsored with Children Now)

Medi-Cal premium requirements place an undue economic burden on families already living on very limited incomes and create barriers in access to care and unnecessary breaks in coverage for eligible individuals. This bill will ensure pregnant people, children, and people with disabilities can access the health care services they need to stay healthy by eliminating their monthly Medi-Cal premiums.

SB 644 (Leyva): Connecting Unemployed Individuals to Covered California & Medi-Cal

(co-sponsored with Health Access and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network)

This bill will require the Employment Development Department (EDD) to share with Covered California contact and income information about people who have recently applied for or lost unemployment, state disability insurance, paid family leave, and other EDD programs. This will allow Covered California to reach out and help enroll individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

SB 923 (Wiener): Access to Gender Affirming Care

(co-sponsored with Break The Binary LLC, California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, California TRANScends, Equality California, Gender Justice LA, National Health Law Program, Orange County TransLatinas, Queer Works, Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance, San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives, The TransPower Project, TransCanWork, Trans Community Project, Transgender Health and Wellness Center, Tranz of Anarchii INC, Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC), and Unity Hope)

This bill will improve access to gender affirming care for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people by mandating health plans require TGI cultural competency training for contracted providers, their staff, and the staff of health plans. It would also require plan provider directories to identify providers who offer gender affirming services.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 1820 (Arambula): Labor Trafficking

(co-sponsored with Loyola Law School, SJI Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative)

California has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation, yet only two state agencies, the Department of Justice and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, are responsible for prosecuting human trafficking cases. This bill will provide the Department of Industrial Relations with statutory authority to investigate and prosecute claims of human labor trafficking. This a priority for Western Center because many workers who are victims of labor trafficking are exploited because of poverty.

AB 2052 (Quirk-Silva): CalWORKs Child Education Act of 2022

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

The pandemic has impacted the timeliness with which some children can complete high school. This bill will allow children receiving CalWORKs to obtain aid until age 20 if they are attending their last year of high school.

AB 2300 (Kalra): CalWORKs and CalFresh: Work Requirements

(co-sponsored with Legal Aid at Work, Women’s Foundation of California, and WorkSafe)

This bill will expand good cause exemptions for the CalWORKs welfare to work program to allow parents with children under two years old not to participate in welfare to work for up to 12 months. This bill incorporates many legal protections created by the legislature, like the Crown Act and domestic worker protections, into CalWORKs.

AB 2277 (Reyes): CalWORKs for Survivors of Domestic Violence

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

This bill will remove barriers for accessing the CalWORKs program a critical social service that assists families in financial need, by waiving program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. Currently, counties have the authority to waive CalWORKs program requirements for survivors of domestic violence. However, despite their ability to do so, many counties do not. This bill will require counties to waive the requirements.

SB 996 (Kamlager): CalWORKs Asset Test and Work Limit

(co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organization)

This bill will eliminate the eligibility requirement for CalWORKs families to prove that they have less than $10,211 in their possession, and the 100-hour rule which requires parents to work no more than 100 hours to qualify for the program. Removing these archaic requirements will ensure that all eligible CalWORKs families can access the social service.

SB 972 (Gonzalez): Street Vendors

(co-sponsored with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Power Collective, Inclusive Action for the City, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Public Counsel)

Street vendors are a part of California’s culture and have been for decades. In recent years, street vendors became part of the formal economy with the decriminalization of street vending in 2018. However, many street vendors who sell food are unable to obtain health permits from their local county health departments, so this bill will modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits. Creating this pathway will allow street vendors to further enter the formal economy and put an end to fines issued to these entrepreneurs with limited incomes.

SB 1200 (Skinner): Enforcement of Judgments: Renewal and Interest

This bill will reduce the interest rate on unpaid debt from 10 percent annually to 3 percent annually. New York became the first state to reduce the interest rate on debt and California should follow the example.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

AB 1792 (Ward): Diversification of Grand Juries

Grand Juries play a critical role in the lives of Californians involved in the legal system — particularly people of color and those living in poverty who are over-policed. Currently, juries are disproportionately made up of retirees who can afford to take time off to serve. AB 1972 will diversify grand juries in California so they are representative of their populations and will ensure people are fairly compensated when they serve so jury duty is more accessible for Californians with low incomes.

 

 

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: New Analysis of California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program Finds Only 16 Percent of Nearly Half a Million Applicants Received Payment, Putting Hundreds of Thousands of Renters at Imminent Risk of Eviction

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Gabriel Charles Tyler, Senior Communications Associate, PolicyLink

[email protected], 312.545.0302

An examination of the program’s performance data underscores the urgent need for policy fixes to deliver on the program’s promise and keep renters in their homes

OAKLAND, Calif. — With California’s limited eviction protections set to expire on March 31, hundreds of thousands of renters who’ve been hit the hardest by Covid-19 and its ongoing economic fallout are now at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. A new analysis of California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) — released today by the National Equity Atlas — reveals that 488,094 renter households have submitted ERAP requests, but only 75,773 of them have received payment. The research also shows that the majority of applications — 59 percent, which represents 289,020 renter households — have yet to be reviewed. The long delay in payment delivery to approved applicants contrasts with the snapshot of program performance provided on the public Housing Is Key data dashboard, which stated that 183,856 renter households had been “served” as of February 23, 2022.

“State legislators have been in a ‘wait and see’ posture with this program, but this analysis shows that it’s time for them to act and shift current policies,” said Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing NOW! “If the special Covid eviction court procedures are allowed to expire, landlords will evict hundreds of thousands of Covid-impacted renters, undermining the program’s intent to keep families housed and make landlords whole.”

At the beginning of January, 721,000 renter households in California owed their landlords an estimated $3.3 billion in back rent. While the state’s rent relief program has been a lifeline for some struggling renters, hundreds of thousands are still in need. Those who fell into debt because of the pandemic have faced multiple barriers to securing rental assistance, including lack of access for people with disabilities and those whose primary language is not English, a complex application process, and long waits for review and payment.

The brief, produced in partnership with Housing NOW! and Western Center on Law & Poverty, examines the program’s performance from March 15, 2021 (when it launched) through February 23, 2022.

Key findings include:

  • Only 16 percent of renters who have applied to the program have received assistance, either directly or through a payment to their landlord. Nearly half a million renters have submitted rental assistance requests but just 75,773 households have received assistance.
  • The majority of applicants are still waiting for their applications to be reviewed. Fifty-nine percent of applicants (289,020 households) are still awaiting a decision on their applications. Among those whose applications have been initially approved, the typical wait time for a response was three months (a median of 104 days).
  • Most renters whose applications have been approved are still waiting to be paid. As of February 23, 2022, 180,280 renter households have had their applications approved, but 104,507 of them (58 percent) have not yet received assistance. The median wait time between submitting an application and receiving payment is 135 days, indicating that it takes about a month for applicants to be paid even after approval.
  • The speed with which rental assistance is being distributed is improving over time but remains painfully slow. Households that applied for aid in March 2021 typically waited 181 days to receive aid payments, and households that applied in October 2021 typically waited 119 days.
  • Most renters who received assistance have requested additional support. Among renter households who have received rental assistance, 90 percent of them (69,336 households) have reapplied to the program for additional support.
  • Renters whose primary language is not English appear to be underrepresented in the program. About half (51 percent) of California’s severely cost-burdened renter households speak a language other than English at home, yet 88 percent of rental assistance applicants indicated that their primary language was English.
  • Long-term policy solutions, funding, and infrastructure are needed to support California’s economically vulnerable renters. With 8,200 new applications submitted every week and 90 percent of rental assistance recipients requesting additional support, tenants’ ongoing need for financial relief due to pandemic-related economic hardship, and the number of indebted renters not yet reached by the program, the need for rental assistance will continue beyond March 31, 2022 (when the program is set to expire).

“Our analysis underscores how essential eliminating rent debt remains to an equitable and people-centered recovery in California, especially at this moment,” said Sarah Treuhaft, Vice President of Research at PolicyLink. “Identifying the challenges renters have faced in obtaining aid is just the first step. Now advocates and policymakers need to use it to remove those barriers and push for solutions to ensure that every Californian who needs help gets it before protections expire.”

The findings illustrate the urgent need for policy action. For an equitable recovery, California policymakers need to act quickly to extend statewide eviction protections and enact long-term solutions to the affordability crisis while leaving local governments the flexibility to enact and maintain their own protections.

“Every day that rental assistance is delayed, the people the program was intended to serve and protect are facing landlord harassment, eviction, and loss of their homes,” said Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Some local governments have taken the steps necessary to protect tenants in their communities while assistance is distributed; state policymakers must act now to extend eviction protections without interfering with these local policies.”

The analysis is based on data tracking all rental assistance applications submitted by renters to the statewide program, which covers about 63 percent of the state’s population. The dataset, which was obtained through a Public Records Act request, includes anonymized individual case data with applicant demographics (race/ethnicity, income, and language of application), zip code, amount of rent and utilities requested and paid, and landlord participation in the application. It also includes 16 detailed case status categories assigned by the California Department of Housing and Community Development including “Application Complete: Pending Payment,” which is assigned to households that have been approved for payment but have not actually received funds and are still waiting for assistance.

Explore the full analysis at nationalequityatlas.org/CARentalAssistance.

Note: Later this month, the Atlas will release a public dashboard with the data for counties, cities, and ZIP codes. In the interim, data by ZIP code can be provided to media upon request.

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About the National Equity Atlas

The National Equity Atlas, produced by PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute, is America’s most detailed report card on racial and economic equity. The Atlas equips movement leaders and policymakers with actionable data and strategies to advance racial equity and shared prosperity. For more information, visit nationalequityatlas.org.

About Housing NOW!

Housing NOW! is a broad, diverse movement building power to make housing affordable and to combat the displacement crisis that is disproportionately impacting working class communities of color. Led by tenants, the coalition includes allied landlords, realtors, and dozens of community, faith and labor organizations. For more information, visit housingnowca.org.

About Western Center on Law & Poverty

For more than 50 years, Western Center on Law & Poverty has led the fight to end poverty and secure housing, health care, a strong safety net, and racial and economic justice for all Californians with low incomes. Western Center brings about system-wide change through impact litigation, legislative, policy and administrative advocacy at the state and federal level, and support for legal services and community-based organizations. For more information, visit wclp.org.

PRESS RELEASE: Settlement in Warren v. Chico – City to build individual shelters, unhoused residents won’t be arrested or cited for sleeping outside when shelter is unavailable

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Chico, CA) Today, Judge Morrison England of the District Court in Sacramento approved the settlement reached between Plaintiffs, eight unhoused Chico residents, and the City of Chico in Warren, et al. v. City of Chico, et al.

Under the settlement, the City agrees to increase shelter options for homeless Chico residents by building the City’s first non-congregate shelter site at the former BMX location at 2352 Dr Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy. There will be 177 individual Pallet Shelters, each of which will have a locking door, electricity, heat, and air conditioning. The City will provide meals, showers, laundry, and other services at the shelter site. The City will also implement a number of other important changes in how it enforces its sleeping and camping ordinances to safeguard the constitutional rights of unhoused community members.

“As a woman living outside since losing my home over three years ago in the Camp Fire, I have not been able to sleep at night because I feared for my safety and because of the cold,” said Plaintiff Tona Peterson. “I and many others living outside will now have a private space with a locking door and heat. I’ll be able to get more things done each day and work with the on-site services. We all will.”

Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on April 8, 2021 and Judge England enjoined the City from enforcing its sleeping and camping ordinances in the time since April 11, 2021. Judge England’s settlement order dissolves the preliminary injunction, but prevents any enforcement of the ordinances until the new shelter opens.

“This settlement includes common sense solutions that many unhoused and housed Chico community members have pushed for as the City’s affordable housing crisis has worsened, pushing more and more people outside” said Sarah Steinheimer with Legal Services of Northern California’s Sacramento office and lead counsel for Plaintiffs.

Once the shelter opens, the City may enforce its sleeping and camping ordinances but only when there is sufficient shelter for everyone sleeping on the designated public property where it plans to enforce its ordinances.

“Today’s settlement and order reaffirms the rights and dignity of Chico’s unhoused community members who are often targeted for just trying to survive outside, even though there is not sufficient available housing or even temporary shelter,” said Cory Turner of Legal Services of Northern California’s Chico office and counsel for the Plaintiffs.

The order signed by Judge England puts an end to the lawsuit, but the Court retains jurisdiction to enforce the settlement for five years.

Robert Newman with the Western Center on Law & Poverty and co-counsel for the Plaintiffs additionally observes, “Governor Newsom’s new budget proposes billions of additional dollars for people experiencing homelessness. The City of Chico should take advantage of that opportunity to provide desperately needed housing for its residents.”

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Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-2023 California Budget Proposal

Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2022-23 California state budget. In total, the administration projects a $45 billion surplus — a combination of higher revenue collections for the past two budgets and higher than anticipated revenue for the 2022-23 budget. As the governor noted in his press conference, if current economic trends continue, the surplus could grow even more by the time the proposed budget is revised in May. The budget includes a record $36 billion reserve.

SUMMARY

The governor’s proposed budget includes a historic investment in health care by expanding Medi-Cal eligibility for those currently excluded from the program due to immigration status, and by eliminating Medi-Cal premiums for children, pregnant people, and people with disabilities. It does not eliminate the burdensome “share of cost” that many people on Medi-Cal still pay as a monthly deductible.

The budget also includes expanded funding to house people experiencing homelessness, a large investment in health care related workforce development, and an expansion of proposals intended to reduce poverty such as increasing CalWORKs grants, passing on all child support to families formerly on public assistance, and expanding the state child tax credit to households with no reported income. The budget also proposes to fund 36,000 new childcare slots for working families, but this means approximately 150,000 families will remain on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, this proposal misses an opportunity to build on significant progress made through existing poverty-reduction initiatives. Despite the expiration of the very effective federal child tax credit increase, the governor’s proposed budget does not backfill that lost income for California families. It also fails to fund more stimulus payments for Californians with low incomes. Additionally, it does not provide a cost-of-living increase for the SSI/SSP grant as required by state law, and it does not accelerate the SSI/SSP grant restoration scheduled for January 2024.

The need for rental and utility assistance in California has greatly outpaced federal funds allocated to the state. While California was recently allocated an additional $62 million in federal funds to address the growing need, the state needs about $2 billion. The governor missed an opportunity to supplement the federal dollars with surplus from the General Fund. However, California will continue to advocate for additional funding from the federal government.

Despite the large surplus and number of proposed initiatives, the governor’s proposal uses just $20 billion for the needs of Californians. More than half of the surplus is being used to fund reserves and to pay off long term debt. Of the $20 billion being spent, the governor proposes to use 86 percent for one-time expenditures. The reluctance to invest in ongoing needs means proposals that could make a major impact, like funding a broadly available rental assistance program, are not part of the discussion. The legislature should review the governor’s budget with an eye toward meeting more of the short- and long-term needs of all Californians.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s proposal expands Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status. This would make California the first state in the nation to cover all adults, and together with the recent increase in the income level for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as the scheduled elimination of the Medi-Cal assets test by January 1, 2024, all adults under 138 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for free, full-scope Medi-Cal. The governor’s proposal also eliminates premiums for children, pregnant people, and the Working Disabled Program, and expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, there are affordability, provider payment, and workforce investments.

Medi-Cal

  • Health4All: The governor’s proposal expands full-scope Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 700,000+ undocumented adults ages 26 through 49, effective no sooner than January 1, 2024, with estimated costs of $819 million total funds ($614 million General Fund) in FY 2023-24 and $2.3 billion total funds ($1.8 billion General Fund) at full implementation.
  • Zero out premiums: The proposed budget includes $53 million total funds ($19 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $89 million total funds ($31 million General Fund) ongoing and trailer bill language to reduce premiums to zero for Medi-Cal and other Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs. This includes Medi-Cal premiums for children above 160 percent of the poverty level, the 250 percent Working Disabled Program premiums, as well as the premiums for pregnant women and infants under the Medi-Cal Access Program (MCAP) and County Children’s Health Insurance Programs (C-CHIP).
  • Justice-related initiatives: The proposal includes $50 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 to implement the CalAIM justice-related initiatives with implementation beginning January 2023. This includes pre-release applications, pre-release “in-reach” services, and coordinated re-entry. There will also be trailer bill language to extend the duration of suspension of Medi-Cal benefits when an individual is incarcerated to increase the likelihood that coverage is maintained.
  • Dental Lab Processed Crown (AKA Custom Crown) Coverage: The budget includes $37 million total funds ($13 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and trailer bill language to update adult coverage requirements to include lab processed crowns for posterior teeth, in place of stainless-steel crowns. Also related to dental, the administration proposes to extend dental managed care contracts and procure new contracts no sooner than January 1, 2024.
  • The governor’s proposal includes the following provider payment investments:
    • Proposition 56 Supplemental Provider Payment Backfill: To address declining tobacco revenue, the proposal includes an increase of $29 million from the General Fund to fully fund remaining Proposition 56 payments at their current level in FY 2022-23.
    • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventive, maternity, and behavioral health care measures and address gaps in care arising out of the pandemic, the proposal includes $400 million total funds ($200 million General Fund) in one-time funds, aligning with the goals of the Medi-Cal Comprehensive Quality and Equity Strategy.
    • Elimination of Certain AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions: The budget includes $20 million total funds ($9 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $24 million total funds ($11 million General Fund) ongoing to eliminate AB 97 payment reductions for nurses, alternative birthing centers, audiologists/hearing aid dispensers, respiratory care providers, durable medical equipment, oxygen and respiratory services, chronic dialysis clinics, non-emergency medical transportation, and emergency air medical transportation.
  • Discontinue Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP) and Expand Children’s Presumptive Eligibility (PE): The Department is proposing to sunset CHDP by July 1, 2023 via trailer bill language and replace with the Children’s Presumptive Eligibility Program, which will include all Medi-Cal providers.
  • Mobile Crisis Services: The proposal includes $108 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) and trailer bill language to add qualifying 24/7 community-based mobile crisis intervention services as a Medi-Cal benefit as soon as January 1, 2023. The benefit will be implemented through county behavioral health delivery systems by multidisciplinary mobile crisis teams in the community.

Other Health Proposals 

  • Office of Health Care Affordability: The proposal reappropriates funding for the Office that was originally included in the 2021 Budget Act (originally $11.2 million in 2020-21 and $24.5 million in 2022-23) and proposes statutory changes for its establishment. The Office is charged with increasing cost and quality transparency, developing cost targets for the health care industry, enforcing compliance, and filing gaps in market oversight.
  • Covered California: The proposal continues to deposit into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs the $333.4 million General Fund that would have been used for Covered California state premium subsidies (not currently needed due to American Rescue Plan Funds).  The administration intends to work with the Legislature to determine the best use of these funds based on the recent AB 133 affordability report produced by Covered California, after determining what ongoing federal support will be available. In addition, the proposal continues to include $20 million General Fund in 2022-23 to support the One-Dollar Premium Subsidy program, which zeros the cost of Covered California consumers for health plans due to federal policy concerning abortion coverage.
  • Behavioral Health Bridge Housing: The proposed budget includes $1.5 billion General Fund ($1 billion in FY 2022-23 and $500 million in FY 2023-24) for behavioral health bridge housing to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness with serious behavioral health conditions by purchasing and installing tiny homes and providing time-limited operational supports in various bridge housing settings.
  • Workforce Development: The proposal includes $1.7 billion in Care Economy Workforce investments, including $350 million General Fund to recruit and train 25,000 new community health workers as well as additional health care providers.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

In total, the governor’s 2022-2023 budget dedicates $9 billion for housing and $8 billion for homelessness. Largely building on last year’s efforts, this budget proposal attempts to chip away at the housing and homelessness crisis by streamlining production, increasing housing accountability, and funding homelessness solutions through a climate focused lens.

This “Housing as a Climate Strategy’’ focuses on preservation and production of affordable housing near schools, jobs, transit, density, and community hubs to fight climate change. Despite the well-placed investments in climate resilient housing, the budget falls short in supporting struggling Californians from eviction with the notable lack of state funding for eviction protection. The budget also proposes to battle the state homelessness crisis with an eye toward housing and behavioral health. While on the surface this plan addresses the long-standing need for better mental health for the unhoused community, it plays on the trope that all people experiencing homelessness have mental health conditions, rather than recognizing the very tangible fact that most Californians simply cannot afford the high cost of living, which has steepened since the start of the pandemic.

The governor is also increasing funding for “beautification” and “hazardous material removal” in encampments, which translates to increased sweeps, harassment, and further ostracization of people experiencing homelessness. With another budget surplus, we hope the budget’s May revision will use the additional funding to preserve and increase affordable housing, prevent needless evictions with increased funding for California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and provide tangle solutions to get people off the streets and into safe, stable, affordable, and permanent housing.

Affordable Housing and Climate 

  • $300 million one-time General Fund for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program to support land-use, housing, transportation, and land preservation projects for infill and compact development that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund to expand affordable housing development and adaptive reuse opportunities on state excess land sites.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund for adaptive reuse incentive grants to remove cost impediments to adaptive reuse (e.g., structural improvements, plumbing/electrical design, exiting) and help accelerate residential conversions, with a priority on projects located in downtown-oriented areas.
  • $500 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
    • $4.6 million in farmworker Housing Assistance Tax Credits.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) to provide loans to developers for mixed-income rental housing, specifically for households with incomes between 30 percent and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program to further preserve targeted units in downtown-oriented areas and continue increasing the state’s affordable housing stock.

Mobile Home Rehab

  • $100 million one-time General Fund for HCD’s Mobile Home Park Rehabilitation and Resident Ownership Program. These funds will finance the preservation and development of affordable mobile home parks.

Infill Housing

  • Infill Infrastructure Grant Program—$500 million one-time General Fund ($225 million in 2022-23, and $275 million in 2023-24).

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

  • California requested an additional $1.9 billion in federal funding to address the growing need for rental assistance and utility assistance for Californians. California was allocated an additional $62 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury. While grateful that California was allocated 30 percent of the total federal reallocation, this amount is woefully short of the need.  Currently, California needs almost $2 billion more than what we were originally allocated, and the need is growing. California will continue to advocate with the federal government to obtain additional rental and utility assistance.

Formerly Incarcerated Housing

  • $10.6 million one-time General Fund over three years to the Returning Home Well program that will provide transitional housing to parolees at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness.

Legal Services for Renters

  • $40 million investment in legal assistance for renters and homeowners.

Homelessness

  • $2 billion one-time General Fund, multi-year grant to cities, large counties and Continuums of Care working with the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal-ICH). Cal-ICH will work with grantees on their homelessness accountability plans.
  • $500 million one-time general fund dollars in housing encampment resolution efforts that will expand program jurisdictions investment in short- and long-term rehousing strategies for people experiencing homelessness.
  • $25 million in Clean California and $20.6 million for hazardous material removal at encampments.
  • $1 million investment in homeless youth programs.
  • $1.5 billion in General Funds over two years dedicated to resources to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing homelessness who have behavioral health conditions. This funding will be administered through DHCS’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure program to purchase tiny homes and facilitate bridge/transitional housing. Such funding can also be used for bridge housing including an expansion of Project Homekey Acquisition.
  • $5 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs Grants

The governor is proposing a 7.1 percent grant increase to CalWORKs grants starting October 1, 2022. The funding for the increase comes from Child Poverty Subaccount, a stream of revenue dedicated to CalWORKs grant increases. As a result of the 7.1 percent increase, maximum CalWORKs grants will equal 54 percent of the federal poverty level. For families not subject to sanctions, timed off aid or with an ineligible adult, the grant levels exceed the deep poverty level, which means a reduction in the well-documented, long-term negative impacts of deep poverty on children. Despite the increase in the grant level, the administration’s budget does not fulfill the commitment to increase CalWORKs grants so that no child is living in deep poverty. The so-called AU+1 approach requires significantly more investment than this budget provides. Below is a chart which shows current grant amounts, grant amounts with the 7.1 percent increase, the percent of the federal poverty level, what the grant would need to be to ensure an end to deep poverty, and lastly, the gap between the current grant and an end to deep poverty.

Workforce Development

The administration is proposing two major investments in workforce development. One is a $1.5 billion Proposition 98 General Fund effort to support the development of college and career pathways focused on education, health care, technology, and climate-related fields. Promoting pathways that allow students to move seamlessly from high school to college and career will improve the number of students who pursue and achieve post-secondary education and training.

The governor is also proposing to invest $1.7 billion over three years in care economy workforce development—across both the Labor Agency and California Health and Human Services Agency—that will create more innovative and accessible opportunities to recruit, train, and hire, and will advance an ethnically and culturally inclusive health and human services workforce, with improved diversity and higher wages. These programs will target students such as those in CalWORKs welfare to work.

Safety Net Reserve

The budget provides no increase in the safety net reserve, maintaining a $900 million level. While this amount represents an important safeguard against Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program reductions in lean budget years, the continuing growth in spending in both programs might require additional funds to preserve the effectiveness of the reserve.

Child Support Pass Through

The governor is proposing a major change to child support rules by allowing all child support paid by non-custodial parents to go to families formerly receiving CalWORKs or Medi-Cal. For decades it has been state policy for the state to retain any child support for the state to pay off the cost of providing welfare and medical benefits. In short, the state has reimbursed itself and made the families live with less income. When fully implemented, these families are estimated to receive an additional $187 million. While the idea of passing through all child support is certainly welcome, it is notable that the administration is proposing to do this only for families no longer receiving government assistance. The governor chose not to allow a 100 percent pass through to families currently on aid. The legislature may wish to consider expanding this proposal to pass through all child support to all families.

SSI/SSP Grants

The administration did not propose an increase in the SSI/SSP grants for 2022-23 budget, citing last year’s agreement to a two-step increase in SSP funding to restore grant cuts made by the state in the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The first of these grant increases went into effect on January 1, 2022, and in conjunction with a federal cost of living increase for the SSI portion of the grant, SSI/SSP grant levels went from $954 a month up to $1,040 a month for a single individual. The second step of grant increases is set to go into effect in January 2024.

In 2018, the legislature and then Governor Brown agreed to provide a state cost of living adjustment on the SSP portion of the grant beginning in January 2023. While that agreement is subject to funding in the budget, the administration chose not to include it in the January budget. As it currently stands, SSI recipients would not see any increased state funding for two years. The legislature may wish to consider whether to accelerate the second SSP increase to 2023 or to provide a cost-of-living adjustment.

Home Visiting

The administration proposes to increase funding for Home Visiting by $50 million ongoing for the Department of Public Health (CDPH) to expand the California Home Visiting Program and the California Black Infant Health Program, serving approximately 6,000 additional families over five years on top of 3,700 currently served by the Home Visiting Program and 1,650 served by the Black Infant Health Program. The administration does not propose increased funding for the CalWORKs Home Visiting program, which was cut in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. The budget proposes greater flexibility for home visiting models offered to meet the diverse needs of families across the state, expands home visiting services to additional counties, and makes them accessible to families with the highest need. Additionally, this proposal will support early literacy by including books and early literacy programming provided by home visitors, and will be further supported by a $350 million General Fund investment to recruit, train, and certify new community health workers.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The administration is proposing to allow families with zero reported income to be eligible for the $1,000 state child tax credit so long as the family would otherwise be eligible. The concept of a zero-earnings tax credit potentially opens the door for allowing people receiving SSI, SSDI, and Social Security to get the same state assistance that families receive from the state EITC and Child Tax Credit.

Civil Assessments

The administration is proposing to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income Californians by reducing civil assessments from a maximum of $300 to a cap of $150. Civil assessments are imposed on people in criminal and traffic courts when they fail to appear for a hearing, or they fail to pay a fine in a timely fashion. Legal service advocates tell us that many clients receive multiple civil assessments that increase the amount they owe and make it even harder to pay court ordered fines and fees. While this proposal goes part way in meeting the goals of legislators and advocates, as proposed, civil assessments would still impact Californians with the lowest incomes most, and leaves open the question of whether retroactive civil assessment debts would continue to be subject to collection.

California Food Assistance Program

The administration proposes phasing in the expansion the California Food Assistance Program to all Californians ages 55 and older, regardless of immigration status. This year’s budget proposal includes $35.2 million for initial planning phases of the expansion and allocates $113.4 million annually starting in the 2025-26 budget year for the full expansion.

Golden State Stimulus/Grants

The administration chose not to provide another round of pandemic stimulus payments. These payments, which went out to low- and moderate-income households, were instrumental in allowing families and individuals to absorb some of the costs of the pandemic and to give breathing room in household budgets. The grants were also a method for the state to reduce state expenditures below the Gann Limit, which caps the amount the state budget can increase from year to year. The governor noted in his press conference that the door is not closed on this and it may be under consideration for the May Revise.

For questions, contact:

  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy – mherald[at]wclp.org
  • Food Access: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org
  • Health Care: Jen Flory, Policy Advocate – jflory[at]wclp.org; Linda Nguy, Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org
  • Housing: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

PRESS RELEASE: After Lawsuit, San Bernardino County Removes Barriers to Cash Aid for Residents in Extreme Poverty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The county has agreed to implement several policy changes to make General Relief easier to access in the settlement of a 2019 lawsuit

SAN BERNARDINO – A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed against San Bernardino County, resulting in several changes to the county’s General Relief program that will help more people in extreme poverty access vital financial assistance. General Relief is the program administered by California counties that provides cash assistance to adults who do not have any other income or resources to meet their basic needs.

The suit was filed on behalf of two county residents in December 2019 by Inland Counties Legal Services, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Public Interest Law Project. At the time, San Bernardino County had an extremely low number of General Relief recipients. Data from July 2018 through April 2019 shows the County denied 2057 out of 2245 applicants — nearly 92% of applicants.

The evidence indicated that the numbers were the result of the County’s unlawful restrictions on GR eligibility and onerous application process. The County also paid a much lower monthly grant than required by statute—a single individual could only receive a maximum of $280 per month. Among other restrictions, the County terminated benefits to homeless recipients who could not find housing within the first 30 days of getting benefits.

With the changes made by the County, Inland Counties Legal Services attorney Anthony Kim expects more residents will secure General Relief benefits and have an easier time maintaining them going forward.

“The people who need general assistance are often homeless and disenfranchised to the point where receiving any help is difficult, so these changes to the program are huge. The less hoops residents need to jump through, the easier it will be for them to get the assistance they need and are legally entitled to,” Kim said.

One of the biggest changes from the suit is the dollar increase in assistance, including annual increases over the next five years. The County has already increased the grant amount to $332 per month for an individual, and it will be $504 beginning in 2026.

The County’s Transitional Assistance Department, which administers the program, implemented several other significant changes in response to the lawsuit. They eliminated the requirement for applicants to attend an in-person orientation before applying for General Relief, and they began accepting applications online and via mail or drop box. They also eliminated the former policy of terminating General Relief to homeless recipients who did not secure housing within their first 30 days of receiving assistance.

“The dollar increase is significant for people who rely on this program, as is the increased ease of access,” said Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “$500  can make a big difference for someone experiencing homelessness. It’s a stepping stone for finding housing, getting a job, and becoming an integrated member of the community.

Other changes to the program include: paying full General Relief benefits amount to all eligible recipients regardless of housing status; paying General Relief benefits back to the date the person first applied; reducing the recertification requirements for people who receive General Relief; increasing the resource limits for cars and other vehicles, especially for people who use their vehicles for shelter; providing a pre-termination notice and an opportunity to appeal before ending someone’s benefits; and decreasing job search requirements for “employable” recipients from 20 contacts a week to 10.

“This is an incredible victory for people in San Bernardino County,” said Melissa A. Morris, Staff Attorney at Public Interest Law Project. “These systemic changes to the County’s General Relief program will potentially benefit thousands of low-income people throughout San Bernardino County, and we appreciate the County’s willingness to work with us to make these improvements.”

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