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Congress’ Games Mean People Go Hungry

I can’t keep track of the number of days I’ve gone without lunch. Oftentimes, I eat breakfast at 8 a.m. and then wait 12 hours and eat dinner at 8 p.m., all so I don’t go to bed hungry. Being a full-time student and part-time preschool teacher, it was hard to be my best for myself and my young students.

As someone who experienced homelessness at age 19, I know how to make ends meet with meager funds. I know how to stretch my meals and what to purchase that won’t perish quickly. But no one should ever have to face the difficult circumstances and impossible choices I had to make.

As one of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), brought by Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund, I am sharing my story because food should not be treated as “optional.” Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits are not a “nice to have,” they are a “need to have” for 40 million Americans, many of whom are children, seniors and people with disabilities. In a major victory, we secured October benefits for this year and years to come, but each month after is another fight.

Congress averted a shutdown on Sept. 30 by passing a continuing resolution. If Congress can’t get their act together, millions will go hungry as the new year starts, thanks to their political games.

I make $1,300 a month as a part time preschool teacher. I am studying full-time to continue my impactful work with preschoolers and work toward more opportunities and better financial stability that are opened up to me with a degree. My monthly expenses for my basic needs such as rent, utilities, car insurance and gas needed to go to work, and out-of-pocket medical expenses, are almost identical to my monthly take-home income. I try to save any extra income from the months where I can work more hours to use in the months when my basic expenses go over my take-home pay. CalFresh, California’s version of SNAP, provides me with $88 in food benefits a month, down from $250 during the pandemic.

 

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Inequality Insights

Millions of low-income households will continue receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits through November and December, even if there is a federal government shutdown, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said this week.

More than 2.9 million California households receive federal food assistance through CalFresh, CalMatters’ Justo Robles reports. Twenty percent of Californians are food insecure — meaning they lack reliable access to healthy food.

Jacqueline Benitez is one of them. She earns about $1,300 a month working part-time as a preschool teacher in Los Angeles County. The 22-year-old also is a junior at California State University, Long Beach.

Monthly rent for her Bellflower apartment recently jumped $200, she said, not leaving much for food. Now more than ever, Benitez said, her $88 monthly CalFresh benefit is essential. Eating properly helps her focus while studying and working with children.

“With $88 I try to buy things that will last, like rice, pasta, popcorn chicken,” she said.

“Without CalFresh benefits, I would be eating half a burger and leave the rest of it for tomorrow.”

In prior threats of federal shutdowns, welfare benefits were guaranteed only through September, the end of the government’s fiscal year. A federal shutdown would risk more than 40 million people’s access to food and nutrition assistance programs nationwide.

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Western Center Roundup – September 2023


Celebrating Latino Heritage Month

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



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

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

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How Grocery Mergers Harm Communities and Food Access

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

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

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Welcome Brandon and Whitney to Western Center!

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

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

MEET OUR TEAM


Western Center 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.

US judge declines to issue TRO on government over SNAP benefits

A federal judge in Oakland decline Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order on the U.S. government to ensure that SNAP food benefits are authorized for October in case the government shuts down at the end of this month.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar heard arguments on an ex parte motion in Oakland from plaintiff’s counsel and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys. His order came hours later.

At stake “is the food security of 40 million low-income Americans, more than 10% of the country’s population,” stated Jodie Berger of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, in a memorandum in support of the ex parte motion for a TRO and order to show cause regarding a preliminary injunction.

“Unless this court intervenes by Sept. 15, may – indeed, most – of these people will no receive the October Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits that they rely on for their subsistence food needs,” Berger wrote.

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.

We Can End Food Insecurity: CalFresh Awareness Month

Over 3 million Californians use CalFresh, California’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). CalFresh offers individuals and families a food and nutrition safety net. Californians saw a boost in their allotments during the COVID-19 pandemic: however, those are coming to an end.   

Across L.A County community-based organizations are actively doing outreach to enroll community members in CalFresh. Community-based organizations meet people where they are, often have lived experience, and share the cultural and linguistic needs of community members.  

A community kick off event and resource fair was held Thursday, May 4th at Amelia Mayberry Park in Whittier, CA to highlight CalFresh Awareness Month and connect families with this vital program.  

Other community events will be held throughout the month of May in partnership with 88 cities in the county, university and community college campuses, school districts, farmers markets, churches and others.  

This model of building on community networks has served as a “best practice” outreach strategy that has been implemented by other counties across California. 

Partnerships like these are possible thanks to funding from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Los Angeles Department of Public Social Services and Department of Public Health administer grants to community-based organizations who can raise awareness around food access and assist community members in registering for CalFresh.  

A recent study by the Public Exchange at the USC Dornsife College found that over 800,000 households in LA county experienced food insecurity between July 2021 to July 2022, an increase of 24% from the previous year. The impact on Black and Latino residents was three times higher than white residents.  

The hunger cliff continues to loom over many Californians. Without Congressional and State action, many Californians will see a steep decrease in their allotments, leading to preventable hunger.  

While politics are at play in the national scene, in our state there are important legislative efforts to increase CalFresh benefits, which have not kept pace with inflation. SB 600 by Senator Caroline Menjivar, co-sponsored by advocates like GRACE/End Child Poverty CA and Nourish CA, would raise the CalFresh minimum benefit to $50 a month.  

Food insecurity will be felt by communities that already face unjust economic and health disparities. Seniors are one of the many groups affected and in March we covered the story of two seniors struggling with food insecurity during their retirement. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. California, as the 4th largest economy in the nation, has the means and resources to ensure no one goes hungry. Food insecurity, like many other disparities, is entirely preventable. The pandemic showed how resources that are justly allocated can save lives and end poverty; will our lawmakers step up to prevent our State’s growing food insecurity?  

Western Center Roundup – April 2023


NEW REPORT: Recognizing the Right to Housing

 

Last week, we released a new report, Recognizing the Right to Housing: Why We Need a Human Right to Housing in California, with our partners, ACLU California Action, ACCE Institute, and the National Homelessness Law Center. This report outlines how including the right to housing to California’s constitution could fundamentally shift housing policy in the state and address the housing and homelessness crisis at its root cause. As detailed in the report, a constitutional right to housing would establish a legal mechanism to hold local and state governments accountable for ensuring that all Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing. Modeled after international law, a constitutional amendment would establish a government obligation to:

respect the right to housing by not interfering with the right;
protect the right to housing by shielding the enjoyment of affordable and adequate housing from third-party threats; and
fulfill the right to housing by affirmatively enacting policies and budgetary allocations to ensure that all Californians have secure housing.

On April 25th, we stood with our partners and hundreds of community organizers and tenants at the Capitol for a press conference to release the report recommendations and drive support for several of our housing bills this session: ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right; SB 460; (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing; SB 567(Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act. AB 920(Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.

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Western Center Sounds the Alarm on Staff Shortages Facing Counties Amid Medi-Cal Changes

 

Western Center’s Senior Attorney David Kane has been making the media rounds, raising awareness of “the perfect storm” approaching Californians on Medi-Cal who registered in record numbers during the pandemic and now face a challenging benefits renewal process to ensure continued coverage. In recent articles with the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, David spoke of Western Center’s discovery through a public records request of just how woefully unprepared counties are in preparing for Medi-Cal benefits renewals – challenges such as staff shortages, an unseasoned workforce, a new computer system, and budget constraints. “None of this works if county Medi-Cal offices don’t have what they need in terms of basic resources and people in their offices to help people renew their Medi-Cal because they are the ones who determine whether somebody qualifies or should be terminated,” Kane said. “Today, with the historic level of record-high Medi-Cal enrollment, that already would be a challenge to counties and their offices, but it’s even worse. Counties have said they are understaffed and are constantly trying to fill vacancies. We’re really concerned that under these difficult circumstances, we’re not ready.”

To address these challenges, Western Center and our partners, the State, Counties, and DHCS have taken some preliminary steps to ease the process of renewals: 

  • In 2019, WCLP co-sponsored SB 260 (Hurtado) which closes coverage gaps for people no longer eligible for Medi-Cal by automatically enrolling them in the Covered California plan (if eligible) that most closely matches their previous coverage. 
  • Thanks to requests by advocates, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) convened a monthly working group to problem solve, plan, and get ready to help people keep their coverage for when renewals resumed. 
  • Counties have responded nimbly to numerous Medi-Cal expansions, including eligibility for people who are undocumented, and have updated their notices and engaged in outreach to impacted people. 
  • DHCS, in response to extensive advocacy, has done tremendous work to protect coverage for young adults who are undocumented and those who are 65 and over or disabled. 
  • Advocates have consolidated tools and resources for people looking for additional assistance as they seek to prove eligibility. 

 

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NEW BLOG POST and Partner Spotlight on Building Generational Wealth


With one in five children living in poverty in California, we celebrate our partners whose tireless efforts have culminated in groundbreaking programs to address generational wealth building. Last year, GRACE & End Child Poverty California (ECPCA), John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)End Poverty in California (EPIC), and Liberation in a Generation worked to pass the The Hope, Opportunity, Perseverance, and Empowerment (HOPE) for Children Act and successfully advocated for HOPE trust funds accounts in our State budget. HOPE Accounts will support children from low-income families who lost a primary caregiver to COVID-19, as well as children who are in long-term foster care. HOPE funds will be available when a child turns 18. They will allow children to invest in their education, start a business, or support purchasing transportation or housing. 

In this month’s blog post, Western Center Outreach and Advocacy Associate Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez lifts up the new CalKids program as another vehicle for wealth building and a tool for moving the needle on the ever expanding racial wealth gap. “Student debt and financial access to education are some of the many obstacles that communities of color face in our state. Student debt is a lifelong burden that impacts generational wealth. Last Fall, California launched a program called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings program (CalKids) that will invest in low-income students by providing an initial seed deposit for them to save for college.”

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Western Center Roundup – March 2023

Celebrating Women’s History Month and Cesar Chavez Day


Advocating, Organizing, Speaking Up and Out: Women Are Driving the Change We Need in California

This Women’s History Month was shaped by powerful testimony women provided in press conferences, legislative hearings, strikes, and listening tours. From demanding Housing as a Human Right, advocating for Affordable Health Care, preventing homelessness through expanded tenant protections, Reimagining a CalWORKs program that truly supports families, and shining a spotlight on the unique barriers faced by farmworkers braving climate change to feed our State, women shared how policies and systems of power impact their daily lives, offering both inspiration and solutions centered in their lived experiences. We stand in awe of these change makers and thank them for their dedication to improving the lives of all Californians. We would also like to extend our congratulations to Sonya Young Aadam, WCLP partner, who received a major national nod with the Unsung Hero Award from the NAACP Image Awards for her work leading the California Black Women’s Health Project and Christine Chambers Goodman, WCLP board member and Professor of Law at Caruso School of Law at Pepperdine, who was recognized with the University’s 10th Annual Award for Excellence in Leadership.



Western Center’s Executive Director, Crystal Crawford Receives NYU School of Law Woman of Distinction Award

Our very own Crystal Crawford, Western Center Executive Director was honored by the New York School of Law with the 2022 Woman of Color Collective Woman of Distinction Award, recognizing alumnae who have made outstanding achievements in the field of law. Crystal’s acceptance speech spoke to the theme of the awards event, Building Bridges, Fostering Wellbeing. A Hays Fellow and Chairperson of Black Allied Law Students Association at NYU Law, Crystal paid homage to several of her classmates who were in attendance, as well as NYU Law professors Paulette Caldwell, Derrick Bell, Bryan Stevenson, and Leon Higginbotham for providing encouragement and inspiration throughout her career. In her closing remarks, Crystal noted that a guiding mantra for her has been the Kwanzaa principle of kujichagulia, or self-determination. “This notion of defining who we are and not letting other people define us, that’s how you foster your own wellbeing.”

Congratulations and thank you for your leadership, Crystal!



NEW REPORT: Return to Sender: How an Unreliable Mail System Harms Californians Living in Poverty

Shaped by interviews throughout the state with public benefits advocates, legal aid attorneys, food bank employees, shelter operators, and nonprofit leaders, as well as individuals struggling to access their mail, and Public Records Act responses from counties concerning their mail holding practices and methods for ensuring unhoused people can access mail, this new report outlines the challenges facing Californians without permanent addresses and/or access to reliable mail services. Special thanks to Liv Williams, who spent a year working at Western Center as a Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP Social Impact Pro Bono Fellow, for her extensive research and authorship of this report. This fellowship project has become a powerful advocacy tool to garner support for SB 491 (Durazo), co-sponsored by Western Center and the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations. This bill would create an option for unhoused Californians to pick up government related mail from a county department of social services such as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, election ballots, public housing waiting list notifications, student report cards, and much more. You can track this bill HERE.

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Community Centric Fundraising Hub Highlights Western Center Team’s Journey into Fundraising from a Place of Empowerment and Awareness

Western Center’s development department is as bold as they come. The team, composed of four women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, is fertile ground to try things differently. The team, Heather Masterton, Xochi Flores, Cinthya Martinez, and April Walker recently documented their experience of reimagining development work by implementing community centric fundraising principles in a new Women’s History Month publication on the CCF hub; we invite you to learn more. “We are not just grant seekers, grant writers, foundation relationship stewards, and event planners. We are also parents, students, and professors. We are sisters and siblings in family and in community. We are connectors of all of the spaces we occupy and engage in. And just like social justice work is transformative and process based, so are the humans who use their creativity, their wordsmithing, their love of language and communication, and their acquired-by-living skillset to propel the work forward…” 

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NEW Blog Post: CalFresh Hunger Games

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit levels through Emergency Allotments to address America’s deepening hunger crisis. On March 1, 2023, those increased SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh in California, expired for approximately three million recipients, bringing food benefits down to an average of $6 per day per person. Western Center’s Outreach and Advocacy Associate, Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez connects with recipients to learn more about the impact of losing those life sustaining increases as inflation rises and the cost of food soars. Jesus and Alicia are getting by with a tight budget. They budget in the face of rising inflation where prices on milk, eggs, and bread skyrocket. For them community driven food banks have been a blessing. Alicia shared, “this is the reality for many Californians. We are doing our best to get by. Our neighbors who are also retired are in a similar situation. Others we know live in houses or apartments where multiple families are living under one roof – it is the only way to survive, but we are running out of time.”

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The CalFresh Hunger Games: Free falling into food insecurity with no rescue in sight.

“For politicians our hunger is a game, they want to see you starve to death before they help and say, ‘I saved these people’s lives and I took action to stop hunger in our community,’” Jesus Zavala reflects. Jesus Zavala and Alicia Zavala are both retired seniors living in East Los Angeles. They are also my parents. And after working in difficult environments their entire lives, I had hoped they could settle into an easy retirement. Instead, they have faced hardship, including constant food instability in recent years, an uneasy retirement.

 

Before coming to the United States, my father and mother worked the fields of Alta and Baja California. When they moved here with my grandfather, who came to the U.S through the Bracero Program after World War II ended, my parents naturally found work throughout the Imperial Valley right over the border from Mexico. Eventually they migrated north to the neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles where they have lived ever since.

 

Like many retirees, my parents were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated existing economic inequity. During the pandemic, they rushed to sign up for SNAP/CalFresh. Thanks to this cushion of federally funded emergency allotments, they have managed to get by.

 

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture over 80% of SNAP beneficiaries across the country are working class families, people with disabilities, or seniors. Individual SNAP recipients on average received around $100 dollars while families received benefits based on their household size during the pandemic.

 

Although the federal government has extended the public health emergency until early May, it has stopped all funding for food stamps that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

As of March 2023, food benefit amounts are now based on household income rather than the size of a household. This means that right now these federal funding cuts to CalFresh are tearing through the food security of nearly 3 million households in our state. 

 

“We lost $160 in food benefits, which leaves us with $250 to eat for the rest of March,” shares Alicia. She is a retired Teamster School Bus Driver. She smiles as she greets the adversity she is sharing with the hope and grit you find in strong union mujeres.

 

Jesus adds, “Picture this… we get around $1,900 collectively from Social Security, our mortgage is around $1,700 that leaves us with $200 cash to survive with, plus car payments, car insurance, gas, and other expenses that we all know too well.” He has worked on classic cars since he arrived in Los Angeles. He learned the trade of building muscle car engines under direction of famed hot-rodder John Geraghty.

 

He continues “At this point I have knee issues, it’s difficult to work the same way I did 30 years ago and even if I could work on classic cars on the side, the government would automatically take any current food benefits I have. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

 

More changes to SNAP programs are sure to come when the federal public health emergency ends on May 11, 2023, especially with SNAP benefits being eyed for potential federal cuts in the ongoing debt limit debate in Congress.

 

While politics are at play on the national scene, in our state there are some legislative efforts forming to respond. A bill was introduced in the California legislature on February 15 that would establish a minimum benefit in the CalFresh program by January 2025.

 

Jesus and Alicia are getting by with a tight budget. They budget in the face of rising inflation where prices on milk, eggs, and bread are skyrocketing. For them community driven food banks have been a blessing. “This is the reality for many Californians, we are doing our best to get by, our neighbors who are also retired are in a similar situation, others we know live in a house or apartment where multiple families are living in under one roof, it is the only way to survive, but we are running out of time,” says Jesus. 

 

For many time has run out, these are difficult times for far too many people in California whether we are talking about the unhoused, low-income, people of color  or working-class communities. Californians are falling off a hunger cliff at this very moment and there are no permanent policy solutions to address the food insecurity many in our state are facing.  

 

As the contradictions of today’s financialized capitalist system unravel, we must imagine new ways to address this persistent economic bifurcation of a state of prosperity and a state of precariousness.We must address the growing gap between rich and poor that continues to spread under the contagion of monopoly-finance capital. 

 

Make no mistake the gilded facade of California is peeling, and we can not sweep the flakes under the rug. Californians in poverty need a New Deal, and they need it now.