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PRESS RELEASE: Court of Appeal Says California Must Replace Electronically Stolen Food Benefits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Decision reverses lower court ruling; says Department of Social Services is responsible for replacing food benefits stolen from Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card holders

Los Angeles, CA — The California Court of Appeal has ruled that the Department of Social Services must replace CalFresh benefits (formerly “food stamps”) when they are electronically stolen from recipients. Attorneys with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and Western Center on Law & Poverty represented plaintiffs Esther Ortega and Joe Soza, both of whom are recipients of CalFresh benefits who experienced electronic theft. Hunger Action Los Angeles, an organization working to end hunger and promote healthy eating through advocacy, direct service, and organizing, was also an organizational plaintiff in the case.

“This decision makes it clear that people don’t have to go hungry if through no fault of their own, their CalFresh benefits are stolen,” said Frank Tamborello, Executive Director of Hunger Action LA. “It’s especially critical during this pandemic, with hunger at an all-time high and electronic theft increasing.”

The Court of Appeal decision in Esther Ortega et al., v. Kimberley Johnson, et al. reverses a trial court decision that said the state is not responsible for replacing stolen benefits, and requires reversal of the California Department of Social Services’ previous denial of the plaintiffs’ requests for replacement benefits.

“It’s disappointing that a high-tech and food-abundant place like California has been failing to protect poor households against the electronic theft of food benefits, as existing regulations require,” said Andrew Kazakes, a LAFLA Staff Attorney who worked on the case. “This decision will bring welcome relief to victims of EBT skimming theft across the state, especially during the pandemic when the importance of food security is that much greater.”

Ms. Ortega and Mr. Soza both had their food benefits stolen by people who obtained their account numbers and PIN’s (Personal Identification Number) — a form of theft that has become increasingly common. The thieves made unauthorized transactions using their account information, and drained close to their entire monthly allotment of CalFresh benefits.

As electronic theft becomes more technologically sophisticated, more low-income Californians are left without essential anti-hunger food benefits, even when they protect their EBT cards and personal information. The result in this case will ensure that CalFresh recipients have their benefits replaced when they are stolen by electronic thieves, and that they don’t go hungry when they are victims of high-tech theft.

“What’s most striking is that the California Department of Social Services acknowledged that the plaintiffs were not at fault in the theft of their benefits, but still left them to bear the loss,” said Alexander Prieto, a Senior Attorney on the case for Western Center. “The Department knows that people’s benefits are being stolen electronically. It puts out notices and warnings; yet before this ruling, it ignored the requirement to ensure that victims of the crimes receive their crucial food benefits.”

California’s CalFresh rules protect electronic theft victims, but replacing benefits is optional under federal law, which ultimately governs CalFresh and similar programs in other states, even though the United States Department of Agriculture also knows the benefits are vulnerable to theft. “Hopefully this ruling sets the stage for a better federal model,” Prieto said.

The point of food assistance is to make sure people can eat. With California and the country both experiencing record levels of hunger, it’s vitally important for government to safeguard necessary food assistance for eligible recipients. This ruling is an important step for Californians who rely on CalFresh benefits to prevent hunger.

Read the Court of Appeal decision here.

 

Contact:

Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

Sara J. Williams, sjwilliams[at]lafla.org

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

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

About Western Center on Law & Poverty – Through the lens of economic and racial justice, 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 low-income Californians.

 

 

 

 

Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed

ACCESS TO JUSTICE & PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.

HEALTH

  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.

HOUSING

  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Advocates Demand USDA Rescind Guidance That Strips Emergency Food Assistance From Californians With Greatest Need

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

USDA’s SNAP Emergency Allotment guidance goes against Congressional intent; may require legal action

SAN FRANCISCO — Western Center on Law & Poverty and Impact Fund have sent a demand letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, requesting the Department rescind guidance from March 20th and April 21st of this year regarding implementation of SNAP (aka food stamps) emergency allotments, which Congress provided as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The Act is intended to provide emergency allotments of food assistance to eligible low-income households. Emergency assistance is critical for Californians impacted by the COVID-19 health emergency and related stay-at-home orders, as the State and the Nation face increased food expenses and the loss of other food assistance on which residents normally rely.

USDA’s current guidance illegally denies emergency food aid to the poorest households, preventing California from providing emergency SNAP allotments to those most in need. In its initial application to USDA for emergency allotments, California disagreed with USDA’s guidance, stating that families receiving the regular maximum SNAP benefit should receive additional emergency aid. USDA denied the proposal, and told the State to submit a revised proposal for emergency allotments that leaves households most in need – those receiving the pre-pandemic maximum SNAP benefit – without any emergency assistance.

“It is not only cruel and absurd that the poorest families are denied emergency aid during an unprecedented national emergency, it is also contrary to Congressional intent,” said Alexander Prieto, a Senior Litigator for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “By asserting this harsh and indefensible interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, USDA is needlessly imperiling the health of countless communities for dubious reasons.”

Families with the lowest incomes face the greatest risk of hunger and food insecurity during the COVID crisis. They are less likely to have food reserves for sheltering-in-place, and more likely to rely on food banks and other emergency channels for food distribution, which are currently overextended and under-resourced. Even if households locate a food bank, they are less able to access this resource due to the increased risk of COVID exposure they face when leaving home. Additionally, these households are more likely to include young children, as well as seniors or people with disabilities.

“USDA refuses to acknowledge the disproportionate impact this crisis is having on the ability of at-risk families to meet their basic needs,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at Impact Fund. “Before COVID, wealth and income inequality punished thousands of Californians who could barely get by. Now is not the time to further exacerbate that trend. We are simply asking USDA to ensure that everyone has food to eat.”

Western Center and Impact Fund are prepared to take legal action to protect the rights of California’s low-income SNAP recipients if USDA does not rescind its current guidance by April 29, 2020.

Contact:

Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org, (214) 395-2755

Teddy Basham-Witherington, twitherington[at]impactfund.org, (415) 845-1206

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Pilot Program for California SNAP (CalFresh) Online Food Purchases to Begin Next Week; UFCW and Western Center Applaud Steps and Urge Further Action

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Even with this step, many SNAP recipients will be without social-distancing grocery options; and many delivery drivers are paid too little to afford food without SNAP

 

Sacramento, CA – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council and the Western Center on Law & Poverty applaud California’s Department of Social Services (DSS) to be the first state to achieve federal government approval for an emergency request to expand a pilot program permitting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase grocery and food delivery online. This option will be available for SNAP, known as CalFresh in California, beginning April 28th.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing issues around access to food and other basic necessities. While this new option will help some families living in poverty access food while abiding by federal, state and local emergency orders to shelter in place during the pandemic, there are only two approved retailers – Amazon and Walmart. What’s more, both retailers have established a minimum benefit threshold for purchase of $35 and are charging delivery fees, so it will not offer solutions for everyone.

Since last week’s approval for California, other states have also received approval for SNAP recipients to make purchases online: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Pilot programs began last year in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington State.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), even though not all states and only a couple of retailers will be able to participate in the online purchase pilot, they recommend states and retailers not in the pilot utilize other options already available to retailers hoping to serve their customers in ways that support safe social distancing policies, such as “Pay at Pick-up” (also known as “Click and Collect”), where SNAP cardholders can shop online and then pay for their purchase using their EBT card at pick-up. In a statement issued today, USDA says, “Grocery pickup is already an option that these retailers offer beyond SNAP so they are already thinking through how they can provide a safe environment to do so with the growing concerns around social distancing.”

UFCW and Western Center continue to push for expansion of the program beyond Amazon and Walmart and their third-party grocery delivery, and are requesting that other retailers in California’s grocery industry consider “click and collect” options for curbside pick-up and home delivery.

“Allowing CalFresh participants to use their benefit to purchase food online is a positive step toward reducing the unequal access to food and safety during the pandemic,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate, Western Center on Law & Poverty. “However, we can’t stop there. We have one of the most inclusive EBT systems in the country and we shouldn’t stop working on this until we have expanded online purchase and click-and-collect options are available to all current recipients through all participating retailers. If we don’t get more vendors participating in the online purchasing and ordering options during the pandemic, the result could be more food deserts in communities that desperately need greater access.”

CalFresh provides monthly benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need to maintain adequate nutrition. A single person is eligible for CalFresh if they make $2,024 a month, which is less than what a $13 an hour job pays for 40 hours a week – $2,080. As companies rely on essential delivery workers to prevent hunger and the spread of COVID-19, we encourage them to consider appreciation pay, and wages that would prevent workers from having to rely on safety-net programs.

“It will be a shame if this program, intended to expand options for communities in need, has the effect of eliminating good union jobs and directing more dollars into the pockets of CEOs at Walmart and Amazon. These giant corporations pay wages so low that many of their own workers qualify for Cal-Fresh and would face hunger without these benefits,” said Andrea Zinder, president, UFCW Western States Council and UFCW Local 324. “Expanding the pilot program to include companies that pay their employees living wages and promote workers’ rights and preventing participating companies from contracting with third party distributors is necessary to prevent the loss of good paying jobs with benefits. This also ensures CalFresh recipients are not held responsible for spoiled or damaged food because if a food delivery goes bad, they would not be able to have those benefits refunded to them.”

As local, state, and federal governments work quickly to address needs related to the pandemic in real time, we must be vigilant that the solutions proposed now do not cause more damage in the future. Opening the online purchase pilot program to more vendors and supporting them to establish “click and collect” options for curbside pick-up and home delivery will create the kind of competition and opportunity for fair wages necessary for communities to be well in the current economic climate.

CONTACT:

UFCW Western States Council: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, jenna[at]paschalroth.com

Western Center on Law and Poverty: Jessica Bartholow, 916.400.1948, jbartholow[at]wclp.org

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council is the regional coordinating body of 11 UFCW local unions representing over 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. The Council is a part of the 1.2 million member strong UFCW International Union. UFCW members are standing together to improve the lives of workers, families, and communities.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.

New states in SNAP online pilot program going live this month and next

“Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, has been working on bringing SNAP online in California for several years and says the SNAP recipients she works with are generally happy with the new option.

“This will really help people who are feeling left out and scared right now,” she says.”

Read more

Watch: Financial help and safety nets during the pandemic

The panelists include:

  • Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty
  • Cathy Senderling-McDonald, deputy executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California
  • Armando Hernandez, community programs director at The Unity Council in Oakland

Analysis of Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Today, Congress passed a $2 trillion aid package, the third piece of federal legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. While this aid package includes some direct payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and additional help for low-income communities and the organizations that serve them, it was passed without important benefits and considerations raised to address concerns for the poorest Americans, especially those who are living in deep poverty, people who are disabled or advanced in age, and people who are undocumented. The bill invests significantly more government aid for corporate America than it does for the people hit hardest by the crisis. We are hopeful that the fourth aid package, expected to be worked on by leaders while Congress is in recess for the next couple of weeks, will address these significant gaps.

Western Center is working hard to make sure that both the missed opportunities in the CARES Act and additional investments are considered in the next COVID bill, and we look forward to working with California’s Senators and our Congressional Delegation to make sure that happens.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

The CARES Act expands eligibility and benefits for unemployment insurance, but it does not provide assistance for states to manage the cost of rising TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) caseloads, as was done in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). TANF, known as CalWORKs in California, serves the poorest families with children by providing them a basic needs grant, work training and support, homelessness prevention, and subsidized employment. It is critical that Congress and the President provide increased funding for state TANF programs in the fourth COVID package. Unlike many states, California spends the bulk of its combined federal and state welfare funds on direct cash aid and supports to families. Still, it only serves approximately 60 percent of eligible families with a benefit, and in most cases, isn’t even above half of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). As the needs increase and caseloads rise, the state may find it difficult to maintain the program at its current level. While California could receive about $1.6 billion for Supplemental Security Income recipients, and another $3.5 billion for the CalFresh (SNAP) caseload, we will need to keep working to make sure that national TANF investments include additional resources for low-income families to weather this storm.

The stimulus plan includes one-time income for many families and individuals, including very low income households. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide funding for households where one adult does not have a Social Security number (SSN). This means many households who pay taxes and may have American citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) in their households will receive nothing, despite the fact that payroll taxes are taken from their checks. Congress must address this gross inequity in the next COVID package; it will disproportionately deny aid to low-income workers of color, many of whom are essential workers on the front line of our service sectors.

For those families who are eligible, they will receive $1,200 payments for each adult and $500 for each child under the rebate program. These payments are available to households that filed a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019 even if the household payed no taxes. This is important because households with incomes under $25,000 are not required to file tax returns since they have no federal tax liability, so many do not routinely file taxes. As a result, many low-income families may not get a check unless they file a tax return by July 15th (the new extended tax filing deadline). This could prove challenging since many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) centers and other tax preparers are closed during shelter in place, and most of them would have finalized 2020 activities as of April 15th, the regular tax filing deadline.

Currently, the IRS has information on its website on free options for filing taxes. The IRS is required to do a public education campaign on the rebates, which should provide more information on what people need to do to get the rebates. The federal government has discretion on how to get payments to people, so what the options are for non-filers (beyond filing a regular return) is yet to be determined and might differ for different groups. California will need to explore how it can assist low income households with filing returns so they can secure the resources needed to meet their basic needs. A summary of the rebate process can be found here.

Both the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board (FTB) have long utilized tax intercepts to collect unpaid taxes from those getting tax refunds and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). According to the Tax Policy Center, the IRS will not be intercepting rebate checks to collect unpaid taxes. The Center also reports that the IRS has temporarily suspended interception of EITC payments for unpaid federal taxes. Click here for more on the IRS policy changes.

And today, after receiving a request from the Debt Free Justice Coalition, Western Center, and our Legal Services Allies, the FTB has announced it will use existing authority to immediately stop tax intercepts and all other debt collection practices (including bank levies and wage garnishments) for state government debt, with the exception of child support.

The CARES Act includes $900 million to help lower income households heat and cool their homes through the existing Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and another $1 Billion to Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) to help communities address the consequences of increasing unemployment and economic disruption. These are flexible funds to alleviate poverty, so there will be great variation from community to community for how these funds are used.

FOOD SECURITY

The Cares Act provides $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs in the form of additional funding for food purchases and demonstration projects to increase flexibility for schools; $15.51 billion for SNAP; $100 million for food distribution to low-income households living on Indian reservations and participating Indian Tribal Organizations; $200 million for U.S. territories that cannot access SNAP (Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa), in addition to annual block grant funding; and $450 million for commodities and distribution of emergency food assistance through community partners, including food banks.

The CARES Act investments in food security mainly support administration of existing benefits, and does not establish new benefits. It will help fund H.R. 6201 implementation, support caseworker staff needed to keep up with increases in applications and caseload, and fund waivers and other accommodations necessary to comply with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the impending recession that our economy will face. This is important not only because this workforce will be needed to help low-income Californians meet their basic needs, but also because the county social worker workforce is made up primarily of women of color.

We are disappointed the bill doesn’t include a needed benefit increase and pause on the implementation of Trump Administration cuts to SNAP food stamp benefits. We are committed to working with local, state, and national partners, as well as California’s U.S. Senators and our Congressional Delegation, to make sure the expected fourth COVID bill includes these investments and others that are necessary to address acute levels of hunger caused by extended school feeding and congregate meal closures, and prolonged stay-at-home orders.

HEALTH

Through the passage of the CARES Act, private health plans must cover COVID-19 testing free of charge. The CARES Act also requires health plans to cover vaccinations at no-cost when it becomes available. For older adults and individuals with disabilities, the CARES Act enhances several Medicare benefits, including coverage of COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available, more flexible provision of telehealth services, and a three-month supply of prescription drugs. For Medi-Cal beneficiaries who receive unemployment benefits under this act, these payments will not affect their Medi-Cal eligibility.

The CARES Act requires price transparency for COVID-19 testing but does not place a limit on testing costs which may skyrocket as the demand for testing increases and testing supplies remain low. Consumers will also face challenges to accessing affordable coverage for COVID-19 treatment. The CARES Act contains no prohibitions on surprise billing, such as additional costs patients often incur when using emergency care services, and no measures addressing the high out-of-pocket costs that many patients will have to pay for COVID-19 treatment. Even with this third emergency act, the federal government still has not authorized state Medicaid programs to cover COVID-19 treatment for those who are uninsured and undocumented.

HOUSING

The CARES Act provides for (1) a forbearance period for borrowers with Federally-backed loans who are financially impacted by COVID-19, (2) a moratorium on foreclosures of Federally-backed loans, and (3) a moratorium on evictions from public housing or housing with Federally-backed mortgages. 

Under the CARES Act, borrowers with Federally-backed mortgages may request a forbearance on the loan if they are experiencing a financial hardship during the COVID-19 emergency. The forbearance can last for 180 days and may be extended at the request of the borrower. No fees, penalties, or additional interest will accrue for borrowers during the period of forbearance. The CARES Act also provides a moratorium on foreclosures of federally-backed mortgages. Borrowers with Federally-backed multifamily mortgage loans may obtain forbearance of 30 days, which may be extended, and during the period of forbearance, are prohibited from evicting a household solely for non-payment. Importantly, the Act provides a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings for most federally subsidized rental housing, as well as for any housing that has a Federally-backed mortgage or multifamily mortgage loan if the eviction is based on non-payment.  Borrowers curious about their mortgages can look up the information through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or by contacting your own mortgage company.

The CARES Act also dedicates $4 billion to the expansion of the existing Emergency Solutions Grant program intended to be used for people experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness. These funds can increase shelter capacity, allow communities to reconfigure shelter space to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, deliver medical care to people who acquire the virus or may be at higher risk, and provide short-term rental or utility assistance so that people who have lost jobs or income don’t also lose their housing.  Although the funds can be used for emergency assistance, the needs of shelters (and creating alternatives to current shelter options) are so great that there is unlikely to be sufficient funds to address all the emergency needs that come with such high rates of joblessness. It is unclear how California will use this funding.

Bay Area low-income seniors struggle to access food during coronavirus

“A big part of the anti-hunger emergency food safety net traditionally has been run by people who are older,” said Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “All the programs, church pantries, soup kitchens are staffed by volunteers who are now being told to stay home. There is a real crumbling of the natural infrastructure of California anti-hunger assistance programs.”

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