Subscribe Donate

Tag: CalWORKs

Home | Newsroom |

Update on Western Center Cases

By Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation

The past month has seen a remarkable number of decisions in Western Center cases —  mostly good, some not great. Below is a rundown, from favorable to less favorable. To learn about more of our cases, take a look at our case docket.


Hernandez v. DMV­

BACKGROUND: The California DMV was automatically suspending driver’s licenses of low-income traffic defendants who were referred by courts for “willful” failure to pay fines, without determining their ability to pay.

DECISION: As this suit progressed, the Legislature abolished license suspensions for failure to pay, but DMV continued to insist for many months that existing suspensions would not be lifted.

A judge has awarded attorneys’ fees on the case.

IMPACT: The court awarded the fees for our advocacy on the issue, and hundreds of thousands of Californians have had their licenses restored.

Moncrief v. County of Los Angeles

BACKGROUND: Los Angeles County was illegally terminating Medi-Cal recipients from rolls because of a backlog in processing annual renewal forms.

DECISION: The County of LA has tentatively agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Board of Supervisors approval. In the underlying suit, the court ruled that the County could not terminate benefits for Medi-Cal recipients who had filled out their renewal forms in a timely fashion, deeming the County’s practice an “institutional failure.”

IMPACT: Thousands of LA Medi-Cal recipients restored to Medi-Cal rolls, restoring access to health care.

Thomas v. Kent

BACKGROUND: The State placed an arbitrary monetary cap on coverage for a program that keeps people with severe disabilities at home and out of institutions. We argued that the cap violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

DECISION: The State has agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Legislative approval.

IMPACT: The suit resulted in lifting of Department of Health Care Services-imposed arbitrary cost caps on people with major physical disabilities, which threatened institutionalization (much costlier than in-home care).

Rivera v. Kent

BACKGROUND: “The evidence presented in the trial court showed that, beginning in late 2013 and early 2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits. Evidence submitted by plaintiffs showed that, in some cases, delays in determining eligibility had severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care.”

DECISION: The trial court in Rivera ordered the Department of Health Care Services to decide all non-disability Medi-Cal applications within 45 days as mandated by federal law. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the State acts legally as long as it decides at least 90 percent of applications within the 45-day period. We are petitioning for review.

IMPACT: Thanks to earlier victories in the case, hundreds of thousands of applicants have received timely benefits.

Christensen v. Lightbourne

BACKGROUND: “CalWORKs applicant, Angie Christensen, lives with her husband and her children. Her husband is the noncustodial parent of additional children, and court-ordered child support is garnished from his income for the benefit of these children who do not live in the applicant’s home. Counting the garnished amounts as nonexempt income to the applicant’s family, San Mateo County determined the family’s income was too high to qualify for CalWORKs cash aid and denied the application.”

DECISION: The California Supreme Court held that for the purposes of determining CalWORKs (public assistance) eligibility, the State can count a husband’s wages and unemployment garnished to pay for children in another family as income in his current household.

IMPACT: This is a challenge for low-income households in California, because it bars access to CalWORKs for families whose incomes exceed limits before taking into account payments a parent makes to a separate household, which are resources children in the household where the parent resides can’t benefit from.

Soza v. Lightbourne

BACKGROUND: Petitioners had their welfare and CalFresh food stamp benefits electronically stolen while their benefit cards remained in their physical possession.  The State reimbursed loss of cash benefits, but refused to reimburse for CalFresh loss.

DECISION: A Superior Court judge has ruled that the CalFresh recipient, whose benefits were stolen electronically through no fault of his own, cannot recoup the value of his lost benefits. We are planning to appeal.

IMPACT: This decision leaves other food stamp beneficiaries vulnerable to the insecurity of being unable to recoup loss from electronic theft.

Statement on Trump Administration’s Proposed Rule to Cut SNAP Food Benefits

In yet another blow to people experiencing poverty in the United States, the Trump Administration has proposed a new set of rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP food benefits).The rule targets low-income families by seeking to end a long-standing and widely adopted rule that eases the application and retention burden for families that qualify for other federal benefits, like CalWORKs in California, for SNAP benefits – reducing hunger for millions of Americans.

Western Center on Law & Poverty, California Association of Food Banks (CAFB), California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Inc. (CCWRO), and the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA) are, once again, prepared to engage against this attack on our public safety-net and the families it serves.

“This newest proposal is just one more in a long line by this administration that will remove food, housing and other basic needs assistance for people already struggling to get by,” said Jessica Bartholow of Western Center on Law & Poverty, and chairperson of the Lifting Children Out of Poverty Task Force Safety-net Committee. “No one in our country should go hungry, yet over 13 million children live below the federal poverty line and are in danger of going hungry every day. This policy makes hunger even more likely. It’s a step in the completely wrong direction.”

Current law includes a “broad-based categorical eligibility” option for states, which allows them to adjust SNAP eligibility to serve families with incomes modestly above 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), provided that their net income after shelter, childcare, and other basic expenses is under 100 percent of FPL. HHS currently lists its Poverty Guidelines at $21,330 annually for a family of three; since the actual cost of living across the country is significantly higher than the threshold, many states have chosen the categorical eligibility option, including California.

When California implemented the law in 2008, it had strong bipartisan support, and was enacted by Republican Governor Schwarzenegger with the explicit intent to improve nutrition and promote the retention and development of assets and resources for needy households who meet all other SNAP eligibility requirements. At the time, it was estimated that the law would result in an increase of approximately 6.2 percent of existing caseload.[i]

If we apply that rate to the current caseload, we can assume that the removal of categorical eligibility could impact over 120,000 California households living below 200 percent of FPL, most of whom are working.[ii] Additionally, California’s minimum wage increase puts more low-income families between 130 and 200 percent of FPL, which means the number of California households impacted by the rule could be much higher.

When analyzing the impact of implementing categorical eligibility, the Legislature also estimated an approximate increase of 170,000 children who would benefit from federally funded school meals as a result of direct certification[iii] due to broad based categorical eligibility.[iv]  Not only will the proposed rule change increase food insecurity and incidences of hunger among low-income working families with children, it will also exacerbate the “cliff effect” that forces families off of aid when they improve earnings before they meet their food needs.

The removal of the categorical eligibility option will also significantly increase states’ administrative costs and burden. It will require 43 states to restore an asset test for SNAP, which they had removed because it costs more to implement than it saves. Although SNAP asset tests are estimated to make one percent of applicants ineligible for the program, county administrators must apply the test to 100 percent of applicants and recipients.[v]

There is evidence that eliminating the SNAP asset test has helped states reduce churn in the program — processing repeat applications for a single household. The asset test and churn rates are believed to be linked because frequent asset fluctuations resulting from paycheck deposits can render participants temporarily ineligible.[vi]

While the existence of asset tests in SNAP have not been demonstrated to directly discourage savings since low-income families generally have too little funds to meet basic needs or to save, the tests do discourage savings for people who have fallen into poverty but have yet to spend down their savings to qualify for help. Forcing them to do so lengthens the time they will spend in poverty, and reduces the likelihood that they will chose to save money when they have it.[vii] It also further exacerbates income inequality by ensuring that people with low-incomes remain unable to build wealth, and has a harsh impact on seniors who have accrued modest savings.

Western Center, CAFB, CFPA, CCWRO, and CWDA will support efforts to respond to the proposed rule. If comments collected in the 60-day comment period fail to discourage the administration from publishing the final rule, we will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent hunger and protect the rights of low-income Californians.

For more information about the national response to the proposed rule, see statements made by the Food Research and Action Center and by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


About Western Center on Law & Poverty
For over five decades, Western Center on Law & Poverty has advocated on behalf of individuals with low incomes in every branch of California government—from the courts to the Legislature. Through the lens of economic and racial justice, we litigate, educate and advocate around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration. Learn more at
For more information about Western Center’s work to prevent hunger, contact:
Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 282-5119

About California Association of Food Banks
The California Association of Food Banks is creating a hunger-free California. By harnessing the voice of our 41-member food banks, we influence public policy, collaborate with local farmers, and educate hungry Californians about access to nutrition services.
Contact: Rachel Tucker, Senior Policy Associate
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (512) 569-8012

About California Food Policy Advocates
CFPA is a statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable food.
Contact: Jared Call, Managing Policy Advocate
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (323) 401-4972

About the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Inc.
CCWRO is a statewide, nonprofit organization that provides back-up services to qualified legal service field programs. CCWRO provides consultation, information, training, and representation on issues relating to public benefit programs such TANF and SNAP.
Contact: Kevin Aslanian, Executive Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 736-0616

About the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA)
The County Welfare Directors Association of California – CWDA – is a nonprofit association representing the human service directors from each of California’s 58 counties. The Association’s mission is to promote a human services system that encourages self-sufficiency of families and communities, and protects vulnerable children and adults from abuse and neglect.
Contact: Megan Gamble, Communications and Outreach Manager
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 443-1749


[i] Assembly Bill 191 (Fuentes, 2013) enacted categorical eligibility in our CalFresh Program by adding Section 18901.5 to the Welfare and Institutions Code. This Act was implemented by All County Letter

[ii] We assert that most families will be working because income from public assistance alone is not enough to put a family over 100% of the federal poverty line. Supplemental Security Income maximum monthly benefit is approximately 70% of the FPL and the CalWORKs maximum benefit is 42% of the FPL.

[iii] See FRAC’s resource on the connection between SNAP and school meals:

[iv] Assembly Bill 191 (Fuentes, 2013) California State Assembly Appropriations Analysis:

[v] States Rethink Asset Tests for People on Food Stamps (May, 2016):

[vi]Asset Limits, SNAP Participation, and Financial Stability (June 2016), Ratcliffe, C. et. al.

[vii] Ibid.

Progress for California: Western Center’s Statement on 2019-20 State Budget

Governor Newsom’s first budget adopts many Western Center proposals, and moves the needle on poverty, inequality, and addressing homelessness

The budget signed by Governor Newsom today for FY 2019-20 includes important anti-poverty measures that Western Center has pushed for years. Most notably, the budget more than doubles the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), ends the “senior penalty” for accessing Medi-Cal, and expands Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults. It also provides a major boost to CalWORKs grants, and includes a significant investment in affordable housing and homelessness programs.

Unfortunately, the budget does not include funding to restore massive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) grant cuts from a decade ago, or to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented seniors. Additionally, CalWORKs grants still keep most CalWORKs families in deep poverty, and while the governor’s closing of tax loopholes to boost low wage workers’ income through the EITC was creative and bold, it continues to exclude ITIN tax filers.

There is much more work to do, but the Governor’s first budget demonstrates both empathy for those with the least, and imagination in finding ways to address their needs.

Read more

Read Western Center’s analysis of 2019-2020 Budget Bill

Budget Bill 2019-20: AB 74

 Includes important anti-poverty measures: expands Earned Income Tax Credit, increases CalWORKs grants, expands access to Medi-Cal, and provides significant funding for anti-homelessness measures

Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature have reached a budget deal for FY 2019-20. Some details are still being negotiated, including housing provisions and the state Earned Income Tax Credit; we will provide updates as additional details are available. The Budget Bill must be passed by midnight on Saturday, June 15, 2019.

The budget will result in significant positive gains for California’s most vulnerable residents. The budget includes many Western Center priorities, most notably, it increases the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) for families, ends the “senior penalty” for accessing Medi-Cal, and expands Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults. It also provides a major boost to CalWORKs grants, and includes $650 million in funding to address homelessness. Unfortunately, the budget does not include funding to restore massive SSI (Supplemental Security Income) grant cuts from a decade ago, or to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented seniors.

The increased spending in the 2019-20 budget is made possible by a three-year $21.5 billion surplus. The surplus is from a combination of higher revenue than estimated, and lower state spending than anticipated. The budget includes reserves and a Rainy Day Fund that exceed $20 billion, the largest in state history.

Read our full analysis

Western Center Summary and Analysis of Governor Newsom’s Revised Budget

Governor Gavin Newsom has submitted his May budget revision to the Legislature, signaling the beginning of the annual budget process. The Governor’s budget builds upon the January budget, which included a host of new investments in CalWORKs, affordable housing, health care and the state earned income tax credit.

The May revision adds new proposals for an expanded child tax credit, additional child care slots, and an end to taxes on diapers and menstrual products. The budget does not include funding to restore massive SSI grant cuts from a decade ago or to prevent seniors and persons living with disabilities from having to pay high share of costs for their medical coverage.

The revision rightly undoes a budget cut from a decade ago by restoring eyeglasses for adults on Medi-Cal. Unfortunately, the May Revision continues to exclude low-income seniors, persons with disabilities, and undocumented adults over age 25 from full-scope Medi-Cal. The Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled income eligibility threshold for full-scope Medi-Cal remains at 122% FPL, meaning seniors and persons with disabilities are subject to a lower income eligibility threshold.

We are happy that the Governor has recognized that our housing crisis requires a multi-pronged approach: near-term interventions for those struggling with homelessness, protections for renters at risk of homelessness, and a simultaneous investment in producing desperately needed affordable housing for those hit hardest by the crisis. To that end, we are pleased to see an increase in funding to cities and counties to address ongoing and increasing homelessness, and an expansion of the eligible uses of those funds.

We look forward to continuing our work with the Legislature and with the Governor to bring the budget and state policies in line with solutions that will lift Californians out of poverty. Those priority investments are not optional if we are truly striving for a California for all.

Read our full analysis here.

Berkeley’s Skinner unveils bill to overturn GOP child support law

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has announced the “Child Support Reform Act,” which seeks to ensure that low-income families receive all the child support payments to which they are entitled. The act, Senate Bill 337, would overturn a decades-old law under which child-support payments meant for families who receive CalWORKs benefits go to the state rather than to the families and children.

“The Child Support Reform Act will right a historic wrong,” Skinner said. “Last year, more than 1.2 million California children living in or near poverty did not receive the full child support payments made by their parents. California must stop taking the lion’s share of support payments that rightfully belong to families and kids.”

Under a California law that dates back to the administration of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, when a non-custodial parent makes a child support payment to a parent and child who receive CalWORKs benefits, the payment doesn’t actually go to the custodial parent and child. Instead, all but $50 of it goes to the state. The rationale behind the law was that the state should be “reimbursed” for providing CalWORKs benefits to low-income families and children. It was also designed to discourage parents with children from going on welfare.

“Most people don’t realize that when a child support payment is made to a low-income child, all but $50 of it goes to the state,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is co-sponsoring SB 337.

Read more 

Newsom’s Made Poverty a Priority—But Women Have Been Working on It for Years

Children’s advocates were thrilled when Gov. Gavin Newsom came out big for them on Jan. 10 in his first budget proposal. He called for phasing in universal preschool, putting money into state-funded child care and investing in education for child care workers. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said it’s clear Newsom will be an ally on social issues.

“And we’re also clear that we also helped set the table for him to have the luxury of coming in in 2019 and making these declarations and having money to spend,” she said.

…Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said women leaders in the Senate and Assembly drove poverty-related policies even while the state was dealing with a budget crisis.

“You saw women stepping forward and saying that poverty, that family poverty, that poverty among female-led households, was an important policy issue,” she said. “And you saw them apply this kind of creativity and big thinking that normally had been reserved for issues that weren’t involving poor children and their mothers.”

Read more here

Here’s What California Interest Groups Want to See in Gavin Newsom’s Budget



After Gavin Newsom took the oath of office Monday — becoming California’s 40th governor — attention in the capital is turning to the state budget, Newsom’s first opportunity to officially lay out his administration’s policy priorities.

As the most progressive Democrat elected to the state’s highest office in decades, groups on the left have high expectations for funding on issues like child care, housing and health care…

Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy, Western Center on Law and Poverty

“Western Center on Law and Poverty would like to see Governor Newsom end deep poverty for all CalWORKS (California’s public assistance program) families by increasing CalWORKS grants above 50 percent of the federal poverty level.”

Read more here

California’s Child Poverty Task Force Pushes for End to Deep Child Poverty

On Monday, December 3rd — swearing-in day for California’s new legislators — the Lifting Children Out Of Poverty Task Force held a press conference and public hearing at the Capitol to announce the release of its recommendations for ending deep child poverty in California.

Western Center’s Jessica Bartholow, Chairperson of the Safetynet Committee of the task force, was joined by End Child Poverty CA, the California Poor People’s Campaign, and coalition members to call on the new legislature to address the critical issue. Elected officials in attendance included Assemblymember Autumn Burke — author of AB1520, which created the task force, Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, and Senator Scott Weiner.

Priority recommendations from the task force include increasing CalWORKs grants to families with children, a child tax credit that would serve as a base-level income for families with children, and guaranteed child care for children ages 0-8 for low-income families. The full recommendations are available at the End Child Poverty in California website.

Bartholow’s full statement from the press conference is below. To see photos and video from the event, visit Western Center’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Jessica Bartholow’s Comments – December 3, 2018

California has the 5th largest economy in the world, and we have a budget surplus in the billions. Yet, in spite of that prosperity, we also have a childhood poverty crisis.

Here in California, 450,000 children and their families live in deep poverty, and are unable to meet their basic human needs. When children live in deep poverty (defined as below half of the poverty line), they endure hardships that impair their ability to thrive,[i] impact their capacity to learn, and lead to increased hospitalizations and elevated death rates.

Deep poverty is particularly dangerous for children because their families are more likely to experience homelessness,[ii] or to have other basic human needs chronically unmet. They are deeply impacted by the toxic stress that results from chronically unmet needs,[iii] which undermines their long-term physical and mental health.[iv] What’s more, parents who are unable to adequately care for their children as a result of deep poverty experience higher rates of maternal and/or parental depression,[v] a condition associated with reduced parent-child interaction, which is known to undermine school readiness among poor children.[vi] 

Deep poverty harms a child’s brain development and early functioning, disrupting their ability to succeed in school and in life.[vii] These challenges have been documented to reduce the ability of children to cope during difficult situations — the very skill they need most as a child living in poverty, or as a young adult trying to escape it.  

Ultimately, deep poverty undermines a child’s chance to escape poverty and fuels an intergenerational cycle that damages our economy, our state’s budget health, and our democracy. Children who are born in deep poverty are three times as likely to be deeply poor at age 40 than children not born in deep poverty.[viii] One study found that growing up in deep poverty more negatively impacts a child’s life than neonatal exposure to cocaine.[ix]  

Our state has a moral and practical obligation to provide a stronger foundation for the children growing up here, and to help their families move toward greater safety, achievement, and success.[x] For those reasons, and because I have experienced multiple indignities of childhood poverty myself, I was so very proud to serve as Chairperson of the Safetynet Committee of the Lifting Children Out Of Poverty Task Force. The Task Force plan lays out the steps necessary to end childhood poverty altogether, starting first with the urgent steps necessary to end childhood deep poverty.

Among the immediate actions called for by the plan are that the Legislature pass and the Governor sign the following:  

  • A budget that makes the investments necessary to end childhood deep poverty among CalWORKs recipient families. Last year, the legislature began to address deep poverty for the 60% of impoverished families who receive a CalWORKs grant. With a current average grant at just $556/month for a family of three, which is 33% of the federal poverty level (FPL), these families’ monthly incomes are much too low to support the healthy growth and development of our state’s children.[xi] Led by Senator Holly Mitchell, the Legislature passed the single largest investment in grants ever made, but CalWORKs will need three times that investment to end deep poverty for families in the program.
  • A targeted child tax credit to be issued monthly to ensure that the 40% of poor families who do not receive CalWORKs are also given the ability to exit deep poverty. This tax credit, which acts like a guaranteed income for families with children, is not the robust guaranteed living wage income for all envisioned by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the first Poor People’s Campaign, but it represents an essential first step in that direction. The credit is targeted to impact Californians who need it the most and who have the most to benefit — our poorest families with children.

Giving families more money, and ensuring a guaranteed family income above deep poverty, will help families prevent harm and produce positive results for the most impoverished in our state. Doing so will be a first step to achieving an end to poverty for all people who call California home– strengthening our economy, our state and our democracy.[xii]



[i] “Family Poverty, Welfare Reform, and Child Development.” Greg J. Duncan and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Source: Child Development, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 188-196.
[ii] CW grants relative to housing costs:  and and
[iii] Evans, G. W. and English, K. 2002. The Environment of Poverty: Multiple Stressor Exposure, Psychophysiological Stress, and Socioemotional Adjustment. Child Development, 73: 1238–1248. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00469
[iv] Duncan, G and Magnuson, K. 2011. The Long Reach of Childhood Poverty.
[vii] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development.
[viii] Cuddy, E., Venator, J. and Reeves, R. 2015. In a land of dollars: Deep poverty and its consequences. Brookings Institution.
[x] Brain Studies Highlight Importance of Anti-Poverty Policies for Children:
[xi] CalWORKs Grants are Overdue for a Significant Investment:
[xii] Summary of the research on topic of cash welfare benefits impact on outcomes: