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California aims to cut cost of average COVID-19 test, shift more charges to insurers

“Jen Flory, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said she welcomed the administration’s intent to hold health plans accountable for covering COVID-19 testing and to expand testing in vulnerable communities. She said it’s important that the state ensure testing is available, in particular, to low-wage and essential workers, people with limited English proficiency and the uninsured.

But the state must still provide flexible testing options like the state’s drive-thru testing sites for Californians, even as it pushes to make more testing available in traditional medical settings, she said.

“There needs to be a way for people to get testing outside of traditional 9-5 doctors offices,” she said.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Tenants seek to join federal lawsuit to defend city of los Angeles’s Covid-19 tenant protections

For Immediate Release

Los Angeles residents fighting to prevent mass displacement and homelessness in the middle of a pandemic

LOS ANGELES – Tenants’ rights organizations the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE Action) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) seek to join a federal lawsuit to defend the City of Los Angeles’s COVID-19 emergency eviction protections and rent freeze. Public Counsel, the Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), and the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) filed a motion to intervene yesterday in the federal lawsuit Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) v. City of Los Angeles on behalf of tenant members of ACCE and SAJE. AAGLA’s lawsuit is seeking to void the City’s validly enacted eviction protection and rent freeze ordinances, thereby allowing its members to engage in mass evictions in the midst of a global pandemic — a catastrophe for Los Angeles tenants and the region’s health.

Los Angeles sits at the juncture of three unfolding crises — a global public health pandemic, an ever-increasing homelessness and affordable housing crisis, and a movement for Black Lives that seeks justice for those who are disproportionately experiencing the impacts of the first two crises. “You can’t be safe at home if you don’t have a home. It is unconscionable and immoral for AAGLA to be seeking the right to evict poor families of color in the middle of a global pandemic where eviction can have deadly consequences,” said Faizah Malik, Staff Attorney with the Community Development Project at Public Counsel.

The City of Los Angeles enacted an ordinance in late March to provide tenants with an affirmative defense to certain unlawful detainer actions. The ordinance, among other things, prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who are unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to COVID-19, such as loss of income or healthcare expenses; provides tenants with a 12-month repayment period to pay back rent; and prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on the presence of unauthorized occupants or pets or for nuisance related to COVID-19.

The City also enacted an ordinance in early May to freeze rent increases for one year for all units protected by the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance. AAGLA is seeking to reverse these reasonable and necessary measures to keep people stably housed. “It is crucial for the Court to hear from tenants in this case because they are the ones who are facing eviction, homelessness, and potentially catastrophic health consequences if the Court voids the ordinances,” said Kathryn Eidmann, Senior Supervising Staff Attorney with the Opportunity Under Law Project at Public Counsel.

ACCE and SAJE, as part of the Healthy LA Coalition, fought for the passage of these ordinances. ACCE and SAJE are tenants’ rights membership organizations comprised of low-income and very low-income Black and Brown people in Los Angeles. The majority of their members are severely rent burdened and are one crisis away from homelessness. A majority have lost income during the pandemic and are struggling to pay rent; those that kept their jobs are frontline workers who are risking contracting COVID-19 every day because they have no other choice.

Despite the challenges they are facing, many members are trying to pay rent, at the expense of other necessities like food. At the same time, landlords are seeking and obtaining massive federal subsidies and mortgage relief, but AAGLA still wants the unbridled power to engage in mass evictions. “Rent was due again this week, and for the fourth consecutive month thousands of Angelenos won’t be able to pay it. Without the current protections, many of our members would be displaced, exponentially increasing the already fast-moving gentrification process in the neighborhoods where we organize,” said Joe Delgado, Los Angeles Director of ACCE Action.

Since the ordinances were adopted, tenants have faced increased harassment by landlords employing tactics such as sending excessive notices, forcing tenants to sign repayment agreements, and neglecting essential repairs. Even with these extreme conditions, what tenants fear the most is losing their homes and being forced to live on the street at a time when having a home has never been more important.

“I owe $975 in rent for the month of May. Even though I am working now, it will take me three months to save enough money in order to keep paying the rent month-to-month. I do not want to leave this apartment. I have lived here for 11 years. If the owner evicts me, I will not have anywhere to go. I would be on the street,” said David D*, a tenant and member of SAJE.

“This is an issue of statewide and national concern. Across California and the country, tenants are staring down an impending wave of evictions. We must do everything we can to safeguard the local protections necessary to give tenants a chance at recovering from the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath,” said Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney at Western Center.

“The emergency ordinances were reasonable and necessary actions to prevent further devastation. The City was correct to take action to protect tenants and within its powers,” said Michael Rawson, Director of PILP.

*Tenant’s real name protected.

Media Contact: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312, rradhakrishnan[at]


Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit

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.

The Public Interest Law Project (PILP) provides crucial litigation, advocacy and training support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California serving lower income communities and communities of color. Our work brings affordable housing to lower income families and homeless people, provides access to services and public benefits for lower income persons and persons with disabilities, and protects neglected and abused children and persons displaced by major disasters and government action.

USDA’s COVID-19 Food Aid Limits Can Continue For Now

“But Alexander Baughan Prieto of the Western Center on Law & Poverty argued on behalf of the proposed class that the plain language of the statute suggests that Congress didn’t intend to restrict food aid to the neediest during the crisis, although he acknowledged that there is sparse legislative history in the record on lawmakers’ intent in drafting the emergency statute.”

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Federal Judge Denies Removal of Cap on Food Assistance Program Amid Pandemic

“At a hearing on the matter last week, attorney Alexander Prieto with the Western Center on Law & Poverty said the USDA’s interpretation of the FFCRA “seems to rest on the presumption that the max monthly allotment is sufficient in all circumstances, and that Congress assumed that was all that was necessary to put everyone up to the maximum monthly allotment.”

Pandemic Doesn’t Justify Lifting Cap on Food Stamps, Judge Rules

Update on the 2020-21 California Budget

On Monday, June 15th, the California Legislature met the state constitutional deadline for passing the 2020-21 budget by approving a new state budget. At this time, it is unclear if the Governor will support the budget, as no deal has been announced.

The Legislature approved this budget to uphold its constitutional duty, but it is not the final version. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented economic and public health uncertainty, and it has highlighted and exacerbated every existing inequity the state has failed to address. On top of the pandemic, social unrest calling for justice and equality for Black people has created a demand for leaders at every level to do things differently to dismantle entrenched white supremacy. If the Governor and Legislature simply ram through a budget deal, it will disproportionately harm Black people and other communities of color – as the economics of this state always do.

Forthcoming actions on this budget by the Legislature and Governor must take into account the needs of ALL Californians. The state’s economics must change — that includes increasing revenue through taxes on extreme wealth, and not making cuts to the programs millions of Californians rely on.

The budget approved by the Legislature rejects the vast majority of cuts proposed in the Governor’s May Revision budget, and includes several program expansions sought by advocates. The Legislature’s budget includes a trigger mechanism that is substantially different than the one proposed by the Governor. The trigger approved by the Legislature would not take effect until October 1, 2020, and will be “triggered” if the U.S. Senate and President fail to approve the $14 billion in assistance to states that the House of Representatives approved last month, on a bi-partisan basis.

To bring the budget into balance if federal leaders fail to deliver additional funding, the Legislature’s trigger would utilize reserve funding, deferrals of school funding, delays in previously approved spending, and state employee compensation reductions. It would not include most cuts to health programs, CalWORKs, SSI, IHSS, or programs for elders, which were proposed by the Governor. More details are available here.

The Legislature’s budget does include some program corrections, restorations, and expansions — notably, it ends the exclusion of immigrant workers with Individual Tax I.D. Numbers (ITINs) for the state Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), restores the CalWORKs lifetime limit for adults to 60 months, provides another $350 million for homeless programs, and provides COVID-19 inspired CalFresh program simplifications and out-of-office technology advancements. All of these proposed changes are subject to ongoing negotiations, and until a “deal” is announced, we won’t know if they are in the final budget.

For health care, Western Center supports the Legislative budget’s rejection of cuts proposed in the Governor’s May Revision. The Legislature’s budget protects the health of California’s elders and communities of color in several ways. It does not reinstate the senior penalty by raising the Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled income limit, per last year’s budget. It rejects Medi-Cal benefit cuts and limits estate recovery, which disproportionately seizes homes from Black, Latinx, and API families. It also restores funding for the Black Infant Health program and for health navigators, and expands Medi-Cal to elders regardless of immigration status, though, Western Center would like to see that implemented sooner.

The Legislature’s budget recognizes the need to address the state’s homelessness crisis for unhoused community members, while also preventing additional homelessness. The budget allocates resources for traditional interventions, as well as funds to increase permanent housing options through the expansion of the low income housing tax credit, acquisition of hotels and motels which may appropriately serve as longer-term housing resources, and funds for the provision of legal assistance to low-income households that may be threatened with displacement or eviction. Given the magnitude of California’s housing challenges, which are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing responses, we look forward to building on this foundation.

Should California end cash bail? Ads begin for November ballot fight

“COVID-19 revealed just how quickly that could change, advocates say. When California eliminated bail for low-level crimes to reduce health risks for detainees, some jail populations shrank by 60 percent, said Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate for Western Center on Law & Poverty. Overall, the state jailed about one-third fewer people.”

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