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Statement on Governor Newsom’s Executive Order to Shelter Unhoused Californians during COVID-19

The administration and state and local governments have a hard job right now, and we are grateful for their work to make sure people in California are taken care of. It is our intention to continue working alongside agencies and staff to ensure that California’s approach to the crisis is as humane, safe, and sensible as possible.

Governor Newsom’s new Executive Order, issued last night, directs $150 million to cities, counties and continuums of care to provide shelter for unhoused people in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are to be used to build emergency shelter and lease hotels and motels.

We believe leasing existing, unoccupied hotels and motels is the single fastest way to move homeless individuals into housing. While we appreciate the Governor reducing regulatory barriers to providing emergency housing, we believe that in most cases, expanding existing emergency shelters will not be an immediate solution.

We urge counties, cities, and continuums of care to be mindful not to displace existing individuals and families already living in hotels or motels. The CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) has long utilized motel vouchers as a way to keep families experiencing poverty housed when they are evicted or fleeing an abuser. Many other low-income families reside in motels as well. These existing pipelines of assistance must be kept available as we expand housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. It is imperative that local governments communicate closely with county human service programs, advocates, and local residents to avoid displacing vulnerable families when seeking appropriate sites.

We are also calling on the Governor to allow CalWORKs HAP motel vouchers to be used beyond 16 days in a month, and to allow vouchers to be provided in consecutive months to keep families housed during the COVID crisis.

 

JOINT STATEMENT: Families First Coronavirus Response Act passes Congress to provide significant relief during the pandemic: More action still needed

This evening, the President signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which will greatly increase food security during the uncertain times presented by COVID-19 and the subsequent shelter in place protections taking hold across the country. The Senate passed the bill earlier today. The new law will provide flexibility for SNAP food stamp benefits (known as CalFresh in California) and additional anti-hunger resources like Pandemic EBT, which will prevent hunger among children during school closures. 

The law also funds additional unemployment insurance opportunities, paid sick leave, and free COVID-19 testing. We look forward to working with the Department of Social Services and County Human Services Agencies to implement the new law in California.

Specifically, the law will help Californians with low-incomes in the following ways:

  • Provides $500 in additional WIC funds and provides broad authority to USDA to grant waivers of regulatory requirements through September 30th to ensure we are able to meet the specific nutrition needs of pregnant women, new moms, and young children as WIC adopts new practices to remotely serve participant needs.
  • Provides $400M to support increased distribution of food at food banks. California’s food bank lines have doubled in the past week due to intense community need, these are vital funds for food security.
  • Establishes Pandemic EBT, which enables the state to help reduce hunger as schools close and more counties go to shelter in place. Pandemic EBT offers the quickest and easiest way to get food into the hands of those that who need it most: (1) By providing additional SNAP dollars to current SNAP recipients; and (2) By providing funds to children eligible for free and reduced-price school lunch whose families may not be currently receiving SNAP. 
  • Gives USDA authority to issue waivers to allow non-congregate meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
  • Focuses strategies and additional financial resources on older adult nutrition, since older adults are one of the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19. With Governor Newsom announcing that everyone over 65 should stay home, and an increasing number of counties implementing shelter in place, it’s essential that we target services to keep this population nourished.

This is a tremendous first step in addressing the needs of people living in the United States at this time. We are hopeful that Congress and the President will continue the hard work needed to protect everyone – particularly those most vulnerable to the economic implications brought on by the pandemic. We look forward to seeing an economic stimulus package that works not just to help the economy, but most importantly, to provide relief to families and individuals across the country.

Out of a job? Can’t pay your bills? These proposals may help keep you afloat amid coronavirus

“Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said shutting down schools and businesses has “really hard consequences that we’re now struggling to address” but if it stems the spread of the virus “the overall outcome for families will be better.”

https://calmatters.org/california-divide/2020/03/california-coronavirus-unemployment-state-federal-proposals-poverty/

Joint Statement on Governor Newsom’s March 16th Executive Order Regarding COVID-19 and Housing

Western Center, ACLU of California, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights appreciate the hard work of Governor Newsom and his team during this extremely difficult time, and appreciate his recognition of the particular hardship posed by potential evictions and utility shutoffs during a public health crisis. The Governor’s Executive Order, however, stops short of implementing the full range of protections needed to ensure that vulnerable Californians are not forced to visit crowded courthouses, displaced from their homes, or disrupted by losing access to vital utilities as a result of the pandemic.

We call on the Governor to issue a blanket moratorium on all evictions and utility shutoffs for the state of California.

As organizations dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of Californians living in poverty, we offer our brief analysis of the Governor’s Executive Order, and suggestions for additional measures needed to ensure that all members of our communities are truly protected from the risks created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Waiving time limitations in Penal Code Section 396(f)

Penal Code Section 396 involves penalties for price gouging during periods of declared emergencies. Subsection (f) specifically relates to price gouging in rental housing and penalizes landlords for evicting tenants in order to increase the rent for a subsequent renter. The states of emergency declared for wildfires provide recent examples of the need for a ban on rental price gouging during public emergencies. In places devastated by fires, landlords were prevented from evicting households in order to demand higher rents to take advantage of the suddenly deeply constrained housing supply.

Subdivision (f) provides that price gouging bans in rental housing will extend for 30 days following the emergency declaration. Section One of the Executive Order from the Governor extends that period for more than a month, until the end of May. The extension of the period preventing rent gouging is positive, but it does little to keep people housed during a public health crisis, where evictions may not be based on an intent to subsequently raise the rent and where the entire machinery of eviction needs to be restricted. Penalizing price gouging does not adequately address the need to protect people from displacement during this pandemic.

2. Restrictions on Evictions Due to Documented COVID-19 Related Loss of Income

Rather than implementing the statewide ban on evictions that advocates and legislators have called for, the Executive Order expands a local government’s authority to limit residential or commercial evictions, but only as to nonpayment evictions caused by a documented loss of income caused by the pandemic or the governmental responses. This is overly complicated and does not protect tenants from evictions now, but leaves it up to local jurisdictions to enact such protections. It is imperative that there is a statewide moratorium that does not rely on local action. Furthermore, tenants would have to prove such a loss in court, subjecting them to potential exposure to COVID-19, and many tenants who suffer a loss of income due to the pandemic or our public responses may be unable to document it. We believe a stronger and more straightforward approach would be to enact immediate statewide protections that postpone any eviction, regardless of the basis, to protect vulnerable tenants and the public, and avoid the need to pass local policies in all of California’s cities and counties.

It is important to note that while the Executive Order solely grants additional authority related to nonpayment evictions, it does not prevent local governments from exercising their expansive authority to limit evictions on a much broader basis, including limiting evictions that are filed for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. Extending the limitation to all evictions would eliminate the necessity for tenants, landlords, and court staff to appear in person. Courts are high traffic areas, particularly the courtrooms where evictions are heard. To force even some tenants to continue going to court defeats the point of social distancing efforts and necessary quarantines. There are also fairness issues raised because these tenants may find it difficult to seek legal information or legal advice as many legal offices are shutting down in order to protect employees.

For all of these reasons, we call on the Governor to issue a blanket moratorium on all evictions as multiple states have done. In the absence of such action, we encourage local governments to enact policies to broadly protect tenants against all evictions.

3. Requesting Housing Authorities Postpone Document Deadlines

We are pleased to see the Governor acknowledge that now is not the time to require vulnerable tenants to obtain and deliver documentation to Housing Authorities in order to maintain their critically important housing assistance, and echo his request for policies to extend such deadlines. We recommend additional policies to postpone eligibility re-certifications and other in-person meetings, and for Housing Authorities to exercise their discretion to refrain from taking adverse decisions such as housing assistance terminations against participants, which could subject them to displacement and potential exposure while reducing their ability to protect themselves.

4. Engagement with Financial Institutions to Develop Tools to Prevent Foreclosure and Displacement

The Executive Order calls on state agencies to work with financial institutions to develop tools to combat foreclosure and displacement, and to otherwise promote housing stability and security. We applaud the Governor’s call to state agencies to develop strategies to address housing instability and ease the financial issues which could lead to foreclosure and displacement. The impacts of this virus and our responses to it will be felt by many Californians for some time, and it is important we develop these strategies while also taking the immediate action necessary to protect residents who are at immediate risk.

5. Requested Moratorium on Foreclosures Based on Documented Losses due to COVID-19

Per the Executive Order, financial lenders who hold home or commercial mortgages are being asked to halt foreclosures and evictions related to foreclosures where they would stem from a loss of income due to the pandemic or the governmental response. This is critical to ensure vulnerable homeowners, like vulnerable tenants, are not displaced and put at additional risk during this emergency. However, like the limitations on evictions discussed in part 2, these protections are limited to situations where the foreclosure is based on a documented loss of income or medical expense related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the difficulty of proving this causal connection in many instances, and because it would likely require the involvement of a court, and hence a visit to a courthouse, to prove such a connection, this protection lacks the full potential to protect our communities that a more straightforward moratorium would provide.

6. Requested Monitoring and Reporting on Utility Shutoffs by CPUC

This part of the Governor’s Order seeks the assistance of the Public Utilities Commission, the body tasked with oversight of essential industries such as water and gas, in monitoring customer protections. The Governor’s request does not actually require the PUC to take action to ensure that people’s utilities are maintained during this public health crisis, but simply requires it to monitor and report. Maintaining good hygiene and nutrition becomes much more difficult if water, power, or gas is shut off, and medically vulnerable residents are put at severe risk. At a time when we have all been advised that one of the most effective preventions for COVID-19 is frequent handwashing, we recommend requiring actions to be taken to limit the shutoff of vital utilities for the duration of the emergency.

The moratorium on utility shutoffs also does not protect against phone shutoffs for the poorest consumers who rely on the Lifeline Program. The program is vital because many homeless individuals rely on their phone to get information and stay in touch with others. Unfortunately, the PUC doesn’t consider the lapse in certification to represent a cutoff. We call on the Governor to use his executive powers to prevent loss of phone connectivity for Lifeline Program customers during the emergency, when access to a phone is needed more than ever.