“The state’s creation of anti-poverty programs, including tax credits and stimulus packages, while allowing the collections program to continue is like attempting to “plug a bleed on one end while another end is still an open wound,” said Courtney McKinney, spokesperson for the Western Center on Law & Poverty.”
“Christopher Sanchez, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the California Legislature has advocated for policies that would help undocumented immigrants during and prior to the pandemic.”
Between federal and state funding, Californians can expect help in different forms over the next few weeks, and likely beyond. Below you will find information about some of the money coming down for you or for programs you work with and/ or rely on.
DIRECT PAYMENTS, TAX CREDITS, CHILD CARE, & EMERGENCY FUNDS
- The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, provides $1,400 direct payments, which will go out immediately to about 159 million households. Checks will be a maximum of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 per dependent.
- Payments are based on your most recent tax return. Individuals who file taxes using an ITIN will not get a federal stimulus payment, but anyone filing with a Social Security Number will receive a payment.
- Individuals earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income, heads of household with up to $112,500, and married couples filing jointly with up to $150,000 will get the full $1,400 per person.
- The plan also includes $300 in bonus unemployment benefits until September 6th, and makes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for those with incomes under $150,000 per year.
- The American Rescue Plan also increases SNAP food benefits by 15% through September, and allocates $1 billion for the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Pandemic Emergency Fund. California will receive $203 million in TANF emergency funds that can be used for payments to families for non-recurring costs like rental debt or to provide housing assistance.
- California has a separate $600 direct stimulus payment program, which will go out to 5.7 million Californians once their taxes are filed. Eligibility for the state stimulus includes:
- Those who qualified for the state Earned Income Tax Credit on their 2020 tax returns (usually those making less than $30,000, and some undocumented and mixed-status families).
- Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) holders who are excluded from federal stimulus checks and have incomes below $75,000.
- Households enrolled in CalWorks, SSI/SSP recipients, and Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) recipients.
- ITIN taxpayers who qualify for the California Earned Income Tax Credit will receive a total of $1,200.
- The American Rescue Plan raises the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults without children from $543 to $1,502.
- The American Rescue Plan expands the child tax credit for one year. Previously, most families received up to $2000 in tax credits per child under age 17; under the new plan, most parents except the very highest earners will receive a $3600 payment for children 5 and under, and up to $3,000 for children between 6-17. This includes families without taxable income.
- The American Rescue Plan temporarily increases the value of the child and dependent care tax credit, which currently covers 35% of care expenses up to $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more dependents.
- Overall, the plan provides $39 billion for child care through:
- $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
- $24 billion for newly created child care stabilization grants.
- Overall, the plan provides $39 billion for child care through:
- The American Rescue Plan provides $0 premiums for people enrolled in Covered California earning less than 150% of the federal poverty level or who claim unemployment anytime during 2021. It provides additional premium support for people who earn more, and forgives excess premium support given in 2020 that people would normally have to pay back.
- The American Rescue Plan covers more of the state’s Medi-Cal costs, like home and community based services, and a 100% federal match for COVID-19 vaccines given by Medi-Cal.
- The plan also provides a state option to extend postpartum Medicaid for 12 months instead of 60 days. California currently does this only for people diagnosed with a mental health condition within the 60 day postpartum period.
- California received $2.6 billion in federal rental relief from the COVID-19 package passed in December 2020; those funds became available on March 15, 2021.
- Renters who make under 80% of an area’s median income are eligible for rental assistance under California’s SB 91. Landlords must apply for the assistance, and agree to waive 20% of rent owed between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 – the remaining 80% will be paid by government funds.
- If a landlord refuses to participate, renters can still apply to have 25% of back rent paid.
- Cities and counties may distribute rent relief funds differently.
- The American Rescue Plan provides an additional $21.6 billion in emergency aid for renters with low-incomes who have lost income or are experiencing hardship from COVID-19 and at risk for eviction. The plan includes:
- $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers to support those recently homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
- $750 million for tribal housing needs.
- $100 million for rural households living in USDA-financed properties.
“The state stimulus will provide needed help to the poorest Californians, but more assistance is required, said Courtney McKinney, a spokeswoman for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
“Any money to help people stay afloat is needed right now,” McKinney said, adding that “it’s good news, but there is still much more needed.” In particular, she said, her group is supporting legislation that would provide food assistance regardless of immigration status.”
“It’s all very frustrating, since with the fifth largest economy in the world, these things are fixable. The money is there,” said Courtney McKinney, spokesperson for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It is a question of priorities — whether or not millions of people being plunged into poverty is seen as enough of a destabilizer to encourage the wealthy, business and political class in California to put money into addressing poverty and the trappings of poor environment in smart, sensible ways. Easier said than done.”
“Christopher Sanchez, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated inequities for California’s undocumented communities, many whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and lost jobs at unequal rates during the pandemic-induced recession.
“The governor’s proposal is absolutely a great step in the right direction for undocumented families,” Sanchez said. “However, we know that there are going to be individuals who are left out.”
Governor Newsom has released his proposed 2021-22 state budget. Due to a strong, unanticipated influx of General Fund revenue, Newsom proposes to spend billions of dollars on a one-time basis to address the immediate needs of tenants, landlords, businesses, schools and others in the midst of the pandemic. The budget follows the outlines of the 2020-21 budget agreement, which largely avoided the draconian cuts to education, health and public benefit programs that characterized many past budgets during economic downturns. This proposed budget, while not austere, is conservative both in terms of its long term economic outlook and ambition to meet existing needs of millions of Californians.
Though the budget avoids deep cuts and proposes immediate action to bolster spending, the Governor assumes slower growth in revenue in future years, resulting in significant deficits beginning in 2022-23, which could result in lower spending in the future. In short, the 2022-23 state budget and beyond will either require deep cuts or substantial new revenues to maintain current spending levels.
The 2020-21 budget assumed that there would be a substantial loss of state General Funds due to the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget was passed using half of the Prop 2 Budget Stabilization reserves (aka Rainy Day Fund) and by assuming that the state would receive $14 billion from the federal government in the form of COVID relief by September 2020. Without that funding, the “trigger” mechanism would institute $14 billion in budget cuts.
Despite the fact that federal COVID relief did not arrive in September as projected, budget cuts have not been implemented. In late December, the federal government approved additional COVID relief, but much-needed funding for state and local governments was not included. The state did receive billions to address some COVID related costs, and to fund transportation, education and rental assistance. But in general, those funds cannot be used to fill holes in state budgets.
Fortunately, the deep recession did not result in the massive loss of state General Fund revenue that was predicted. Throughout the second half of 2020, state revenue coffers exceeded estimates by billions of dollars. This counterintuitive outcome reflects the growing impact of income inequality in California, where despite double digit unemployment, tax receipts continue to climb because the incomes of the wealthy are growing — most of the lost jobs were in low wage employment. Additionally, many of those who lost jobs received unemployment insurance that was supplemented by the federal CARES Act. Higher income workers largely did not suffer job losses, and many online enterprises saw substantial increases in profits leading to higher tax payments to the state.
Additionally, anticipated higher caseloads for health and human service programs did not materialize, resulting in lower state spending in the 2020-21 budget. By late November, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office projected a $26 billion surplus for the state. The Governor’s budget, however, is cautious, and pegs the surplus at $15 billion. But starting with the 2022-23 budget, the Governor projects that revenue will be more than $6 billion short of estimated expenses, and by the 2024-25 budget, the deficit could grow to $11 billion if no adjustments to spending or revenue are made.
The Governor is calling for “early action” by the Legislature on a package of assistance to respond to the COVID crisis. Among the items in the package are:
- $600 checks to all households receiving the state earned income tax credit. This would provide cash to approximately 4 million Californians.
- $575 million to small businesses and non-profits impacted by the COVID crisis.
- $2 billion in Prop 98 funds to safely re-open public schools starting with classes for the youngest children.
- $1.2 billion to help Californians with low incomes acquire green vehicles.
While this spending is welcome, it does not come close to meeting the needs of struggling Californians. Increased cash payments to the poorest Californians are needed now and should not be limited to those who have earnings from work. More state assistance is needed to ensure tenants are not saddled with debt that will decimate their credit and drive them further into poverty. The greatest public health crisis in memory is the time to provide health care for all.
The budget proposes a 1.5% increase in CalWORKs grants to begin October 1, 2021. The increase will bring the grant for a family of three to 49% of the federal poverty level or a maximum grant of $891 a month. This is similar to a proposed increase from last year’s budget that was dropped when the pandemic started. This funding is provided from the Child Poverty subaccount.
Overall spending on CalWORKs is declining to account for lower than anticipated caseload. The 2020-21 budget assumed the caseload would rise by more than 200,000 families. However, the increase was far more modest, resulting in an increase of about 50,000 cases. Thus, funding for the 2020-21 budget is proposed to be clawed back. Funding for 2021-22 is $600 million lower than the current year but a caseload increase to 480,000 families is funded in the budget.
- Total TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funding: $9.3 billion. This amount includes $7.4 billion for CalWORKs program expenditures and 1.9 billion in other programs.
- Average monthly caseload for CalWORKs is to be 482,436 2021 – 22, this is a 19% increase from last year.
- CalWORKs Time on Aid Exemption – $46.1 million one-time General Fund (TANF) block grant funding to temporarily suspend any month in which CalWORKs aid or services are received from counting towards the CalWORKs 48th month time based on a good cause exemption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- CalWorks Grant Increase – 1.5% increase to CalWORKs maximum aid payment levels effective October 1, 2021. $50.1 million in 2021 – 22. The increased grants costs are funded entirely by the Child Poverty and Family Supplemental Support Subaccounts of the Local Revenue Fund.
There is no SSP grant adjustment in the Governor’s budget. The budget describes the passing through of federal COLAs that are required under current federal law, but that is not an increase. Indeed, state spending for SSI is proposed to decline again, by an estimated $20 million. Yet again, as in past years, these “savings” are not re-invested into the program to benefit recipients who still have not had grant cuts restored from the last recession. The ongoing failure to address these cuts is unreasonable and unjust.
- $2.69 billion General Fund, a 0.6% decrease from last year’s budget.
- Monthly average case load is expected to be 1.18 million recipients this fiscal year, a 1.1% decrease.
$2.4 Billion in Earned Income Tax Credit Assistance
The Governor is proposing a one-time $600 increase in state Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) payments to families that receive CalEITC. With so many people in California struggling, and with many working families losing jobs or income from work, putting cash in people’s pockets is good for people experiencing poverty and good for the state economy. The Legislature may wish to consider increasing the size of the payments or providing more cash assistance to the lowest income families.
The Governor’s proposal will benefit more than four million California families, but it leaves out several million California households who do not have earnings from work. This includes CalWORKs families, virtually all SSI recipients, immigrants with neither SSNs or ITINs, people on General Assistance and many others who are unemployed. The Legislature should consider ways to provide assistance to all low income families and individuals.
- $30 million in one-time General Funding for emergency food assistance to food banks, tribes, and tribal organizations.
- Supplemental Nutrition Benefit and Transitional Nutrition Benefit Programs Adjustment – $22.3 million ongoing General Fund.
- California Food Assistance Program – $11.4 million in one-time General Funding for households to receive max allowable allotment based on household size.
- $10 million one-time General Funding to the Office of Farm to Fork’s Farm to School Program. Brings healthy food to schools and supports agriculture education, including school gardening, farms and cooking.
- $100 million in Prop 98 funds to address food and housing insecurity for community college students.
- Increase of $15 million ongoing General Fund to the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025 that targets students experiencing food and housing insecurity.
- $35 million ongoing from the General Fund for Cal Grants which will add 9,000 students to the Cal Grant awards, bringing the total to 50,000 awards.
- $24.9 million ($8.5 million General Fund) ongoing for local child support agencies to improve collections and services
- $23.8 million ($8.1 million General Fund) for local child support courts and state operations for child support funding.
The proposal includes $35 million one-time General Fund to support micro-grants of up to $10,000 seed funding. These grants are for underserved groups, including undocumented immigrants, to start small businesses.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE/ FINES & FEES
Online Traffic Court Adjudication Pilot
The Governor is proposing again to expand the traffic court online adjudication pilot program statewide. This pilot allows people to pay traffic tickets online rather than make an appearance in court. People with low incomes are given a minimum reduction of 50% of the fines, fees and assessments due to the court. It also allows them to get on a payment plan not to exceed $25 a month.
The proposal allots $12.3 million General Fund, increasing the total to $58.4 million ongoing General Fund by 2024-25, to expand the program statewide, and to include non-traffic infractions.
The Legislature chose not to move forward with the proposal last year and instead used the funding provided for the pilot to reduce criminal fees. Advocates also expressed concern about the design of the pilot and were seeking changes that would expand discounts to people with low incomes.
The Governor’s proposal takes a baseline approach to health care with no major expansions, including no proposal to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented elders or eliminate the harmful Medi-Cal assets test. The proposal resumes the California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal initiative (CalAIM), which was put on hold due to the pandemic; expands Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems; extends suspension of Medi-Cal benefits and supplemental provider rates for 12 months; proposes one-time funding for behavioral health services, particularly for school-aged children; and takes further steps to implement the Master Plan on Aging.
- The Governor’s proposal assumes a 10.1% Medi-Cal case rate from 2019-20 to 2020-21 and 11.7% from 2020-21 to 2021-22, starting with nearly 14 million Californians and increasing to 15.6 million (peaking at 16.1 million in January 2022), representing nearly 40% of California’s population in 2021-22. The administration bases this estimate on continuous coverage requirements under federal law and a pandemic-induced recession, although enrollment numbers have not born out these projections.
- The proposal includes $12 million ($4.2 million General Fund) to add Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems as a Medi-Cal benefit for beneficiaries ages 21 and older with diabetes, effective January 1, 2022.
- The proposal implements the CalAIM initiative effective January 1, 2022, including $1.1 billion ($531.9 million General Fund) for FY 2021-22, growing to $1.5 billion ($755.5 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23. This investment follows the proposal that was put on hold last year.
- The proposal includes $750 million General Fund, available over three years, for DHCS to invest in critical gaps across the community-based behavioral health continuum, including the addition of at least 5,000 beds, units, or rooms. Funding would be made available to counties, requiring local funding match, via a competitive application process.
- The proposal includes $400 million ($200 million General Fund) one-time over multiple years to implement an incentive program through Medi-Cal managed care plans, in coordination with county behavioral health departments and schools, to build infrastructure, partnerships, and capacity statewide to increase the number of students receiving preventive and early intervention behavioral health services.
- The Governor’s proposal extends the suspension of Medi-Cal benefits, eligibility, and provider rates by 12 months. Specifically:
- Optional benefits restored in 2019 Budget, specifically audiology and speech therapy services, incontinence cream and washes, eyeglasses and contacts, and podiatric services, have been extended by 12 months to 12/31/2022 for a cost of $47 million ($15.6 million General Fund).
- The proposal delays the suspension of Medi-Cal post-partum extended eligibility by 12 months to 12/31/2022 for a cost of $27.1 million General Fund.
- Supplemental provider payments are also extended by 12 months to 6/30/2022 for a cost of $3.2 billion ($275.3 million General Fund, $717.8 million Prop 56 funds, and $2.2 billion in federal funds).
- Payments to intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled, freestanding pediatric subacute facilities, and Community Based Adult Services proposed to be extended to 12/31/2022 to align with managed care calendar rate year. The 7% IHSS hour cuts has also been proposed to be suspended to 12/31/2022.
- Supplemental payment for Women’s Health, Family Planning, the Loan Repayment program, behavioral health integration program, AIDS waiver, home health, and pediatric day health no longer subject to suspension.
- The proposal reflects last year’s announcement to postpone the carve-out of prescription drugs through Medi-Cal Rx to April 2021. Under revised estimates, Medi-Cal Rx is projected to result in less net savings of $612 million ($238.1 million General Fund) in FY 2021-22.
- The proposal makes permanent the restoration of adult over-the-counter cough/cold and acetaminophen drug benefits for savings of $21 million ($7.8 million General Fund) effective July 2021, although the waiver provided temporary reinstatement earlier as of March 2020.
- The proposal includes $94.8 million ($34 million General Fund) to make permanent and extend telehealth flexibilities, including implementing remote patient monitoring services as an allowable telehealth modality in fee-for-service (FFS) and managed care delivery systems.
- The proposal states the administration’s intention to focus on health disparities and cultural and language competency through health plan contractual language.
Other Health Proposals
- The proposal includes $11.2 million in 2020-21 and $24.5 million in 2022-23 to establish the Office of Health Care Affordability, which is charged with increasing cost and quality transparency, developing cost targets for the health care industry, enforcing compliance, and filing gaps in market oversight. The Office will be under the newly created Department of Health Care Affordability and Infrastructure, which will also house the current Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
- The proposal provides $25 million in one-time Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds over five years, for the oversight and accountability commission to augment the mental health student services act partnership grant; $25M ongoing Prop 98 General Fund to fund partnerships and county behavioral health departments to support student mental health.
- The proposal provides $750M in one-time General Funding for competitive grants to counties to acquire and rehabilitate real estate assets to expand the community continuum of behavioral health treatment resources.
- The proposal establishes a new Office of Medicare Innovation and Integration that will explore strategies and models to strengthen and expand low and middle income Californians access to services and supports, while developing new partnerships with federal government.
- The administration will appoint a senior advisor on Aging, Disability, and Alzheimer’s to advance cross-Cabinet initiatives and partnerships; $5 million General Fund to further implement Master Plan on Aging; $3 million one-time General Fund for OSHPD to grow and diversify geriatric medicine workforce.
- In response to the pandemic, the proposal includes $300 million as an initial estimate for vaccine distribution, including a public awareness campaign.
The Governor’s budget proposal includes important investments to address California’s existing housing crisis at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is making the crisis worse for low-wage workers and communities of color. The proposal builds on recent efforts to provide stability to at-risk households and invest in programs that will aid economic recovery, and increase the supply and production of very low, low, and moderate income housing. In total, the Governor proposes more than $8 billion in housing resources.
Preventing Evictions and Foreclosures
Last August, the Legislature enacted AB 3088 to create strong statewide eviction protections for tenants unable to pay rent due to hardship caused by COVID-19. The bill extended rental protections to January 31st, 2021 to forestall an incoming wave of evictions. The administration is seeking an immediate extension of AB 3088 beyond January 31, 2021 to allow the state to use federal resources to assist those with arrears, rent, and utilities so families and individuals with low incomes stay housed. The budget includes $11.7 million one-time General Funds for trial courts to process the anticipated increase in unlawful detainer and small claims filings resulting from AB 3088.
The Governor is relying on the federal COVID-19 relief bill that was enacted in late December, which will allocate $2.6 billion in rental relief funds to California. Rental assistance will be dispersed between the state and local governments with an estimated $1.4 billion going to the state and $1.2 billion to local jurisdictions with populations over 200,000. The federal program includes eligibility parameters related to eligible use of funds as well as income parameters, with the primary focus of the rental assistance to support individuals and households with less than 80% Area Median Income (AMI), with a priority for individuals and households with less than 50% AMI.
National Mortgage Settlement Program
In the 2020-2021 budget, the California Housing Finance Authority allocated $331 million in National Mortgage Settlement funds to prevent foreclosures and evictions. Last year, the Judicial Council provided $31 million of those funds to local legal service organizations, with the California Housing Finance Authority (CalHFA) recently providing the remaining amount to 90 certified housing counselors throughout California. CalHFA plans to continue to provide mortgage assistance in 2021-22.
The Budget proposes $2 million General Fund dollars for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to prosecute violations of anti-housing discrimination laws and to conduct surveys and education and outreach campaigns.
Low-Income Housing Tax Credits
The budget proposes a third round of $500 million in tax credits to reduce funding gaps in affordable housing units. These tax credits will be administered by the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee, the Tax Credit Allocation Committee, and the California Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency.
Excess State Land Development
The Governor is proposing statutory changes to allow market-rate and commercial development on excess state land.
In an effort to align housing development with workforce development, the budget proposes $8.5 million General Fund to expend access to state-approved construction apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships that will result in approximately 650 jobs.
Infill Infrastructure Grant Program
$500 million in General Fund dollars is included to create jobs and increase long-term housing development to further a more equitable housing supply in a post-COVID-19 housing market. This includes $250 million in the current fiscal year and $250 million in fiscal year 2021-22.
Expanded Facilities to Support Housing
To further the goal of ending homelessness in California, the Governor’s budget includes $250 million for the acquisition and/or rehabilitation of Adult Residential Facilities (ARF) and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFE). These funds will support physical upgrades and capital improvements.
To accelerate the work on providing permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness and stop the spread of COVID-19 among this vulnerable population, the Governor is allocating $750 million to extend the program. $250 million is allotted for the current year (2020-21), and $500 million for fiscal year 2021-22. This will be administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
“These tax credits can be essential and invaluable to making ends meet,” said Mike Herald, policy advocacy director at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “These have real impacts on people, and they really do reduce poverty among families.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.