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Western Center Roundup – January 2024


Western Center’s Analysis of Gov. Newsom’s Budget Proposal

In response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2024-2025 budget proposal, Western Center issued an analysis on the impact his proposed funding priorities would have in several key areas of concern. These include: access to housing, health care, and public benefits for Californians. Note that this analysis is the first in a series of communications Western Center will distribute this session as we advocate for just budget priorities. Read the full analysis here.
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WCLP Blog: Making Food Prescriptions a Reality in California

Western Center Outreach & Advocacy Associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez recently wrote a blog post uplifting California’s innovative food prescription pilot programs. Food and nutrition supports have been proven to be successful at helping people to treat, manage, or even prevent chronic health conditions as seen in pilots and studies not only across California but also nationally. These programs are an especially critical tool towards achieving health equity goals since BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by health issues and poverty. Read the full blog post here.
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Western Center’s Newest Team Members
Western Center continues to grow to meet the needs of Californians with low incomes. Please join us in welcoming our newest team members, Etecia Burrell, Senior Health Advocate; Rebecca Gonzales, Policy Advocate, and Danny Sternberg, Attorney. We are overjoyed to have them on the Western Center team!

Join our Team
As Western Center continues to position itself for greater reach and impact in 2024, we currently have two positions open: Policy Advocate – Housing; and Senior Communications Strategist.

Please share these opportunities widely with your networks!

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Western Center Roundup – December 2023


Settlement Finalized in Katie A. v. LA County Mental Health Lawsuit
After more than 20 years of litigation, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, has given final approval to a settlement in the longstanding case Katie A. v. Los Angeles County. The Court’s action ends a federal class action lawsuit that, over time, led to significantly improved mental health services for children and young adults in foster care or who face imminent risk of placement in foster care.

Filed in 2002, the suit alleged the county and state agencies failed to provide legally mandated health care services to youth in its custody. The lack of mental health services harmed foster youth by increasing the likelihood they would be removed from their homes.  Removals compound trauma for foster youth, making the lack of appropriate care even harder for children already struggling with mental illness.

“In the beginning of this lawsuit, we saw many youth have multiple moves due to behaviors that weren’t being addressed with treatment, and they were losing important connections to family and community,” said Antionette Dozier, one of Western Center’s lead attorneys on the case.


Tis the Season to Donate (Unspoiled) Food
One in five Californians suffers from chronic hunger, but a growing food rescue effort is poised to shrink that number.

About two years ago, one of the most significant waste reduction mandates went into effect across the state. SB 1383 ambitiously seeks to reduce organic waste  by 75% by 2025.  This means that around 20 million tons of potential waste may soon be diverted from landfills to kitchen tables.

Throughout California, municipalities  are setting up  programs to  ensure that grocery stores, produce marts, corporate kitchens, schools,  and other commercial food generators  set protocols to inspect leftover food before it spoils and see that it reaches those who are hungry as fresh as possible. For years prior to SB 1383, many food generators resisted donating food. Now with legislation, a robust network of waste reduction programs and streamlined donation processes,  support is growing.

For example, Food Finders, which has a network of over 470 partners across five counties in Southern California, has been helping food generators comply with the mandate. In particular, they facilitate same-day, donor-to-recipient delivery of edible foods.

FULL BLOG

Western Center Roundup – October 2023


Hunger Persists but So Do We
A new report from the United States Department of Agriculture shows a sharp rise in food insecurity in 2022, the latest numbers available. A staggering 17 million households struggled to get enough food in 2022, a jump from 13.5 million households who were food insecure in 2021. Hunger, like poverty, is a policy choice and is not inevitable. Our Public Benefits and Access to Justice team continues to monitor the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the federal level, including suing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect food benefits in the face of Congressional inaction and winning guaranteed October benefits for over 40 million Americans. Our plaintiff, Jacqueline, spoke with CalMatters about struggling to make ends meet. Just this month, Chris Sanchez, policy advocate, was featured in Food Research & Action Center’s list of 12 Latinx advocates “who are leading the charge to end hunger and poverty.”

2023 Legislative Successes

This year, Governor Newsom signed four of our co-sponsored bills into law:

SB 567 (Senator María Elena Durazo), the Homelessness Prevention Act will close the loopholes in the AB 1482 (Chiu), the Tenant Protection Act, another WCLP co-sponsored bill in 2019 that established the first statewide just cause eviction protections and rent stabilization ordinance in CA. SB 567 will provide both a private and public right of action for violations of AB 1482 and will close loopholes in owner-move-in and substantial rehabilitations evictions. These are the two most common protections that unscrupulous landlords violate. Co-Sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, and Public Advocates.

AB 1418 (Assemblymember Tina McKinnor), Limiting Racially Motivated Crime-Free Housing Programs and Nuisance Ordinances ends predatory local laws that have unfairly increased evictions and further exacerbated California’s housing crisis. This bill will prohibit a local government from, among other things from requiring or encouraging a landlord to evict or penalize a tenant because of the tenant’s previous history with law enforcement, their association with another tenant or household member who has had contact with a law enforcement agency or has a criminal conviction, or to perform a criminal background check of a tenant or a prospective tenant. Co-Sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Disability Rights California, National Housing Law Project, and Root & Rebound.

SB595 (Senator Richard Roth), Minimizing Gaps in Health Care Coverage clears up language in another WCLP co-sponsored bill from 2022, SB 644 (Leyva) requiring Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information about those who applied for income-replacing benefits administered by EDD with Covered California to allow Covered California to outreach and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California. SB595 prevents insurance agents and enrollment brokers from cold-calling individuals to offer healthcare coverage and allows Covered California to conduct timely and targeted outreach to individuals. Co-sponsored with the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and Health Access.

SB 727 (Senator Monique Limón), Forgiveness of Coerced Debt for Survivors of Human Trafficking will provide a pathway for survivors of human trafficking to have coerced debt accrued during the time they were trafficked forgiven. Co-Sponsored with Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.

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A Night to Remember – Reflections from Garden Party 2023
Over 300 people gathered at the Ebell of Los Angeles last week in celebration of Garden Party 2023, our annual fundraiser and night to honor anti-poverty trailblazers. Read about this spectacular night!
FULL BLOG

AB 826 (Santiago) Pandemic Food Assistance Vetoed – Statement from Bill Co-Sponsors

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), California Association of Food Banks and Western Center on Law & Poverty were proud to sponsor Assembly Bill 826, introduced by Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, which would have established emergency food assistance in the form of two $600 payment cards for use at grocery stores.

During this pandemic, Assembly Bill 826 was the only bill passed by the legislature to provide food assistance for those affected by COVID-19. It was vetoed by the Governor last night.

We are disappointed in the veto and disagree on its message, which states that it would have had “General Fund impact annually.” This bill sought to provide a onetime allocation of emergency funds to prevent hunger during a pandemic.

Hunger is a persistent problem in California, but during the COVID-19 public health crisis, many more of the state’s residents are suffering with hunger for prolonged periods of time. These alarming rates of hunger have reached levels that surpass those seen during the Great Recession. Most impacted are immigrants who have lost wages from employment in the hospitality, restaurant, janitorial, hotel worker, agricultural, garment worker and food packing industries.

The loss of wages among this workforce is often a result of contracting COVID-19 in a high risk working environment with inadequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), caring for a family member who has contracted the virus, or losing hours or a job as a result of the stay-at-home orders. In Fact, in California, rural communities with large numbers of food-system workers, like farmworkers and meatpackers, for example, have an infection rate that is five times higher on average than comparable counties.[i] Furthermore, the Latinx community in California are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately high numbers:[ii]

At the height of state’s shutdown in April, approximately a quarter of Californians, 10 million people, were food insecure.[iii] Food insecurity is particularly bad among families with children. 40% of families with children 12 and under across the U.S. were food insecure in April, and in almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, children experienced food insecurity. [iv]

What’s more, according to Census Bureau data, from May 28 to June 2, 2020, Black and Hispanic or Latinx households were twice as likely as white households to report that they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat. Among households with children, 21 percent of Hispanic or Latinx respondents and 27% of Black respondents reported that they are currently experiencing hunger.[v]

The rapid increase in food insecurity among immigrant workers was also exacerbated by the unprecedented increase in food prices, [vi]  school closure, [vii] and by the closure of soup kitchens and congregate meal programs. [viii]

Federal COVID-19 relief helped Americans prevent hunger. This included increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Pandemic Unemployment, and CARES Act stimulus payments, 16% of which were spent in the first week to purchase food.[ix] But immigrant families have been largely locked out of this help.

Thanks to fast action by the California Department of Social Services, millions of families with children, including immigrant families ineligible for other benefits, were helped with federal Pandemic-EBT benefits, and the impact of that program to reduce hunger was well documented and significant.[x] But those resources were spent months ago, and while we are hopeful an extension to Pandemic-EBT will be enacted in the federal Continuing Resolution, there is no guarantee that it will or that the benefits will come swiftly enough to stave off hunger that will have lifelong consequences for low-income Californians.

Although California’s two million undocumented immigrants are an integral part of our society, paying taxes and risking their lives to continue performing essential services that keep California running and put food on all of our tables, there are currently no protections in place to support them should they or someone in their family lose income as a result of contracting COVID-19 or lose their job as a result of the public health orders to prevent the spread of the disease. AB 826 would have helped to counter that reality and would have reinforced to the immigrant community that they will not be forced to suffer some of the most detrimental impacts of the pandemic without help.

CHIRLA, California Association of Food Banks and Western Center are disappointed in tonight’s veto of AB 826 (Santiago) which leaves the state of California with no plan to address hunger for our immigrant communities in the weeks ahead.  We will urgently request a meeting with the Governor and his team to ask about their plan for addressing the unprecedented levels of hunger in the weeks and months ahead. We are committed to bringing this issue next year because hunger and COVID-19 will continue to impact low-income and communities of color.

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For more information, please contact:

Joseph Villela jvillela[at]chirla.org

Andrew Cheyne andrew[at]cafoodbanks.org at California Association of Food Banks

Jessica Bartholow jbartholow[at]wclp.org at Western Center on Law & Poverty

 

End Notes

[i] https://thefern.org/2020/06/covid-19-shows-no-sign-of-slowing-among-food-system-workers/

[ii] https://www.sacbee.com/news/coronavirus/article243965407.html

[iii] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/06/pandemic-food-banks-hunger/613036/

[iv] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/05/06/the-covid-19-crisis-has-already-left-too-many-children-hungry-in-america/

[v] https://www.census.gov/householdpulsedata

[vi]  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/05/20/food-prices-soar-coronavirus-covid-19/5226969002/

[vii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/21/coronavirus-300-million-children-to-miss-school-meals-amid-shutdowns

[viii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-threatens-to-overwhelm-cities-social-safety-net-11585474200

[ix] https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahhansen/2020/04/15/how-are-americans-spending-those-1200-stimulus-checks-food-gas-and-bills/#2d5595f02e5a

[x] New America’s Report: “It has meant everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan, https://www.newamerica.org/public-interest-technology/reports/it-has-meant-everything-how-p-ebt-helped-families-in-michigan/ ; New America/FRAC/Ed Trust Snapshot: Pandemic EBT: “It has Meant Everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan, https://newamericadotorg.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Two-Page_Snapshot_of_Michigans_P-EBT_Program.pdf; The Hamilton Project’s Report: The Effect of Pandemic EBT on Measures of Food Hardship, https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/P-EBT_LO_7.30.pdf

 

Grocery Money Zips Straight to California’s Needy Students Amid School Closures

“For families that aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance or stimulus checks, these debit cards could be the only form of emergency assistance they’re receiving, said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. It also helps families that haven’t been able to take advantage of the school districts’ grab-and-go meal program because of transportation issues or strict adherence to shelter-at-home orders.”

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

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

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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.