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PRESS RELEASE: LA County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Emergency Food Assistance to Eligible Households

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.

Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

The lawsuit—filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days.

“CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food,” said Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles. “When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.”

“Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic,” said Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN). “These county delays make it harder for people—especially houseless people—to access food and take care of their health.”

In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering,” said Western Center on Law & Poverty attorney Alex Prieto. “Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.”

“The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.”

Read the full complaint here.

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Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County.   Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

 

 

 

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