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EPIC News – July 2021


Western Center Awarded $15,000!

Thank you for voting in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge! Because of your votes, we will receive $15,000 to support our advocacy. Thank you!


California Budget Update

The dust is mostly settled for the 2021-22 California budget; we break things down by Western Center priority area in this Budget Overview. There is a lot of good news in this budget, including the biggest investment in health care in California since the implementation of the ACA, as it becomes the first state to remove exclusions to Medi-Cal for adults 50+, young adults, and children, regardless of immigration status. The budget will also eliminate the draconian Medi-Cal assets test by 2024, and includes many priorities from SB 65, California’s Momnibus bill that we are co-sponsoring this year to close the state’s racial gaps in birth outcomes. While the budget includes many components of SB 65, we will continue to push the bill to further address the state’s disparate birthing outcomes.

After two decades of advocacy, this year’s California state budget also includes reparations for victims of forced sterilization in women’s prisons, making California the first state in the country to compensate survivors of state sterilization. Reparations are an important step in confronting California’s legacy of reproductive violence against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty, as well as for other reparations movements. PBS’ Belly of the Beast follows the historic movement for reparations for survivors of forced sterilization in California.


Emergency Broadband, Tenant Fact Sheet, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

Thanks to the advocacy of the National Urban League and other community partners, funds are now available to make the internet more accessible for households with low incomes. Each month, $50 will go directly to broadband providers on behalf of eligible customers. $100 is also available for purchase of new equipment, like a computer or tablet. Learn more here.

Alongside our coalition to keep Californians safely housed amidst the pandemic, we published an update to our California Tenant Relief Fact Sheet. Last month, California extended statewide renter protections and updated how California renters and landlords receive financial help; the fact sheet explains what it all means. The fact sheet is also available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Vietnamese.

August 3rd is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which, according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, is “the approximate day a Black woman must work into the new year to make what a white non-Hispanic man made at the end of the previous year.” Black women earn only 63% of what white men earn, so there is A LOT to do to reach pay equity. The Equal Pay Day movement also includes different days of acknowledgement for each BIPOC group — some earlier in the year, and some still to come. We must all keep working to uplift women of color, especially Black women, because as Malcolm X said, the lowest baseline this country has is for its treatment of Black women. If we can fix that, we can fix this country.

Overview of Western Center Priorities in the Final 2021-2022 California Budget

*PDF available here

After almost two months of negotiation, the Governor signed AB 128, the final 2021-22 budget passed by the Legislature. The Governor has not yet signed SB 129, which amends AB 128, and many trailer bills are not yet finalized. We will update this document as developments unfold.

As it stands, the budget marks progress for many Western Center priorities, including the expansion of health programs for new parents and undocumented Californians 50+, increased grants for CalWORKs and SSI/SSP recipients, increased funding for legal aid services, and increased investments in tenant protection.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

The state budget increases CalWORKs grants by 5.3 percent on October 1, 2021. Maximum grants by family size now slightly exceed 50 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). CalWORKs households will also receive a $640 payment in July 2021 from the TANF Pandemic Emergency Fund. This budget increases the eligibility income disregard from $90 to $450 beginning May 2022.

CalWORKs Grants:

ACCESS TO JUSTICE/ FINES & FEES

The budget increases SSP grants by $36 a month beginning January 2022, and commits to making a second $37 payment starting in January 2024. It also eliminates the removal of people receiving the Transitional Nutrition Benefits for failure to fill out recertification paperwork within 30 days of the deadline.

The budget increases funding for the Equal Access Fund (EAF) by $50 million, for a total funding amount of $70 million. It also provides $40 million in funding for eviction prevention with 75% of those funds for organizations that receive EAF.

The budget provisionally repeals civil assessments for those who fail to appear or pay tickets in traffic courts. It also expands the online traffic adjudication pilot program to all counties. Indigent persons using the online tool get a minimum 50% reduction in the total fine amount and cannot pay more than $25 a month towards the remaining fine.

HEALTH CARE

The Medi-Cal budget has significant investments in eligibility, including elimination of the Medi-Cal asset test to ensure elders and people with disabilities are not impoverished by health care, expansion of Medi-Cal to all income-eligible adults age 50 and older regardless of immigration status, and Medi-Cal eligibility extension from 60 days to 12 months for all post-pregnancy individuals. Unfortunately, the budget excludes Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented adults ages 26-49 and continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children up to age 5.

Medi-Cal service expansions include addition of doula services, community health workers as a class of providers, continuous glucose monitoring systems for beneficiaries with diabetes, a permanent end to the suspension of certain benefits, and funding for field testing of translated Medi-Cal materials to ensure that documents are understood by the intended audience.

Even with the progress made in the budget, SB 65 (Skinner), the California Momnibus bill, still contains additional provisions to reduce maternal health disparities. AB 470 (Carrillo) will be amended to include any clean-up language for Medi-Cal asset test elimination.

In addition, there is funding for community-based organizations and local public health entities to address health disparities (delayed to July 2022), funding to zero out $1 Covered California premiums, and funding for the creation of the Health Care Affordability Reserve Fund to allow for future investment in Covered California subsidies.

HOUSING

The biggest success is AB 832, which will provide 100% payments towards arrears for eligible tenants who were unable to pay rent during the pandemic. The U.S Treasury dedicated a total of $5.2 billion in federal rental relief to support tenants for a total of 18 months. There is an additional $300 million in the national mortgage settlement funds for homeowners and $1 billion to the CA Housing Finance Agency for mortgage assistance and principal reductions, as well as an additional $100 million to expand CalHFA First Time Homebuyer Assistance Program.

There aren’t many changes from the May Revise for housing production. This budget includes:

  • $1.75 billion in one-time general funds to support Housing and Community Development affordable housing projects — 6,300 projects are currently shovel ready.
  • $81 million in one-time funds to expand CalHFA’s Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) program.
  • $300 million in one-time funds to sustain Housing and Community Development legacy project affordability requirements.
  • $50 million for the Golden State acquisition fund.
  • $45 million in one-time GF to finance low- and moderate-income units.
  • Up to $500 million for Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
  • $50 million for farmworker housing.
  • $500 million in foreclosure intervention and housing preservation.

The budget also includes significant investments in homelessness funding:

  • $2 billion over two years for local jurisdictions to address homelessness.
  • $150 billion in one-time funds for RoomKey program to acquire and rehabilitate more housing facilities.
  • $2.75 billion for Project Homekey using American Rescue Plan Act and GF.
  • 50 million in one-time general funds for encampment resolutions services
  • $92.5 million in general funds in both 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 to expand program to provide housing support for eligible families experiencing homelessness in the child welfare system.
  • $50 million invested in the Homesafe program to support access to health, safety, and housing support for elderly people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
  • $150 in general funds annually through 2023-2024 for people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness under the Housing and Disability Advocacy program.
  • $40 million for homeless youth emergency service projects including rapid rehousing, rental assistance, transitional housing up to 36 months, supportive housing, housing navigation, and housing stability.
  • $25 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs that provide supportive services to homeless or at risk of homelessness veterans, for emergency or long-term housing support, among other things.

Finally, the budget includes an investment of $536,000 to the Department of Fair Housing and Employment to investigate and enforcement civil rights violations.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Settlement Requires CA to Provide Access to Care for Medi-Cal Applicants During Lengthy Eligibility Verification Process

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LOS ANGELES, CA — Hundreds of thousands of Californians will have speedier access to health care thanks to a settlement in a seven-year lawsuit requiring California’s Department of Health Care Services to allow eligible Medi-Cal applicants to receive health coverage right away, subject to later verification of their declared income.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, sought to end the state’s practice of leaving hundreds of thousands of eligible low-­‐income applicants to wait for months without the health care they desperately needed. One of the plaintiffs, Frances Rivera, lost her adult son to a treatable condition while he waited for the state to approve his Medi-Cal application. Shortly after he died—and more than six months after he first applied—Rivera received a letter stating her son qualified for Medi-­Cal, and that his coverage would apply retroactively.

When the lawsuit was first filed, there was a backlog of more than 350,000 Medi-Cal applicants who had been waiting significantly longer than was allowed under state and federal mandates. Cancer patients were unable to see oncologists.  People with heart conditions were unable to see cardiologists. Without access to arthritis medication, one woman had to go on disability because she could no longer walk. Women with high-risk pregnancies went without the critical care they needed to keep themselves and their babies safe.

“People’s lives are in the balance—our clients knew that firsthand,” said Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation for Western Center on Law & Poverty.

The settlement, which was finalized on May 10th, ensures applicants who meet eligibility criteria have health coverage as soon as they apply, while verification and other processing are being completed.

“This victory is especially important now, with low-income essential workers and their families bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s health burdens,” said Lynn Kersey, Executive Director of Maternal and Child Health Access, whose organization was a plaintiff in the case.

Plaintiffs were represented by Bay Area Legal Aid, Central California Legal Services, Multiforum Advocacy Solutions, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the National Health Law Program, and Western Center on Law & Poverty.

“Some 84% of Medi-Call applicants are in households with low-wage workers whose jobs don’t provide health insurance for them or their children,” said Lucy Quacinella of Multiforum Advocacy Solutions, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “This settlement will prevent suffering and help address significant racial disparities in health.”

As the pandemic tore through Los Angeles’ low-income neighborhoods, a lack of access to healthcare led to extraordinarily high levels of serious illness and death—much higher than in wealthier areas.

“Medi-Cal is supposed to be the great healthcare equalizer,” said Neighborhood Legal Services’ Jackie Dai. “This settlement moves us a little closer to that promise.”

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

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The mission of Bay Area Legal Aid is to provide meaningful access to the civil justice system through quality legal assistance regardless of a client’s location, language or disability.

Central California Legal Services (CCLS), established in 1966, provides free civil legal services to eligible low-income residents in Fresno, Tulare, Merced, Kings, Tuolumne, and Mariposa Counties. In partnership with the statewide Health Consumer Alliance, CCLS also serves Madera, San Luis Obispo, Stanislaus, Monterey and San Benito County residents with their healthcare access concerns.  CCLS seeks to advance justice through community education and legal service. We endeavor to empower low-income communities to fight social injustice and assert their rights as individuals, groups, and communities.   We commit to doing high-quality work promoting systemic change while serving individual clients with respect and compassion.

Lucy Quacinella is an attorney in private practice and the Principal of Multiforum Advocacy Solutions. In addition to impact litigation on health care issues, MAS provides research, analysis, and technical assistance to community-based organizations and assists with legislative and administrative advocacy. Through the Fulbright program, she has collaborated with local human rights advocates in Namibia, Rwanda, and Italy.

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.

The National Health Law Program, founded in 1969, protects and advances health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. We advocate, educate, and litigate at the federal and state levels to advance health and civil rights in the U.S.

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 Californians with low incomes. 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.

California bill to extend suspension of Medi-Cal benefits for inmates passes Assembly Health Committee

“The Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), said that studies of suspension of Medicaid coverage for incarcerated persons implemented in Florida and Washington found that those enrolled in Medicaid at the time of release had 16% fewer incidents of recidivism compared to those not enrolled at time of release.”

https://stateofreform.com/featured/2021/03/california-bill-to-extend-suspension-of-medi-cal-benefits-for-inmates-passes-assembly-health-committee/

California Assembly Health and Budget Committee considers if Medi-Cal asset limits are outdated

“There was also testimony from Jen Flory, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who said that these asset limits can also perpetuate poverty because people are afraid to save because they will lose their health care coverage if they go above the limits.”

California Assembly Health and Budget Committee considers if Medi-Cal asset limits are outdated

Western Center Analysis of Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2021-2022 California Budget Proposal

PDF available here

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.

BACKGROUND

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.

COVID-19

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.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

CalWORKs

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.

SSI/SSP

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.

Food Security

  • $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.

Higher Education

  • $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.

Child Support

  • $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.

Miscellaneous

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.

HEALTH CARE

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.

Medi-Cal

  • 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.

HOUSING

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.

Anti-Discrimination

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.

Construction Apprenticeships

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.

Project Homekey

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.

 

 

California has billions more in tax revenue than projected. It should be used to keep people out of poverty.

In an unanticipated but not completely surprising series of events, California’s wealthiest residents have seen significant boosts in income during the pandemic, with many making good money because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, on the other end of California’s 40 million people, Californians don’t have enough to eat, don’t have a reliable place to live, and are at high risk of COVID exposure because they have no choice but to work in close proximity to others. Most jobs that were lost or had reduced hours from the state’s COVID shutdown mandates are low wage jobs. People in those positions are already just making it – pandemic-induced income loss is pushing them into deeper uncertainty.

The good news is that since wealthy Californians are making so much money, the state is experiencing a spike in revenue. Last month, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office estimated that California may have a surplus of $26 billion in the 2021-22 budget. This illustrates the virtue of a progressive tax system like California’s, since the point of taxes is to provide for the structural needs of a society to help stabilize it – but it also requires taxes to be used efficiently and wisely. Unfortunately, many are already calling for California to hoard this tax windfall for a “Rainy Day,” because apparently, a global pandemic plunging millions into poverty doesn’t fit that category.

If California wants to be a leader in the United States and in the world, it cannot ignore the obvious call here – make sure people can eat, have access to shelter, and access to health care — make sure people can actually live here.

Widespread poverty is everyone’s problem because the deeper into poverty a society goes, the harder it is to get out. Fortunately, California has wealth, so we can address these fundamental, deeply destabilizing problems – the question is, will we? This is where conversations about economic and racial justice and equity in California reach their limit. This is a stark, straightforward situation; state policy makers and administrators have to put money where the talk is, and make the tax revenue from the 5th largest economy in the world work for the people who hold it up.

The state must invest in the people the state’s pandemic polices most negatively effect. With as much directness and immediacy as possible, people need:

  1. Direct food and cash assistance.
    • In September Governor Newsom vetoed AB 826, which would have provided one-time food aid to those most in need during the pandemic. He cited cost for the veto. The money is here now. Food should be the very first item on the agenda, especially since in many cases, the people who don’t have enough to eat are the same people supplying the majority of California and U.S. agriculture. It shouldn’t need to be said, but the people producing our food should have enough to eat.
    • With unemployment still at record levels, many people need income. As extended unemployment benefits end due to a lack of federal empathy, California must step in and provide cash so people can afford basic necessities. California needs extended unemployment, increased grants to people on CalWORKs, and restoration to cuts made to elders and people with disabilities on SSI. Every dollar the state provides will go right into the economy, providing a boost to business.
  2. Direct rent relief and housing assistance.
    • People can’t work, so they can’t pay rent. Without stable housing, every part of life is harder. It’s harder to keep a job, educate kids, rely on steady meals, and have safe harbor from the pandemic.
    • We are seeing an increase in homelessness on top of the crisis we already have. In Sacramento for example, the Sacramento Bee reported that “During the first six months of this year, 3,790 people in Sacramento County escaped homelessness, but another 3,736 became homeless.” The state expanded shelter capacity, but that funding is drying, and so is the housing. We need to keep people who are already housed in their homes so they don’t slip into homelessness.
  3. Health4All and a fix for the Medi-Cal asset test.
    • At the start of 2020, Governor Newsom promised to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented elders. That hasn’t happened, and the delay is causing further instability for those hit hardest by COVID-19: immigrants and people over age 65.
    • Similarly, AB 683 would have fixed an outdated rule that limits the cash savings elders and people with disabilities can have and still be able to enroll in Medi-Cal. Forcing people to choose between health care and saving for an emergency is a particularly shortsighted policy during a pandemic that this money should be used to fix.

The Legislature is due to return next Monday, December 7th. When they do, the first order of business must be to pass an emergency relief package to prevent more suffering. We think the steps above are concrete, doable first steps.

 

JOINT STATEMENT: Overturning Affordable Care Act Would Have Devastating Consequences for Millions of Californians

The stakes have never been higher for the millions of Californians who rely on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for access to the vital health care services they and their loved ones count on every day. As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the future of the ACA, one point is clear: this momentous law has become part of the fabric of our entire health care system.

So many things we all count on could be upended if the ACA is overturned:

  • Guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, including almost 950,000 people who have contracted COVID-19.
  • The ability of 2 million young adults under age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans.
  • The expansion of Medi-Cal to nearly 4 million low-income Californians, including single childless adults between 19-25 with incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  • Subsidies through Covered California to make individual health insurance more affordable.
  • Enhanced Medicare payments to hospitals, doctors and other providers that help ensure seniors have access to the care they need, when they need it.

Cutting through all the partisanship, politics, and legal arguments, the ACA is really about one thing: people. Without the ACA, millions of Californians who rely on its protections will be sicker, their ability to provide for their families will be at risk, and they will face an uncertain future.

With so much at stake, we hope the Supreme Court rules to protect the health of all Californians.

 

Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed

ACCESS TO JUSTICE & PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.

HEALTH

  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.

HOUSING

  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.