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Western Center Roundup – August 2023


Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Black August, and Black Philanthropy Month

This month, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other giants of the civil rights movement. The march and King’s remarks that day are lodged in Americans’ collective memory as a turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Last Saturday, more than half a century later, a multiracial coalition of thousands of people gathered once again on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to demand social, racial, and economic justice and decry the people and systems that are trying to undo the progress we’ve made over the past 60 years. We recognize that all of our struggles are interconnected, and that liberation requires all of us to play a role in fighting oppression. Black August is a commemoration of the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, a call for the release of political prisoners, a condemnation of the conditions in prisons, and a continued fight for Black liberation. This month is also Black Philanthropy Month, founded by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland in 2011, as a global celebration and intentional campaign to elevate giving and funding equity. The theme of this year is “Love in Action,” inspired by the writings of bell hooks on love as a driver of true social change. She wrote, “But love is really more of an interactive process. It’s about what we do, not just what we feel. It’s a verb, not a noun.” Our development team continues to intentionally uplift the practice of putting love into action by applying community-centric fundraising principles in their work with the support and guidance of our philanthropy consultant, April Walker from Philanthropy for the People



New Settlement: Affirming Access to Charity Care

Earlier this month, we announced our landmark settlement in a charity care case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare with co-counsel Consumer Law Center, Inc., addressing the county’s failure to adequately inform patients with low and no incomes of the hospital’s charity care and discount payment policies. As a result, the County has updated their notices on how patients can qualify for free and discounted payments and expanded the number of languages notices are available in. An estimated 43,000 former patients of Santa Clara Valley Healthcare have received notice of possible billing corrections and refunds. “Medical debt, particularly hospital debt, burdens many Californians and forces them to forgo medically necessary care and other life necessities. We hope this lawsuit will give thousands of Santa Clara residents some financial relief,” said Helen Tran, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

News coverage of the settlement can be viewed in Kaiser Health News and KTVU.

 

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9/19: Pasa La Voz and Meet the Advocates – Medi-Cal Renewals

For this next Meet the Advocates, we’re excited to partner with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Their “Pasa La Voz” project aims to spread awareness and education about health, and to provide community resources to Latinx families and individuals in a culturally and community-informed manner. On Tuesday, September 19th from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM, join Western Center senior attorneys David Kane and Helen Tran and Ana Tutila, a Promotora in Orange County with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California as they discuss the importance of Medi-Cal renewals for California’s health and racial equity goals – and the current challenges facing those renewing their coverage. Millions of Californians who depend on Medi-Cal are going through the renewal process for the first time since before the start of the pandemic. We’ll be diving into the work advocates and community-based organizations are doing to support people enrolled in Medi-Cal to keep their coverage, highlighting on-the-ground challenges enrollees are facing, and discussing the policy changes needed to improve this process.

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Western Center Roundup – April 2023


NEW REPORT: Recognizing the Right to Housing

 

Last week, we released a new report, Recognizing the Right to Housing: Why We Need a Human Right to Housing in California, with our partners, ACLU California Action, ACCE Institute, and the National Homelessness Law Center. This report outlines how including the right to housing to California’s constitution could fundamentally shift housing policy in the state and address the housing and homelessness crisis at its root cause. As detailed in the report, a constitutional right to housing would establish a legal mechanism to hold local and state governments accountable for ensuring that all Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing. Modeled after international law, a constitutional amendment would establish a government obligation to:

respect the right to housing by not interfering with the right;
protect the right to housing by shielding the enjoyment of affordable and adequate housing from third-party threats; and
fulfill the right to housing by affirmatively enacting policies and budgetary allocations to ensure that all Californians have secure housing.

On April 25th, we stood with our partners and hundreds of community organizers and tenants at the Capitol for a press conference to release the report recommendations and drive support for several of our housing bills this session: ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right; SB 460; (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing; SB 567(Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act. AB 920(Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.

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Western Center Sounds the Alarm on Staff Shortages Facing Counties Amid Medi-Cal Changes

 

Western Center’s Senior Attorney David Kane has been making the media rounds, raising awareness of “the perfect storm” approaching Californians on Medi-Cal who registered in record numbers during the pandemic and now face a challenging benefits renewal process to ensure continued coverage. In recent articles with the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, David spoke of Western Center’s discovery through a public records request of just how woefully unprepared counties are in preparing for Medi-Cal benefits renewals – challenges such as staff shortages, an unseasoned workforce, a new computer system, and budget constraints. “None of this works if county Medi-Cal offices don’t have what they need in terms of basic resources and people in their offices to help people renew their Medi-Cal because they are the ones who determine whether somebody qualifies or should be terminated,” Kane said. “Today, with the historic level of record-high Medi-Cal enrollment, that already would be a challenge to counties and their offices, but it’s even worse. Counties have said they are understaffed and are constantly trying to fill vacancies. We’re really concerned that under these difficult circumstances, we’re not ready.”

To address these challenges, Western Center and our partners, the State, Counties, and DHCS have taken some preliminary steps to ease the process of renewals: 

  • In 2019, WCLP co-sponsored SB 260 (Hurtado) which closes coverage gaps for people no longer eligible for Medi-Cal by automatically enrolling them in the Covered California plan (if eligible) that most closely matches their previous coverage. 
  • Thanks to requests by advocates, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) convened a monthly working group to problem solve, plan, and get ready to help people keep their coverage for when renewals resumed. 
  • Counties have responded nimbly to numerous Medi-Cal expansions, including eligibility for people who are undocumented, and have updated their notices and engaged in outreach to impacted people. 
  • DHCS, in response to extensive advocacy, has done tremendous work to protect coverage for young adults who are undocumented and those who are 65 and over or disabled. 
  • Advocates have consolidated tools and resources for people looking for additional assistance as they seek to prove eligibility. 

 

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NEW BLOG POST and Partner Spotlight on Building Generational Wealth


With one in five children living in poverty in California, we celebrate our partners whose tireless efforts have culminated in groundbreaking programs to address generational wealth building. Last year, GRACE & End Child Poverty California (ECPCA), John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)End Poverty in California (EPIC), and Liberation in a Generation worked to pass the The Hope, Opportunity, Perseverance, and Empowerment (HOPE) for Children Act and successfully advocated for HOPE trust funds accounts in our State budget. HOPE Accounts will support children from low-income families who lost a primary caregiver to COVID-19, as well as children who are in long-term foster care. HOPE funds will be available when a child turns 18. They will allow children to invest in their education, start a business, or support purchasing transportation or housing. 

In this month’s blog post, Western Center Outreach and Advocacy Associate Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez lifts up the new CalKids program as another vehicle for wealth building and a tool for moving the needle on the ever expanding racial wealth gap. “Student debt and financial access to education are some of the many obstacles that communities of color face in our state. Student debt is a lifelong burden that impacts generational wealth. Last Fall, California launched a program called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings program (CalKids) that will invest in low-income students by providing an initial seed deposit for them to save for college.”

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Western Center Roundup – February 2022

Lifting Black Voices, Centering Black Lives


Honoring Black History Month and the Urgent Work Ahead of Us

We began this Black History Month honoring Derrick Bell, one of Western Center’s founding members, past executive director, and a leading voice in the school of that thought that would become critical race theory. We honor our rich history, standing on the shoulders of giants as we continue the critical work of eliminating anti-Blackness in Housing, Health, Public Benefits, and Access to Justice. The urgency of this work was reinforced by this month’s release of research documenting persistent racism with the systems we work to transform: the largest study on birth outcomes in the state of California revealed that Black birthing folks, regardless of income level, continue to face the most adverse maternal and infant mortality rates; more than half of Black Californians (55%) said there was a time in the last few years when they thought they would have gotten better care if they had belonged to a different racial or ethnic group; and the housing and homelessness crisis continues to disproportionately impact Black Californians. This year, we are expanding our team to tackle the racism Black and Brown birthing folks experience, alleviate the burden of medical debt, and take on housing voucher discrimination and environmental racism. We look forward to sharing more about this expanded work.



3/14: Join Us for Meet The Advocates: Western Center’s 2023 Legislative Agenda

Join us on March 14th at 12PM PST as our Policy Team rolls out our 2023 legislative agenda to secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes. We’ll be diving into the work of the Consent and Reproductive Equity (CARE) for Families Act, establishing the first statewide Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, eliminating housing voucher discrimination, the restoration of stolen CalFresh benefits, CalWORKs expansions, eliminating poverty tows and much, much more! You don’t want to miss this powerful conversation by the folks on the frontlines of California’s anti-poverty policy movement. You can read about the bills we are co-sponsoring and track the status of our bills’ activities on our legislative tracker page.

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NEW Blog Post: Why We Sued to End CARE Court

Senior Attorney, Helen Tran and Director of Litigation, Richard Rothschild discuss why Western Center joined Disability Rights California and Public Interest Law Project to sue the State in this latest blog post: Contrary to some strong opinions that CARE Court is “California’s only real plan for helping our most vulnerable and seriously mentally ill,” Governor Newsom never planned to truly provide behavioral health treatment and housing through this bill. The CARE Act does not mandate counties to provide behavioral health treatment or housing; it creates no new rights or benefits for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders who are summoned to court to join the CARE process. Rather, all CARE Court-ordered services are “subject to available funding… In other words, services will only be provided as they are available.

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Western Center Attorneys Weigh In On Medical Debt and Housing Voucher Discrimination in Los Angeles Times and New York Times Features

Hospitals run by Los Angeles County could make free care available to more of their financially strapped patients under a new proposal aimed at expanding relief from medical bills — the result of a class-action lawsuit brought by Western Center on behalf of people who had sought medical care from the county. Under the proposed rules, free care would be available to eligible L.A. County residents with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level. David Kane, Senior Attorney, spoke to the impact of these rules in last week’s Los Angeles Times’ article. People earning under 200% of the federal poverty level “certainly cannot afford high medical costs — or even what other people consider to be modest medical costs.” Making care available to them at no cost “is definitely the right thing to do, because those are the people who need this the most.”

Despite Western Center’s work to pass SB329 to prevent discrimination in the use of housing vouchers, voucher holders continue to face a series of obstacles in securing affordable housing as documented in the New York Times’ recent feature tracking one young woman’s journey to use her Section 8 voucher in Los Angeles County. Landing an apartment in Los Angeles County can be an arduous journey in a region struggling with a housing shortage and homelessness crisis, where even those with steady middle-class salaries have found themselves in a rat race for a home. For the impoverished, the search can feel ultimately impossible.“ Are you going to interrupt your search to fight every landlord who says, ‘I’m not going to rent to you because you have Section 8?’” said Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s more likely you’re going to keep trying to find someone who’s going to say yes.”



TOMORROW! Join Western Center and National Health Law Program for a Medi-Cal Renewal Webinar

Over 15 million Californians will need to renew their Medi-Cal starting in June. To learn the latest on how Medi-Cal renewals will work, join Western Center and National Health Law Program (NHeLP) TOMORROW, March 1st at 2PM PT/5 PM ET for a webinar tailored for advocates, application assisters, and community-based organizations. The federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) implemented flexibilities that help people get on, and stay on, Medi-Cal. This continuous Medi-Cal coverage requirement will end on March 31, 2023. Beginning April 1, 2023 counties across the state will begin annual Medi-Cal renewals for all beneficiaries.

Public education, outreach and advocacy will be critical to ensuring that individuals and families do not lose their Medi-Cal coverage in error. This webinar will provide an overview of the federal and state guidance on Medi-Cal renewals, what to expect, and advocacy efforts protect Californians’ access to health coverage.

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California lawmakers take aim at ‘punitive’ child support system for low-income families

When Ronnell Hampton was growing up, his father wrote a $600 check every month to pay his child support.

But only $50 of that amount actually made it to Hampton’s family; the rest was sent back to the government to repay the cost of public assistance.

The family could have used the extra cash, Hampton said. He recalled days with the electricity turned off, selling candy and pumping gas to make ends meet, and school outings he couldn’t go to because they didn’t have enough money.

…“Once it becomes a debt owed to the government, that money never gets sent to the child,” says Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which co-sponsored the bills. “It’s kind of the original sin of the child support system we have in place today, which is, how do we call it a child support system where none of that money goes back to the child?”

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