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Joint Statement on Governor Newsom’s March 16th Executive Order Regarding COVID-19 and Housing

Western Center, ACLU of California, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights appreciate the hard work of Governor Newsom and his team during this extremely difficult time, and appreciate his recognition of the particular hardship posed by potential evictions and utility shutoffs during a public health crisis. The Governor’s Executive Order, however, stops short of implementing the full range of protections needed to ensure that vulnerable Californians are not forced to visit crowded courthouses, displaced from their homes, or disrupted by losing access to vital utilities as a result of the pandemic.

We call on the Governor to issue a blanket moratorium on all evictions and utility shutoffs for the state of California.

As organizations dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of Californians living in poverty, we offer our brief analysis of the Governor’s Executive Order, and suggestions for additional measures needed to ensure that all members of our communities are truly protected from the risks created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Waiving time limitations in Penal Code Section 396(f)

Penal Code Section 396 involves penalties for price gouging during periods of declared emergencies. Subsection (f) specifically relates to price gouging in rental housing and penalizes landlords for evicting tenants in order to increase the rent for a subsequent renter. The states of emergency declared for wildfires provide recent examples of the need for a ban on rental price gouging during public emergencies. In places devastated by fires, landlords were prevented from evicting households in order to demand higher rents to take advantage of the suddenly deeply constrained housing supply.

Subdivision (f) provides that price gouging bans in rental housing will extend for 30 days following the emergency declaration. Section One of the Executive Order from the Governor extends that period for more than a month, until the end of May. The extension of the period preventing rent gouging is positive, but it does little to keep people housed during a public health crisis, where evictions may not be based on an intent to subsequently raise the rent and where the entire machinery of eviction needs to be restricted. Penalizing price gouging does not adequately address the need to protect people from displacement during this pandemic.

2. Restrictions on Evictions Due to Documented COVID-19 Related Loss of Income

Rather than implementing the statewide ban on evictions that advocates and legislators have called for, the Executive Order expands a local government’s authority to limit residential or commercial evictions, but only as to nonpayment evictions caused by a documented loss of income caused by the pandemic or the governmental responses. This is overly complicated and does not protect tenants from evictions now, but leaves it up to local jurisdictions to enact such protections. It is imperative that there is a statewide moratorium that does not rely on local action. Furthermore, tenants would have to prove such a loss in court, subjecting them to potential exposure to COVID-19, and many tenants who suffer a loss of income due to the pandemic or our public responses may be unable to document it. We believe a stronger and more straightforward approach would be to enact immediate statewide protections that postpone any eviction, regardless of the basis, to protect vulnerable tenants and the public, and avoid the need to pass local policies in all of California’s cities and counties.

It is important to note that while the Executive Order solely grants additional authority related to nonpayment evictions, it does not prevent local governments from exercising their expansive authority to limit evictions on a much broader basis, including limiting evictions that are filed for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. Extending the limitation to all evictions would eliminate the necessity for tenants, landlords, and court staff to appear in person. Courts are high traffic areas, particularly the courtrooms where evictions are heard. To force even some tenants to continue going to court defeats the point of social distancing efforts and necessary quarantines. There are also fairness issues raised because these tenants may find it difficult to seek legal information or legal advice as many legal offices are shutting down in order to protect employees.

For all of these reasons, we call on the Governor to issue a blanket moratorium on all evictions as multiple states have done. In the absence of such action, we encourage local governments to enact policies to broadly protect tenants against all evictions.

3. Requesting Housing Authorities Postpone Document Deadlines

We are pleased to see the Governor acknowledge that now is not the time to require vulnerable tenants to obtain and deliver documentation to Housing Authorities in order to maintain their critically important housing assistance, and echo his request for policies to extend such deadlines. We recommend additional policies to postpone eligibility re-certifications and other in-person meetings, and for Housing Authorities to exercise their discretion to refrain from taking adverse decisions such as housing assistance terminations against participants, which could subject them to displacement and potential exposure while reducing their ability to protect themselves.

4. Engagement with Financial Institutions to Develop Tools to Prevent Foreclosure and Displacement

The Executive Order calls on state agencies to work with financial institutions to develop tools to combat foreclosure and displacement, and to otherwise promote housing stability and security. We applaud the Governor’s call to state agencies to develop strategies to address housing instability and ease the financial issues which could lead to foreclosure and displacement. The impacts of this virus and our responses to it will be felt by many Californians for some time, and it is important we develop these strategies while also taking the immediate action necessary to protect residents who are at immediate risk.

5. Requested Moratorium on Foreclosures Based on Documented Losses due to COVID-19

Per the Executive Order, financial lenders who hold home or commercial mortgages are being asked to halt foreclosures and evictions related to foreclosures where they would stem from a loss of income due to the pandemic or the governmental response. This is critical to ensure vulnerable homeowners, like vulnerable tenants, are not displaced and put at additional risk during this emergency. However, like the limitations on evictions discussed in part 2, these protections are limited to situations where the foreclosure is based on a documented loss of income or medical expense related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the difficulty of proving this causal connection in many instances, and because it would likely require the involvement of a court, and hence a visit to a courthouse, to prove such a connection, this protection lacks the full potential to protect our communities that a more straightforward moratorium would provide.

6. Requested Monitoring and Reporting on Utility Shutoffs by CPUC

This part of the Governor’s Order seeks the assistance of the Public Utilities Commission, the body tasked with oversight of essential industries such as water and gas, in monitoring customer protections. The Governor’s request does not actually require the PUC to take action to ensure that people’s utilities are maintained during this public health crisis, but simply requires it to monitor and report. Maintaining good hygiene and nutrition becomes much more difficult if water, power, or gas is shut off, and medically vulnerable residents are put at severe risk. At a time when we have all been advised that one of the most effective preventions for COVID-19 is frequent handwashing, we recommend requiring actions to be taken to limit the shutoff of vital utilities for the duration of the emergency.

The moratorium on utility shutoffs also does not protect against phone shutoffs for the poorest consumers who rely on the Lifeline Program. The program is vital because many homeless individuals rely on their phone to get information and stay in touch with others. Unfortunately, the PUC doesn’t consider the lapse in certification to represent a cutoff. We call on the Governor to use his executive powers to prevent loss of phone connectivity for Lifeline Program customers during the emergency, when access to a phone is needed more than ever.

 

Newsom did not issue a statewide eviction ban. Tenant groups say renters’ health could be threatened

“The vast majority of cities have not taken this type of action yet,” said Sasha Harnden, policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Tenants won’t have a unified set of protections. It will depend on what we will be able to achieve in the local jurisdictions while they are juggling so many other considerations right now.”

https://calmatters.org/housing/2020/03/california-coronavirus-covid-19-evictions-newsom-pandemic-renter-landlord/

Full Analysis of Governor Newsom’s proposed 2020-2021 state budget

For a PDF of this analysis, click here.

Last week, Governor Newsom unveiled his $222 billion 2020-21 budget proposal. Western Center’s summary of the proposal can be found here.

The state is in its 11th year of increasing tax revenue, and estimates a $5.6 billion budget surplus over existing obligations. The budget continues the practice of prioritizing saving state revenue for future years by increasing the Rainy Day fund to $18 billion and paying down state debts to reduce state payments in future years.

Governor Newsom is focused on addressing many long standing issues, particularly the homelessness and housing crisis. The budget proposes to allocate $1.4 billion to a variety of solutions, including $750 million in one-time funding to shore up board and care facilities, provide rental assistance to those at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and to fund adaptive re-use of existing structures to create additional housing that people experiencing homelessness can afford. The budget also includes substantial new funding for health care, including a proposal for the state to manufacture prescription medications and to expand health care to undocumented seniors.

The budget proposal does not include the third step of CalWORKs funding that would bring grants to 55 percent of the federal poverty level. Instead, the budget proposes a 3.1 percent increase for CalWORKs grants in October 2020. The budget also provides no increase in state funding for Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP) grants, keeping in place recession era cuts that have still not been restored.

Homelessness

The Governor’s budget proposes $750 million in one-time funds to be deposited in the new California Access to Housing and Services Fund, which the Governor recently created by executive order. The fund would be administered by the Department of Social Services, which would allocate dollars to “regional administrators” to be used to provide short- and long-term rental subsidies to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness, create additional housing units affordable to people with extremely low-incomes, and stabilize licensed board and care facilities around the state. How funds would be allocated and administered remains open to negotiation.

Housing

The budget proposes a one-time $500 million increase in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which funds the production and rehabilitation of housing affordable primarily to households with incomes between 30% and 80% of area median income (AMI).

Financial Security

CalWORKs: CalWORKs has gone through a period of substantial investment. In 2019, the budget included funding for a 13 percent grant increase, expanded the earned income disregard to $500 a month, and stabilized CalWORKs child care for families. This budget is not as ambitious as prior years, though it does provide a 3.1 percent increase in grants beginning October 2020. This will increase grants for a family of three by about $25 a month. However, it was anticipated that CalWORKs grants would be raised to 55 percent of the federal poverty level to ensure no child lives in deep poverty. This budget proposal will not achieve that goal.

The budget does include funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through. Under current law, the first $50 of child support paid by the non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is used to pay for the cost of welfare benefits to the state and federal government. Beginning January 2022, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support.

We are grateful the Governor heard parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children. The increases to child support pass through and relief from government-owed, uncollectable debt proposed by the Governor look like a good start. We are eager to see the associated proposed trailer bill law changes so we have more details, and look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

Fines and Fees: The budget proposes to expand the traffic court ability to pay pilot program statewide. Currently, an eight county pilot program (operational in four counties) allows persons to adjudicate traffic tickets through an online portal and reduce fines by at least 50 percent for low income drivers. The budget would expand this pilot statewide over several years to all counties. The pilot has yet to be evaluated.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders.

SSI/SSP: The SSI/SSP caseload continues to decline, and as a result, state funding for the state supplemental program (SSP) is declining. In the 2020-21 budget the administration projects a 1.6 percent decline in SSP spending to $2.66 billion, down from $2.73 billion in the 2019-20 budget. This continues a trend of declining state spending for disabled and elderly adults. As recently as the 2016-17 budget, the state spent $2.87 billion. Rather than invest savings from caseload declines into grants, the savings are going into the General Fund for other purposes. SSI/SSP grants are critical for paying the cost of housing; this failure to invest in SSI grants will put more recipients at risk of homelessness.

Health care

Expands full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible undocumented adults age 65+ (Health4AllSeniors): Building on the 2019 Budget, which made California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to adults up to age 26 regardless of immigration status, the Governor’s recent proposal includes $80.5 million ($64.2 million General Fund) to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible undocumented adults age 65 and older. This would benefit about 27,000 older adults, to be implemented no sooner than January 1, 2021. Full implementation costs are projected to be approximately $350 million ($320 million General Fund) in 2022-23 and ongoing.

Delays 2019 Budget Act suspensions from December 31, 2021 to July 1, 2023: The 2019 Budget made important Medi-Cal investments that were to be suspended on December 31, 2021 and the proposal delays these suspensions by 18 months. This includes restoration of Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extension of Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, expansion of Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, and Prop 56 supplemental payments to providers.

Funding for CalAIM (recently renamed to Medi-Cal Healthier California for All Initiative): The Governor’s proposal includes $695 million ($348 million General Fund) for CalAIM effective January 1, 2021 and ongoing. Despite the name change, the administration continues to advance policy changes released in October’s proposal. The proposal still terminates the Health Homes Program (HHP) despite loss of enhanced federal match rate and the Whole Person Care (WPC) program, and includes $225 million to implement the new statewide enhanced care management benefit through plans. Plans will have the option of providing housing transition services, currently provided under HHP and WPC, and other services In Lieu of Service. The Dental Transformation Initiative will end December 2020, but $112.5 million is proposed to continue and expand program elements including provider incentives for preventive services (expanded to adults); provider incentive payments for continuity of care (expanded to adults); caries risk assessment, and adding silver diamine fluoride as a covered service for children.

Termination of Dental Managed Care in Medi-Cal: The administration proposes transitioning Medi-Cal dental services from a managed care delivery system, currently mandatory in Sacramento and optional in Los Angeles, to a fee-for-service (FFS) system in January 2021. A net zero fiscal impact is estimated due to small administrative savings offset by higher dental utilization in FFS system. However, any transition will have to ensure existing consumer protections for enrollees in dental managed care, including network adequacy requirements, continuity of care protections, and a strong grievance and appeal process.

Medi-Cal Medication Assisted Treatment Benefit Changes: The administration proposes adding all FDA approved drugs (specifically buprenorphine and buprenorphine-naloxone combination) to treat opioid addiction as a Medi-Cal benefit. Currently, only methadone and naltrexone is covered for Medi-Cal enrollees needing Medication Assisted Treatment; adding two new drugs is estimated to cost $876,000.

Prescription Drug Cost Containment: The Governor proposes to continue last year’s Executive Order to carve-out the Medi-Cal managed care benefit from managed care to fee-for-service effective January 1, 2021 to include savings that are partially offset by creation of a new supplemental payment pool for non-hospital clinics for 340B pharmacy services. The Governor also proposes to establish the state’s own generic drug label to manufacture certain generic drugs, establish a single market for drug pricing within the state to combine purchasing power, and expand authority to negotiate with manufacturers internationally for Medi-Cal supplemental rebates.

Potential Public Option: With more details to come, the Health and Human Services Agency will develop options to strengthen enrollment, affordability, and choice through Covered California, including leveraging the network of existing public Medi-Cal managed care plans.

Office of Health Care Affordability: The administration proposes the establishment of the Office of Health Care Affordability in spring 2020 to increase price and quality transparency, and to reduce costs to generate savings to directly-impacted consumers.

Hearing Aids for Children: The budget proposes to create a state program to assist families with the cost of hearing aids and related services for children without health insurance coverage for households with incomes up to 600% FPL.

Behavioral Health: The administration proposes to establish the Behavioral Health Task Force Agency and strengthen enforcement of behavioral health parity laws. The Department of Managed Health Care’s enforcement will focus on timely access to treatment, network adequacy, benefit design and plan policies. The administration also supports updating the Mental Health Services Act to focus on people with mental illness experiencing homelessness, those involved in the criminal justice system, and for early youth intervention.

 

 

 

Western Center Reaction to Governor Newsom’s Proposed 2020-2021 Budget

First and foremost, Western Center is pleased that Governor Newsom’s proposed budget includes significant and innovative proposals to address the homelessness crisis in California, which will not only help the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness, but will also prevent more people from losing their housing. We are also pleased to see the Governor take another major step toward providing health care for all by expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults over age 65, and to see the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which makes our tax code more equitable for women, girls and young families.

We were hoping to see additional investments for CalWORKs and SSI grants in this proposal, since they are both crucial for lifting Californians out of poverty. We will continue to advocate for those increases in the final budget agreement.

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area. We will release an in-depth analysis next week.

Housing

The proposed budget appropriately treats the state’s homelessness crisis as an emergency. The proposal devotes additional resources to help people at risk of homelessness remain stably housed and to increase both temporary shelter capacity and permanent housing options for people already experiencing homelessness. We are pleased to see the Governor’s sustained commitment to addressing homelessness and look forward to working in partnership with his administration and legislative leaders to further develop effective, sustainable solutions to the crisis that prioritize residents living in poverty.

We agree with the Governor that the state must ramp up efforts to address the state’s shortage of housing, which is primarily a shortage at lower income levels. We are eager to work with the Governor to ensure that policies and programs to speed housing production prioritize the creation of units for households with the lowest incomes who are priced out of the rental market in every county in the state, protect low-income communities and communities of color from displacement, and increase access to high opportunity areas for our clients.

Financial Security

The budget includes funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through (read about it here). Currently, the first $50 of child support paid by a non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is kept by state and federal governments. In the Governor’s newly proposed budget, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support, beginning January 2022. It also includes funding to provide debt relief for child support owed to the government that is deemed uncollectable. We are grateful that the Governor has heard from parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children, and we are eager to see proposed associated trailer bill law changes for details. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

The budget also includes the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which will make our tax code more equitable, since taxes on period products and diapers are regressive to poor families and young people. We look forward to continuing work in the legislature to end unmet diaper need and period poverty in California.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders. We’re also happy to see that Californians with low incomes will soon be able to reduce the cost of their traffic fines and the overall impact of expensive traffic tickets, with this budget proposing to expand the traffic court ability-to-pay pilot program (currently operational in four counties) statewide over several years. The pilot has yet to be evaluated, so we look forward to details from the Judicial Council to see if the program’s reductions in fines and fees are adequate or need to reduced further.

Finally, to further enhance financial security for Californians, the Governor’s budget creates a new state version of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The proposed financial watchdog will hold banks and other financial firms accountable when they engage in unfair and abusive debt collection and banking practices. Medical, student loan, school lunch, and other forms of debt disproportionally burden people experiencing poverty; we expect this new agency to offer important protections for our clients.

Health Care

We applaud the Governor for continuing to move toward universal coverage by making California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors regardless of immigration status, taking a whole person approach to Medi-Cal, and cost containment with an eye toward quality and equity. We look forward to working with the administration and legislature to advance a budget that ensures equitable access to affordable, comprehensive, quality health care for poor Californians.

The Governor’s proposal also delays suspension of benefits and eligibility, by extending certain Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extending Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and expanding Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, all until July 2023.

 

Gov. Newsom’s Vision For 2020 Homeless Services: $750 Million And The Use Of State Land

Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order Wednesday calling for state land, vacant state hospitals and travel trailers to be used to help with California’s homelessness crisis.

GUESTS:

Marisa Lagos, correspondent for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk and co-host of the weekly show and podcast, Political Breakdown; she tweets @mlagos

Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission; he tweets @abales

Anya Lawler, Western Center on Law and Poverty Housing Policy Advocate, she’s a member of the state’s homelessness task force, which advises solutions to address the crisis; she tweets @anyalawler

Listen here

California governor blames Trump for delayed homeless aid

California’s governor on Wednesday blamed the Trump administration for withholding data that is blocking the release of $650 million in state aid to combat homelessness.

California’s cities and counties have been waiting since June for the money approved by the state Legislature. But state law says the money can only be distributed based on federally approved homelessness counts for 2019.

Most California communities submitted their homeless counts months ago. But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has not yet approved them.

…“I think it worries all of us that t hey are somehow trying to politicize the numbers or use them for some political purpose,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Read more

Western Center’s 2019 Budget & Legislative Victories

16 Western Center bills were signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this year, marking huge wins for California. Of note are two renter protection bills, AB 1482, now one of the nation’s most expansive anti-rent gouging and just cause for eviction laws, and SB 329, which prohibits discrimination against housing voucher holders.

For health care, SB 464 will require perinatal health providers to undergo implicit bias training to address the maternal mortality rate for black women in California, which is 4-5 times higher than it is for white women. For financial security, SB 616 outlaws the ability of debt collectors to drain people’s bank accounts, leaving them without funds for necessary day-to-day expenses. These legislative victories are in addition to big wins achieved in the state budget earlier this year.

See the full suite of Western Center’s 2019 budget and legislative victories below!