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Western Center Roundup – October 2023


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

2023 Legislative Successes

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

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

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

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

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

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

New EBT Card Protection Available

A new application (for phones) is now available that can help you protect your EBT cash and food benefits. The EBT website now also has these additional security measures. The electronic thefts of benefits has dramatically increased, and these different options can help you keep your benefits safe.

 

The mobile phone application is called “ebtEDGE.” You can install that application on your phone through GooglePlay or the iStore. For computer and tablet users, you can access the card functions through the EBT cardholder portal at this link.

 

People with existing cardholder accounts set up on the website portal will have their information carried over to the new system. The first time you log in, however, you will be asked to set up challenge questions and answers for increased security. People first setting up their website accounts will also need to set up those questions/answers.

 

If you get a message that the username/password is ‘invalid’ OR you want to register for the first follow the instructions on the login page of the application.

 

EBT Customer Service will be available to help you: · Customer Service Email: [email protected]

· Toll-Free Customer Service Number* 877-328-9677

*also found on the back of EBT card

 

EbtEDGE will allow you to easily change your PIN – even turning it off until you want to use the card, so people cannot electronically steal your card and PIN information. You can also stop the card from being used out of your county or state, and other security measures. Click here to see all the new ways you can protect your benefits.

CalFresh and other public aid in Sacramento County move to new system

If you get help from Sacramento County to pay for food, health care or housing — and almost half of all residents receive some kind of public assistance — you likely have visited MyBenefits CalWIN to apply for, renew or manage your benefits.

Well, that access point changes this week.

On Monday, the MyBenefits CalWIN site, mybenefitscalwin.org, began redirecting thousands of users to a brand new online portal, BenefitsCAL.com, where they will be directed to create new accounts and link to the personal information already in their files.

“We do have a large percentage of our customers who utilize our online services with our current system,” said Roselee Ramirez, manager of the human services division in the county’s Department of Human Assistance.

Ramirez said the team has been meeting with community-based organizations and advocates to encourage users to create new accounts.

“We want to make sure all our customers are aware of that, so we can help them with getting up on the new online system,” Ramirez said.

BenefitsCal has gone through several years of testing and includes updates that take advantage of 21st century technology, like using cell phones to scan and upload documents, said consumer advocate David Kane of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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Assisting Vulnerable Populations: How providing medical records and completing medical certification forms can be life changing.

“Helen Tran, Rutzick’s colleague and an attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, was part of a team that advocated for Assembly Bill (AB) 2520, effective January 1, 2021, which was the bill that created this requirement for healthcare providers to provide a copy of a patient’s medical records at no charge to an employee of a nonprofit legal services entity that represents a patient, such as Inner City Law Center.”

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No Money, No Lawyer, No Justice

“Usually people on the other end of overpayment or overissuance claims don’t have attorneys to help, said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “That’s really appalling, because a public benefits fraud case can be enough to kick you out of the country if you’re an immigrant; they could go to jail; they could lose their kids if they go into Child Protective Services.” When people have lawyers, by contrast, “one out of two times” they can prove there was no overpayment at all.”

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Newsom vetoed two bills aimed at reforming child support payback system

Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed two child support reform bills that anti-poverty advocates had hoped would give a boost to low-income families in California.

The bills would have sent more child support money to families receiving public benefits and eliminated interest on overdue child support payments owed to the government. Supporters had argued that the legislation would provide more resources to low-income families disproportionately affected by the existing policies

…Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which co-sponsored the bills, said she was disappointed the legislation did not pass.

“The current system is unjust and it needs to change,” she said. “The money comes with great sacrifice from people who are low-income.”

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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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Advocacy groups file suit to block Trump’s new ‘public charge’ immigration rule

Several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Friday to block the Trump administration’s recently finalized “public charge” rule, which would make it harder for legal immigrants to stay in the country.

The National Immigration Law Center, Western Center on Law and Poverty, National Health Law Program and Asian Americans Advancing Justice filed the complaint in a California federal court.

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PRESS RELEASE – Western Center & Partners File Lawsuit to Stop Trump Administration “Public Charge” Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trump “Public Charge” Regulation Unlawful, Lawsuit Claims

Nonprofits aim to block policy targeting millions of families of color

 

SAN FRANCISCO — Nonprofits serving immigrant communities and advocates for racial equity, health, children, farmworkers, and working families today filed suit to block implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation, which threatens millions of immigrant families — disproportionally families of color. La Clínica de la Raza et al. v. Trump et al., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks the court to declare the regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unlawful and unconstitutional. DHS finalized the regulation on August 14, 2019.

“The public charge regulation is an attack on the culturally diverse families we serve, threatening their health and their very lives,” said Jane Garcia, chief executive officer of La Clínica de La Raza. “We will stand with our patients and their families and fight this.”

In addition to La Clínica de la Raza, the suit was brought by African Communities Together, the California Primary Care Association, the Central American Resource Center, the Council on American Islamic Relations – California, Farmworker Justice, the Korean Resource Center, the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and Maternal and Child Health Access. The plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the National Health Law Program and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The complaint argues that the regulation was motivated by racial bias against nonwhite immigrants and asks the court to strike it down as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As indicators of a motivating racial animus, the complaint cites the administration’s acknowledgement that the policy will have a disparate impact on families of color, President Donald Trump’s own racist statements, and his administration’s other racially-biased policies.

“Donald Trump pushed to execute innocent Black men wrongly accused of murder. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville ‘very fine people.’ He slurred Black immigrants from Haiti and Nigeria. And he froze or cancelled protected status for immigrants from majority-Black countries. Donald Trump’s words and his actions have consistently targeted Black families,” said Amaha Kassa, founder and executive director of African Communities Together. “When Ken Cuccinelli, the man who signed this regulation, goes on the radio and says ‘not everyone has the right to be an American,’ Black families know exactly who he’s talking about.”

“This rule change is a direct attack on communities of color and their families, and furthers this administration’s desire to make this country work primarily for the wealthy and white. Our immigration system cannot be based on the racial animosities of this administration, or whether or not people are wealthy,” said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“This expansion of the rule is part and parcel of the administration’s crusade to instill fear in immigrant communities of color,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA). “By including criteria such as English language proficiency as a negative factor for obtaining permanent residency, the administration is telling immigrants that they are not welcome here. This is unacceptable. Xenophobia has no place in our country, let alone our laws.”

Plaintiffs also assert that the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious. The complaint also argues that the regulation is invalid because the official who approved its publication, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, was appointed in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

More than 260,000 public comments were submitted on the draft regulation last fall, the vast majority in opposition. The regulation targets programs that serve whole families — Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Section 8 housing assistance — meaning its impact will extend well beyond immigrants directly affected. As a result, experts warn, the regulation will result in increases in hunger, unmet health and housing needs, and poverty. Because affected immigrants are overwhelmingly immigrants of color, the rule is also expected to widen racial disparities. Independent analysts estimate that the regulation threatens millions of people. A significant portion of those threatened by the regulation were born in the U.S., and nearly a third of those are children.

“This rule is a scare tactic designed to create fear and confusion in immigrant communities. The devastating effects will reach even further than the text of the rule itself, as immigrants and their families forgo vital food, housing, and health care services,” said Jane Perkins, legal director at the National Health Law Program.

La Clínica de la Raza and other plaintiffs are health care providers and other nonprofit organizations that seek to protect access to health care, nutrition, housing, and other government benefits for immigrants of color, regardless of their immigration status or financial means. The complaint asserts that the public charge regulation threatens their missions and the communities they serve.

“If the changes made to public charge are implemented, this will cause irrevocable damage to our communities. Deterring anyone from seeking public services that help them survive and support their families is inhumane,” said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association. “We have an obligation to our patients and our communities to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of immigration status, which is why we are suing to stop the implementation of this rule.”

“The Trump administration has deliberately designed this policy to target families of color, which is part of its overall blueprint to change the face of what we look like as a nation and who is considered worthy of being an American. It threatens immigrants of color with exclusion and Americans of color with deprivation or family separation. And it aims to deny working-class immigrants of color the ability to thrive in the land of opportunity,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We will not stand for it. We’re fighting back against this racist policy, and we’re going to win the fight to protect immigrant families.”

A recording the conference call regarding this filing is available at https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/public-charge-lawsuit-2019-08-16.mp3.

CONTACT

National Immigration Law Center: Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, [email protected]

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Courtney McKinney, 214-395-2755, [email protected]

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles: Alison Vu, [email protected]

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Western Center Opposes President’s Budget That Would Worsen Hunger, Health, and the Economy in California

Western Center and fellow anti-hunger leaders in California have issued a statement in opposition to President Trump’s FY 2020 budget, which would worsen hunger, health, and the economy in California and throughout the U.S.

The President released his budget, proposing $220 billion in deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — CalFresh in California) over the next 10 years. The budget plan also doubled down on deeply flawed proposals to time limit benefits across several core safety net programs including SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid and Rental Assistance that would worsen hunger, health, and poverty for everyday Californians.

SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, reaching nearly 40 million low-income Americans, including approximately 4 million Californians. Over the next 10 years, the budget blueprint outlines a harsh vision for our country that would increase hunger and hardship, including several proposals that would undermine the strength, efficiency, and reach of the SNAP program we know today.

Read the full statement here.