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Delays plague California’s rent assistance programs as March 31 deadline looms

“Those eviction protections will only be applicable for folks who were able to get their applications in prior to March 31,” said Lorraine Lopez of the Western Center on Law & Poverty. Lopez is urging the state to also extend the renter assistance program beyond March 31. She says many prospective applicants have been unable to access the program.”

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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.

 

 

Spring 2021 Federal and California COVID-19 Relief Actions

Between federal and state funding, Californians can expect help in different forms over the next few weeks, and likely beyond. Below you will find information about some of the money coming down for you or for programs you work with and/ or rely on.

 

DIRECT PAYMENTS, TAX CREDITS, CHILD CARE, & EMERGENCY FUNDS

  • The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, provides $1,400 direct payments, which will go out immediately to about 159 million households. Checks will be a maximum of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 per dependent.
    • Payments are based on your most recent tax return. Individuals who file taxes using an ITIN will not get a federal stimulus payment, but anyone filing with a Social Security Number will receive a payment.
    • Individuals earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income, heads of household with up to $112,500, and married couples filing jointly with up to $150,000 will get the full $1,400 per person.
    • The plan also includes $300 in bonus unemployment benefits until September 6th, and makes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for those with incomes under $150,000 per year.
  • The American Rescue Plan also increases SNAP food benefits by 15% through September, and allocates $1 billion for the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Pandemic Emergency Fund. California will receive $203 million in TANF emergency funds that can be used for payments to families for non-recurring costs like rental debt or to provide housing assistance.
  • California has a separate $600 direct stimulus payment program, which will go out to 5.7 million Californians once their taxes are filed. Eligibility for the state stimulus includes:
    • Those who qualified for the state Earned Income Tax Credit on their 2020 tax returns (usually those making less than $30,000, and some undocumented and mixed-status families).
    • Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) holders who are excluded from federal stimulus checks and have incomes below $75,000.
    • Households enrolled in CalWorks, SSI/SSP recipients, and Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) recipients.
    • ITIN taxpayers who qualify for the California Earned Income Tax Credit will receive a total of $1,200.
  • The American Rescue Plan raises the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults without children from $543 to $1,502.
  • The American Rescue Plan expands the child tax credit for one year. Previously, most families received up to $2000 in tax credits per child under age 17; under the new plan, most parents except the very highest earners will receive a $3600 payment for children 5 and under, and up to $3,000 for children between 6-17. This includes families without taxable income.
  • The American Rescue Plan temporarily increases the value of the child and dependent care tax credit, which currently covers 35% of care expenses up to $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more dependents.
    • Overall, the plan provides $39 billion for child care through:
      • $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
      • $24 billion for newly created child care stabilization grants.

HEALTH

  • The American Rescue Plan provides $0 premiums for people enrolled in Covered California earning less than 150% of the federal poverty level or who claim unemployment anytime during 2021. It provides additional premium support for people who earn more, and forgives excess premium support given in 2020 that people would normally have to pay back.
  • The American Rescue Plan covers more of the state’s Medi-Cal costs, like home and community based services, and a 100% federal match for COVID-19 vaccines given by Medi-Cal.
  • The plan also provides a state option to extend postpartum Medicaid for 12 months instead of 60 days. California currently does this only for people diagnosed with a mental health condition within the 60 day postpartum period.

HOUSING

  • California received $2.6 billion in federal rental relief from the COVID-19 package passed in December 2020; those funds became available on March 15, 2021.
    • Renters who make under 80% of an area’s median income are eligible for rental assistance under California’s SB 91. Landlords must apply for the assistance, and agree to waive 20% of rent owed between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 – the remaining 80% will be paid by government funds.
    • If a landlord refuses to participate, renters can still apply to have 25% of back rent paid.
    • Cities and counties may distribute rent relief funds differently.
  • The American Rescue Plan provides an additional $21.6 billion in emergency aid for renters with low-incomes who have lost income or are experiencing hardship from COVID-19 and at risk for eviction. The plan includes:
    • $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers to support those recently homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
    • $750 million for tribal housing needs.
    • $100 million for rural households living in USDA-financed properties.

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.