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CA must stop forcing elders & people with disabilities to pay more for health care than everyone else

$600 a month. Imagine living on that in an expensive state like California. That’s exactly what the state requires older adults and people with disabilities to do in exchange for health care through Medi-Cal. This year, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom must change that. Health care is one of the most expensive basic needs in our society — any commitment by state leaders to address inequality must include health care.

AB 1900 by Assembly member Arambula and co-author Assembly member Wood, which Western Center is co-sponsoring with Justice in Aging, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Disability Rights California, Senior & Disability Action, and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, will address the problem by increasing the amount of monthly income older adults and people with disabilities can keep for basic needs.

Currently, elders and people with disabilities with incomes below $1,564 a month qualify for free Medi-Cal. But low-income older adults and people with disabilities who are just a $1 over the limit are required to pay over $900 of their monthly income as a share-of-cost.

The share-of-cost works like a health insurance deductible, but resets on a monthly basis. This Medi-Cal program establishes a monthly amount that older adults and people with disabilities are allowed to keep to meet their basic needs, called the maintenance need income level. The rest of their income must go toward health care expenses. The maintenance need income level of $600 hasn’t been changed since 1989, even though it is nearly impossible for anyone in California to live on $600 a month now.

By increasing the amount of monthly income older adults and people with disabilities can keep for their basic needs — up to 138% of the federal poverty level (the Medi-Cal income level for nearly all adults), AB 1900 ensures that older adults and people with disabilities don’t have to wait another 30+ years for an adjustment since the federal poverty level is updated every year.

Most people with low incomes receive their health care for free or pay up to 8.5% of their income on health care coverage. It is unfair that older adults and people with disabilities are the only population forced to pay over 60% of their income to obtain essential health care. The current policy forces aging adults, people with disabilities and their families to make impossible choices between health care, paying rent, and affording food. When people cannot access needed Medi-Cal services they often end up hospitalized or institutionalized, or forced to rely on already stretched family members to provide unpaid care.

Ten other states have higher maintenance need income levels than California. It’s time to ditch the deductible and lead the nation in health care affordability. State leaders must fund AB 1900 in this year’s state budget.



Commentary: Revised budget puts older Californians, communities at risk

No one expected good news when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the May Revision of the California budget. As the COVID-19 pandemic obliterates plans and economies, there was no expectation that California’s budget would go unscathed. However, we never predicted the biggest blow would go to California’s older adults.


How Newsom budget yanks back Medi-Cal health care gains for low-income residents

“The gains we had made have been cut from people when they were still recovering from the previous recession,” said Linda Nguy with Western Center on Law and Poverty. “To have them bear that burden once more is devastating.”

Newsom’s proposed budget especially lets down seniors, Nguy said.”

Bay Area low-income seniors struggle to access food during coronavirus

“A big part of the anti-hunger emergency food safety net traditionally has been run by people who are older,” said Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “All the programs, church pantries, soup kitchens are staffed by volunteers who are now being told to stay home. There is a real crumbling of the natural infrastructure of California anti-hunger assistance programs.”

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Overlooked SSI recipients facing homelessness & poverty to testify at Capitol to seek relief


People with disabilities and older adults in California face poverty due to
recession-era cuts to bolster Rainy Day fund

Sacramento — Today, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and advocates head to the State Capitol to meet with legislators and share first-hand testimony about living on SSI at the State Assembly Budget Hearing. The coalition — which includes more than 200 organizations — centers individuals living on SSI in accordance with the disability rights motto “nothing about us without us.”

Today’s delegation was significantly reduced in response to COVID-19 and CDPH’s guidance, as SSI recipients are older adults and/or people living with disabilities — those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We know there is no substitute for people sharing their first-hand experience of trying to live a healthy and dignified lifestyle on SSI, but we must protect our vulnerable community members. As SSI champions, we will do our best to echo the voices of those who are able to make the trek to Sacramento,” said Andrew Cheyne, director of government affairs for the California Association of Food Banks, a CA4SSI member. “We must restore the recession-era cuts to the state portion of the SSP grant. It is unfair and unjust to balance the budget on the backs of older adults and people with disabilities.”

It is estimated by the Department of Social Services that SSI / SSP grant amounts will be a maximum of $950 beginning January 1, 2020. The 2020 federal poverty level for a single individual is estimated to be $1,056 a month. California has one of the highest rates of senior poverty in the country – almost 50% of people 65 and older have incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty level.

“Since the 2009 recession, California has kept our SSI payments at an amount that is below the federal poverty level. It’s clear that these dangerously low grant payments are effecting our state’s ability to manage homelessness and poverty,” said Senator Melissa Hurtado. “With Homelessness being one of the top issues that our state faces today, the legislature has an opportunity to restore these dangerous cuts by helping to cover the cost of rent to help low‑income individuals achieve and maintain self‑sufficiency.”

The three key asks of the Coalition include:

  • Support an approximately $100 a month budget augmentation to bring SSI grants to 100% of the federal poverty level for a single recipient.
  • Re-establish the statutory cost of living adjustment for the State Supplemental Payment (SSP) portion of the grant on January 1, 2020.
  • Ensure that recipients of the SNB and the TNB programs are provided the same legal protections that SNAP recipients are currently provided, including protections around churn and replacement benefits during disaster.

“In the time since cuts were made in 2009, over $11 billion has been taken from SSI recipients and put toward the Rainy Day fund and budget surplus,” said Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The state needs to recognize that for people on SSI, rainy days are here now, and with the current housing crisis, restored grant amounts could mean the difference between staying housed and being priced out for recipients across California.”

“It has been a decade since the drastic cuts were made to the SSI/SSP grants. It is time that persons with disabilities and older adults have those cuts restored to narrow this shameful poverty gap left by the cuts. California needs to protect its most financially distressed citizens. We can afford it, and it is the right thing to do,” says Andrew Imperato, executive director at Disability Rights California.


Californians for SSI (CA4SSI) is a statewide coalition of over 200 organizations across the aging, disability rights, housing and homeless, anti-hunger, and anti-poverty sectors. We see the suffering that our most vulnerable residents are facing every day and we seek to ensure that they receive adequate support to live their lives in dignity. For a full list of coalition members, go to:


Courtney McKinney, Western Center on Law & Poverty: cmckinney[at]



College students, seniors and immigrants miss out on food stamps. Here’s why.

A college student in Fresno who struggles with hunger has applied for food stamps three times. Another student, who is homeless in Sacramento, has applied twice. Each time, they were denied.

A 61-year-old in-home caretaker in Oakland was cut off from food stamps last year when her paperwork got lost. Out of work, she can’t afford groceries.

…”On a human level, what that means is that we continue to allow Californians to go without food,” said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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