“The case stems from two ordinances adopted by the Chico City Council in December 2020, which permitted law enforcement to issue citations and arrest people for remaining in public spaces after dark. The plaintiffs and their attorneys at the Western Center on Law & Poverty responded months later with a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of California.”
Anti-Homeless Law Put on Ice in California College Town
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) issued new guidance to counties intended to help CalWORKs families maintain income during the COVID crisis. With most welfare offices closed to the public and staff working from home, many counties are short staffed. At the same time, counties are facing unprecedented requests for assistance and are prioritizing the processing of new applications for assistance.
The CDSS guidance gives counties some breathing room in how they administer the welfare-to work program, and also ensures CalWORKs families do not suffer a loss of grant income due to the inability to meet welfare-to-work requirements. Additionally, the guidance clarifies for counties and community colleges that they are to continue paying wages for subsidized employment and for work study while families shelter at home.
Counties are being instructed that CalWORKs recipients who cannot complete their welfare-to-work assignments due to COVID-19 should be granted good cause for not participating. Good cause means that the recipient is excused from performing work activities and ensures that the family will not receive a sanction for failing to meet work requirements. This is important because a sanction reduces the amount of the grant a family receives, making it harder to pay bills. Counties are also allowed to provide “blanket” good cause to all recipients required to do welfare-to-work. We urge counties to adopt this policy because it is both humane and realistic given the order from the Governor to shelter-in-place.
The CDSS guidance goes a step further and instructs counties to begin the “cure” process for recipients who are already sanctioned or who were previously not in compliance with work requirements but not yet sanctioned. Curing means the recipient agrees to meet the work requirement, usually by performing the activity they failed to perform, by participating in a different activity than before. While counties are not authorized to provide “blanket” cures, counties are permitted to provide cure plans in which good cause is provided as the cure plan. Once this is agreed to by the recipient, the grant is to be restored to the full amount. Because many recipients have no way to sign the cure plan electronically, CDSS is allowing counties to attest to the agreement of the recipient as an alternative. In short, this procedure will restore CalWORKs grants to their full value for sanctioned households. As many as 40,000 households could be impacted by this.
Finally, the CDSS guidance clarifies that recipients who were receiving wages through county funded subsidized employment or through community college provided work study may continue to be paid wages even if the recipient can no longer work due to COVID-19. In the case of work study, colleges are permitted to pay back wages to the date when the campus closed. This is important since many CalWORKs families depend on income from employment to pay rent and provide food for their families.
We want to acknowledge the work of CDSS, which continues to work with advocates and counties in a spirit of cooperation to help mitigate harm caused by the COVID pandemic. There will be more updates as the state begins the process of implementing provisions in the federal stimulus package.
The administration and state and local governments have a hard job right now, and we are grateful for their work to make sure people in California are taken care of. It is our intention to continue working alongside agencies and staff to ensure that California’s approach to the crisis is as humane, safe, and sensible as possible.
Governor Newsom’s new Executive Order, issued last night, directs $150 million to cities, counties and continuums of care to provide shelter for unhoused people in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are to be used to build emergency shelter and lease hotels and motels.
We believe leasing existing, unoccupied hotels and motels is the single fastest way to move homeless individuals into housing. While we appreciate the Governor reducing regulatory barriers to providing emergency housing, we believe that in most cases, expanding existing emergency shelters will not be an immediate solution.
We urge counties, cities, and continuums of care to be mindful not to displace existing individuals and families already living in hotels or motels. The CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) has long utilized motel vouchers as a way to keep families experiencing poverty housed when they are evicted or fleeing an abuser. Many other low-income families reside in motels as well. These existing pipelines of assistance must be kept available as we expand housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. It is imperative that local governments communicate closely with county human service programs, advocates, and local residents to avoid displacing vulnerable families when seeking appropriate sites.
We are also calling on the Governor to allow CalWORKs HAP motel vouchers to be used beyond 16 days in a month, and to allow vouchers to be provided in consecutive months to keep families housed during the COVID crisis.