Food Justice News January 14, 2020
Can we make it a Happy New Year? Good and Bad News in the Fight Against Poverty
Happy New Year 2020! May it bring you plenty plenty, as I’ve been telling folks. But let’s take a look at what good news and potential bad news awaits in terms of the fight against poverty:
On the federal side, we are still facing the possible implementation of proposals going back up to a year and a half from the Trump administration that would impact immigrants and people receiving food assistance from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as CalFresh here.)
- Public Charge
- Work requirements in the SNAP program
- Disability Benefits
- California State Budget
- SSP Ignored Again
- Rent Control
Last week, a federal court (US Court of Appeals) upheld the injunction preventing the Trump administration from going forward with a plan to greatly expand “public charge” , a policy meaning immigrants can be kept from becoming legal permanent residents of the U.S. if the federal government thinks they will be too dependent on public benefits. Two other injunctions had been struck down, and Trump is going to continue appealing this decision. For now, the current rules remain in place. For more information and to keep updated see:
More on the story:
Work requirements in the SNAP program
Trump also wants to reinstate the unworkable work requirements on the SNAP program that would limit childless unemployed adults to three months of benefits unless working 20 hours per week. This rule would adversely impact anyone not working a regular schedule (including many in retail whose hours change weekly, plus those with temporary employment, ride-share workers who don’t make enough, people whose disability has not been properly diagnosed, people just out of prison having a hard time looking for work, and a host of others). The rule actually already exists but states are allowed to waive geographic areas or groups of people experiencing high unemployment. Trump’s proposal would severely curtail that wavier power. The new tighter rule is slated to go into effect in April, but a lawsuit is anticipated to stop it at least temporarily. The New York Times did a piece recently on how the rule affects people in West Virginia, where food pantries and soup kitchens became overwhelmed but the policy didn’t lead to higher employment:
Less publicized has been Trump’s attack on disability benefits, proposing new hurdles to force people to constantly prove their disability. Millions of new reviews would be conducted based on whether someone’s medical condition could possibly improve (as opposed to whether it would likely improve) and the new bureaucratic requirements could force thousands or hundreds of thousands off the rolls. This would exacerbate the homeless crisis even further here in Southern California:
California State Budget
At the state level, Governor Newsom’s new budget announced last Friday has a lot of good things in it, but $21 billion of the state’s surplus is still sequestered in a “rainy day fund” , while 20% of the wealthiest state in the U.S. is still in poverty. On the plus side the Governor is expanding the state’s Earned Income Credit program to an additional million participants, and the Young Child Tax Credit will provide $1,000 payment for each child under 6 years old for low income families who show any earnings whatsoever. More information on the new tax credits including outreach materials are available at:
SSP Ignored Again
Seniors and disabled persons are not helped in the Governor’s budget as there is once again no increase in the State Supplemental Payment for the 1.3 million SSI recipients in California. These individuals and families often are homeless or live at the very edge of homelessness, and while they can now at least access CalFresh due to changes implemented last year, they are in dire need of assistance to maintain housing.
The Governor said recently that he is in fact the state’s homeless czar (stating “You want to know who’s the homeless czar? I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.” maybe paraphrasing Napoleon Bonaparte’s statement that “l’etat, c’est moi”) and has embarked on a weeklong road trip around the state to see how homeless services are being implemented (or not). Newsom has offered up 100 trailers (there are 150,000 homeless people in the state) and has also issued an executive order to identify state property that can be used for housing the homeless. He’s also included $650 million in the state budget for localities to use for homeless services:
the Governor’s Task Force on Homelessness has called for a legally enforceable mandate that would put the onus on cities and counties to figure out a way to house the homeless, or else. Cities could be sued if they did not do something about homelessness.
At the local level, homelessness is at the center of heated debates, with compassionate advocates standing up to the persistent NIMBYism that pervades even California’s stereotypically liberal communities. There was controversy at Echo Park, where councilmember O’Farrell denied ordering a sweep to remove the homeless as advocates rallied to defend people who have nowhere else to go.
Lancaster recently postponed a vote on a proposal that would sharply restrict how and where the homeless could be fed by charitable groups. The backers of this proposal are taking advantage of the state’s AB 2178 law, passed by nearly every Democrat, a law which we warned would be used as a weapon to criminalize the homeless in spite of the insistence of state officials and their local supporters that it was a “public health” issue.
Schemes to “evacuate” the homeless:
An obsession reigns over moving homeless people “out of sight” as though the main problem is seeing homeless people, not the fact that they are suffering, themselves. A software developer has proposed building a city essentially in the middle of nowhere in California’s rural areas and evacuating all 150,000 homeless to that location.
While this person may not have learned about (or saw anything wrong with) America’s internment camps for the Japanese during World War 2, local governments in California are becoming desperate enough to find these “warehousing” solutions more attractive. And, the Trump administration seems eager to make the whole situation into a political game and would love nothing better than to humiliate California by imposing a draconian solution to the crisis especially during an election year.
Pete White of the LA Community Action Network commented on this scheme: “The last thing you’re going to do is carry your butt out to some remote area without any services, and without any of the networks that have kept you somewhat together. Unless you’re talking about mandatory evacuations—and that’s what I’m calling them, evacuations—people aren’t leaving their communities.”
The idea of having cities be required to provide enough beds for the homeless could in fact backfire and result in “shelter or jail” laws that have taken shape in some places in the U.S., where the city, having met its legal obligation of providing a number of beds (that number decided by….who?), can then tell homeless people that they must either go to the shelter or be put in jail.
The state’s new Rent Control law is now in effect, as of January 1, and we can only hope that this will actually alleviate the crisis to some degree. Tenants Together has compiled a handbook on the new law and how to determine if you’re covered and how to get your rent rolled back if it was illegally increased: