News Update May 15, 2015

To All Those Interested in Food and Justice...

A (usually) weekly update on food issues, promoting access to sufficient, affordable, healthy food ---with a focus on campaigns you can become active in!

Governor’s May Revise Has Good News and Bad News on Anti Poverty Measures

The Governor released his May Budget Revision on Thursday May 14. This is the revised budget based on a more clear picture of revenue coming to the state from the taxes we have to pay by April 15. There is still projected to be a surplus of over $4 billion for the state budget. Two considerations take priority in how, or whether, the extra money is spent:

  • 1. Prop 98, which requires that in surplus years , most of the surplus goes to education
  • 2. Prop 2, the Governor’s “rainy day fund” (such irony that we got rare LA Rain on the day budget was released!) The Goverrnor in his budget revise is socking away another 1.2 billion to the fund. This brings the Rainy Day fund up to over 3 billion.

SSI/SSP Recipients in Poverty Get No Help in Budget Revise: The Governor’s budget revise, like his previous January budget, includes no additional money for SSI/SSP recipients to compensate for the many cuts and cost of living freezes over the last decade. There is activity in the legislature to do so, and we’ll need to make a strong push to negotiate to include funding in the final budget released by June 15. Assemblymember Cheryl Brown has introduced AB 474, which would raise single SSI/SSP recipients’ monthly income by $200 and greatly increase food security and stable housing for disabled and senior Californians struggling on the current $889 SSI/SSP grant. The budget proposal for that increase received favorable attention from Republicans as well as Democrats. The cost of these measures has put the AB 474 bill in “suspense” meaning it will likely be stuck until next year; however, money could still be included for an SSI/SSP increase by the time the final budget is released (the deadline is June 15.) .

Stay tuned for an alert to contact our legislative leaders and Governor to urge them to put funding to lift SSI/SSP recipients out of poverty (early next week.)

Our colleague Robert Coplin of Sacramento’s DOGFITE advocacy group, comprised of seniors and people with disabilities, had a choice quote about the budget revise in this NY Times article:

Brown's Budget Boosts Spending for Schools, Adds Tax Credit

Budget Revision Neglects Social Welfare

While there is no raise for SSI/SSP recipients beyond the minimum required on the Federal side, take a look at this:

Pay raises for Gov. Jerry Brown, state legislators approved by panel

Minimum Wage Actions On The Street and At LA City Council


It’s Time to Raise GR

A comment on the Rainy Day Fund: The Rainy Day fund can be tapped into (or, funds can be diverted from being deposited into it) in case of an emergency, which is not clearly defined. The fact of 1.4 million SSI recipients living under poverty level should be considered an emergency. Senior citizens having to scrounge through garbage cans for food should be considered an emergency. A man having to restrict his diet to one sandwich every other day due to low income should be considered an emergency. Diabetic SSI recipients who must choose between a slow death from poor food or certain death from not being able to make co pays on medication, should be considered an emergency. A significant allocation could be made to raising the level of the State Supplemental Payment (SSP) portion of the SSI grant, and still leave billions in the Rainy Day Fund.

More about the “Rainy Day Fund” and how it can impact budget decisions can be found in a January article from the Sacramento Bee:
Sac Bee Article on Rainy Day Funds Jan. 2015

and in this analysis:
Ballotpedia Article on Rainy Day Fund

CalWORKs: There isn’t any funding in the Governor’s original budget nor in the Budget Revise for CalWORKs, including funding to repeal the state’s Maximum Family Grant. The Maximum Family Grant rule means that if a family has a child during the time they’re getting public assistance, that family won’t get any additional money to compensate for that extra child. It’s little known that the child born under circumstances in fact cannot be assisted with public assistance for their entire lifetime, including if and when they themselves become a parent in need.

The idea that families getting CalWORKs assistance were having extra children to get more money has been proven to be an anecdotal myth: the extra $100 or so a month would hardly cover the cost of raising an extra child, and at any rate CalWORKs assistance is limited to 48 months, and is virtually impossible to live on exclusive of any part time jobs. The result of this “welfare reform”, now in its 19th year, has been an increase in family homelessness and people working low wage jobs, usually bouncing on and off CalWORKs over several years.

Senator Holly Mitchell has for years championed revocation of this rule, with this year’s bill SB 23 in play currently.

State Earned Income Credit: The Governor is putting in a State Earned Income Tax Credit ( a junior version of the Federal one) which will help estimated 825,000 families with an average of $460-something a year (although some families would receive up to $2,00 plus) . The NY Times explains:

“Responding to criticism that he hasn't done enough to help the poor, Brown proposed a $380 million earned income tax credit that his administration said would help as many as 825,000 families and up to 2 million Californians. The average tax credit would be $460 a year with a maximum credit of $2,653 for families with three or more children, to complement the federal tax credit program. It would be available to individuals with incomes of less than $6,580, or up to $13,870 for families with three or more dependents.”

“The income tax credit was a hit with Republican lawmakers. Democrats and advocates for the poor also welcomed the tax credit but said it does nothing to help seniors, people with disabilities, immigrants who lack access to health care, and parents unable to work because they can't afford child care.”

Traffic Ticket Amnesty: The Governor is also establishing an amnesty program for people with past due court ordered debt from traffic infractions (some say based on his personal experience of getting ticketed for parking at a yellow curb), where the debt can be reduced by 50% and the admin fees reduced from $300 to $50, and drivers license re-instated. This amnesty program is listed as one of his anti-poverty measures. Although it will help people in poverty, as well as anyone else of any income level who didn’t pay the fine, it’s hardly a New Deal type program to deal with the 23% of Californians that even his budget admits, are under the Supplemental Poverty level (which is the federal poverty line but takes into account the cost of living in California.)

Emergency Food under Drought Relief: Under the Drought Relief budget item, the Governor is including $47.3 million for food assistance for farmworkers and others of low income left without jobs due to the drought. This is the only specific food expenditure actually designated in the Budget Revise.

Nutrition Incentives Not Included, But Should Be: Small scale family farmers suffering from the drought would benefit, along with thousands of low income Californians, from a $5 million expenditure for Nutrition Incentives. Nutrition Incentives are programs such as Market Match, now at over 250 farmers markets statewide, that add bonus dollars to purchases made for fruits and vegetables by people using CalFresh (food stamp) benefits. This $5 million would be used as a “match” for an additional $5 million in federal funding that can go to Nutrition Incentives. This would be $10 million to substantially increase the reach of the program here in California.

Help Call for Nutrition Incentives: The Governor did not include $5 million in his original budget or in the revise for Nutrition Incentives. But we can strongly urge him and the state legislative leadership to put those funds in the budget. A website has been set up for you to be able to send a letter to do exactly that with a few simple clicks and entering your information. Roots of Change is leading the statewide effort for funding Nutrition Incentives. Here’s the site; you can get started by entering your zip code where you see the space for it:

Support Nutrition Incentives in California Budget!

It’s Time to Raise GR

The LA Times notes in an editorial that LA County’s program of last resort, General Relief at $221 a month, is in need of serious reform and of course, a boost in funds:

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