LA County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Emergency Food Assistance to Eligible Households

Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.

CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food. When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.

Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles

Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic. These county delays make it harder for people — especially houseless people — to access food and take care of their health.

Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN)

The lawsuit — filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days. Counsel for Petitioners/Plaintiffs are PILP, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Western Center on Law & Poverty.

This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering. Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.

Alex Prieto, Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty

In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.

Lena Silver, Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA)

Learn more about the case:

Read the Press Release

Read the Petition Here

LAist – LA County Is Being Sued For Delaying Food Assistance To Poor Families
LAist – Morning Brief: Hunger In LA, A Warm Thanksgiving, And Turkey Trots

Los Angeles Daily News – Thousands wait too long for food because of LA County’s delayed CalFresh benefits, advocates allege

KFI AM 640 – Groups Take Legal Action Over Alleged CalFresh Benefit Delays

Telemundo 52 – Emprenden acciones legales por supuestos retrasos en los beneficios de CalFresh

PILP : November 22, 2021 5:41 pm : News and Updates
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Join our Team!

At a critical time for lower-income communities and people of color, PILP seeks an experienced attorney to join one of California’s premier legal services support centers. Our experienced team engages in systemic, anti-racist advocacy with local and regional legal services offices to advance racial and economic justice and equity. How to apply.

PILP : November 2, 2021 11:37 am : Spotlight
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Lawsuit Seeks to Stop the City of San Luis Obispo from Criminalizing Homelessness

On September 17, 2021, PILP, along with California Legal Rural Assistance and Law Office of Babak Naficy filed a lawsuit against the City of San Luis Obispo in federal court, seeking to stop the City’s practice of criminalizing homelessness, unlawfully breaking up homeless encampments during a global pandemic, and illegally seizing and destroying homeless individuals’ property in violation of their rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Plaintiffs include City residents who while experiencing homelessness during a pandemic have been subjected to the City’s unlawful and cruel practices and in the process, have suffered mental anguish, lost personal property — such as tents, tarps, blankets, life-saving medication, and documents —and have been denied the right to rest. Plaintiffs also include Hope’s Village of SLO, a local nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.

“How does the City expect us to get ahead if they keep taking our belongings?” – An Unhoused Individual

The City’s practice of breaking up encampments is particularly egregious because the City’s only homeless shelter, 40 Prado, is at best capable of housing only a fraction of the City’s homeless population, and is not accessible to many individuals with PTSD or others disabilities that make it impossible for them to stay at 40 Prado.

“We repeatedly engaged with the City’s representatives in order to reach an amicable resolution of these intractable problems. Unfortunately, the City is unwilling to agree to any substantive changes” said Frank Kopcinski , Directing Attorney of CRLA-SLO.

The lawsuit comes after the City repeatedly broke up homeless camps, destroyed homeless individuals’ property, and cited and arrested unhoused individuals, despite being capable of providing shelter to only a fraction of the City’s unhoused individuals. The City has continued to threaten and to harass homeless individuals, who have no alternative housing or shelter, apparently seeking only to remove them from sight within City limits.

“This is a human rights issue. We hope the lawsuit will stop the City’s practice of harassing, citing, and arresting people who are trying to sleep on public land.” – Becky Jorgeson, Hope’s Village SLO

Evicting unhoused individuals from encampments during the pandemic without ensuring that there is alternative housing to the displaced unhoused individuals violates the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for addressing homeless encampments during the Pandemic.
The City’s practices also constitute discrimination against individuals with disabilities in violation for federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Cal. Gov. Code section 11135 and other Federal anti-discrimination laws.

Read the Complaint here.
Read Plaintiffs’ Press Release here.
Read coverage from KCBX here.
Read coverage from KSBY here and view a video report from KSBY here.

PILP : September 23, 2021 4:00 pm : News and Updates
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Ninth Circuit Rejects Los Angeles Apartment Owners’ Challenge to LA’s COVID Eviction Moratorium

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal issued an August 25, 2021 opinion affirming the trial court’s rejection of a preliminary injunction motion by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to stop the COVID eviction moratorium enacted by the City of Los Angeles in March 2020. The Public Interest Law Project joined co-counsel Susman Godfrey LLP, Public Counsel, and Western Center on Law & Poverty to represent intervenors Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). Intervenors provided real life stories of tenants protected by the COVID eviction moratorium, and further legal argument on why the City’s moratorium is Constitutional. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion is the first federal appellate court to rule on the Contracts Clause as it relates to COVID eviction moratoria, and may be useful to deter further challenges on that basis for the moratoria enacted throughout the country.

Read the Court’s Opinion
Read more from WCLP
Read more from Public Counsel

ccastellanet : August 31, 2021 11:23 am : News and Updates
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Court Finds Clovis’s Current and Inadequate Zoning Does Not Comply with State Law.

Petitioners Desiree Martinez and Maria de Jesus Sanchez, represented by PILP and Central California Legal Services, sued the City of Clovis to force the City’s Housing Element to comply with state law. On April 30, 2021, the Fresno County Superior Court granted Petitioners’ request for writ of mandate, ordering the City of Clovis, an affluent suburb in Fresno County to zone for over 4,000 units of multi-family housing. Despite state law to the contrary, and a very significant need for affordable housing, Clovis refused to zone sites to accommodate multi-family development for well over a decade. Eventually the City’s lack of action resulted in the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) revoking its findings of compliance regarding the City’s 2015-2023 Housing Element. The City then scrambled to come up with a solution to provide capacity for high-density housing and adopted an overlay that allowed multi-family housing on single-family zoned sites. Despite statements by the City Council that this overlay was “voodoo zoning” and wouldn’t result in any multi-family housing, HCD found the overlay brought the City back into compliance with state law. In fact, the Overlay did not provide the minimum densities required by law on sites rezoned to accommodate the Regional Housing Need Allocation and Petitioners were able to overcome HCD’s presumption of validity. The City has 120 days to complete the rezoning.

Read the Order Here.

Fresno Bee, “Big win for those who want low-income housing in Clovis after judge rules city in violation,” May 7, 2021

PILP : May 10, 2021 11:16 am : News and Updates
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More Than $10 million Secured for Affordable Housing in San Mateo County

On April 15, 2021, the California Supreme Court declined the Department of Finance’s request to depublish the opinion in Legal Aid Society v. Department of Finance, 59 Cal. App. 5th 166 (2020). The opinion (also linked below) filed on December 28, 2020, found that over $10 million in the former Redwood City Redevelopment Agency’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund (LMIHF) that was required by contract to be used for affordable housing had been wrongfully determined unrestricted and swept from the former redevelopment agency’s LMIHF along with other unencumbered funds.

In 1990, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County negotiated changes to Redwood City’s housing element to benefit their clients and obtained a commitment from the Redwood City Redevelopment Agency for millions of dollars to be deposited in the LMIHF, over and above the Agency’s statutory requirement, exclusively for the construction, rehabilitation, or preservation of affordable housing. After all redevelopment agencies were dissolved, however, the Department of Finance found that the agreement was not an enforceable obligation and ordered that the funds deposited pursuant to the contract be disbursed to the taxing entities in San Mateo County despite the clear contractual requirements and critical lack of affordable housing in San Mateo County. LASSMC then filed this suit challenging DOF’s decision.

The Court of Appeals ordered the case remanded to the Sacramento County Superior Court which entered Judgment on April 9, 2021 in favor of LASSMC and required DOF to determine that the agreement is an enforceable obligation , as defined by the Dissolution Act, and that the funds are a Housing Asset available for the development of affordable housing.

Read the Opinion Here.

PILP : April 16, 2021 9:58 am : News and Updates
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From Atlanta to Oakland, Action Not Silence

We Rise with All to Condemn Anti-Asian Hate and Violence

The Public Interest Law Project stands in solidarity and defense of all Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and we condemn the recent violence against them and the racist rhetoric about the origins of COVID-19 propagated by people in power and incited by certain corporate media. Inheritors of a long and ongoing history of discrimination in the United States, Asian and Pacific Islander communities once again must face down the latest ravages of hate and violence. Read our full statement.

PILP : March 25, 2021 4:58 pm : News and Updates
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BLACK LIVES MATTER – Action Not Patience

Black Lives Matter. The suffering inflicted by COVID-19 falls disproportionately on black and brown people due to a much more sinister pandemic—the centuries long plague of systemic racism that killed Mr. Rayshard Brooks, Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breonna Taylor, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery and millions of other black persons — and inflicts indelible sorrow and persistent subjugation. Born from, spread and sustained by privileged white society, there is no vaccine, no antigen for racism and privilege. There is only acceptance of responsibility, active opposition and concession of ill-gotten power and resources by the perpetrators, beneficiaries, and complicit. Read our full statement here.

PILP : March 16, 2021 9:09 am : News and Updates
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Become PILP’s Next Director

We are looking for an attorney with management experience, expertise in housing, public benefits, or related public interest field, and an enthusiasm for our mission. The position combines direct involvement in PILP’s legal and policy advocacy with a leadership role in statewide systemic change. Learn More Here.

PILP : March 5, 2021 11:36 am : Spotlight
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PILP’s COVID-19 Response

PILP is continuing to work closely with advocates to protect the rights of low income people and communities across our state.

PILP : April 10, 2020 3:22 pm : News and Updates
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