The Preliminary Injunction Authorizes Federal Judge to Oversee County Compliance
SAN FRANCISCO–On January 15, 2016 U.S. District Court Judge James Donato granted a preliminary injunction motion on behalf of food stamp recipients in Alameda County. The injunction will require Alameda County to adhere to strict timelines established under federal and state law for processing CalFresh applications and awarding benefits to residents entitled to receive food stamps.
If the County fails to meet the processing timelines, Alameda County will be required to implement corrective measures to ensure compliance.
“This is a complete victory for our clients” — Pillsbury partner Tom Loran
The injunction stemmed from a class action filed on September 29, 2015 alleging that Alameda County has been chronically out of compliance with those legally mandated deadlines and has persistently ranked last out of 58 California counties in timely processing these applications. Filed in U.S. District Court, the class action also alleged that the County refused to take the steps needed to remedy those chronic delays. For more information about this lawsuit and to read the original complaint click here.
“This is a complete victory for our clients” said Tom Loran, a partner at Pillsbury who along with PILP and Western Center on Law & Poverty represent the Plaintiffs in this federal class action lawsuit.
Stephanie Haffner of Western Center on Law & Poverty added, “When people reach the point of applying for food assistance, it is all too often a crisis. The injunction means now the county will act to prevent needless hunger.”
PILP Staff Attorney Lauren Hansen said, “During the last 12 months, an average of 725 needy households per month did not receive a timely determination of their applications for food stamps benefits. People struggled while they waited— some ate expired food, others went hungry. This order will go a long way toward preventing such suffering.”
Under the order, the Alameda County Social Services Agency must file monthly compliance reports with the judge and plaintiffs’ attorneys showing that it is processing applications on time. Federal law requires that food stamp applications be processed within 30 days. Expedited benefits must be paid in three days to eligible applicants.
Western Center on Law & Poverty represents low-income Californians through litigation, legislative advocacy and administrative advocacy in core poverty issues of housing, healthcare, basic income support and access to justice.
From housing to voting rights, and nearly every issue in between, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP handles high-impact pro bono matters and provides basic legal services to the poor.
Board of Supervisors adopts regulations to comply with state mandate.
Marysville, CA – The Board of Supervisors adopted new, lawful General Assistance (GA) regulations on December 15, 2015. The County had been operating its program by old Board resolutions that were out of date, illegal in a number of respects, and not applied uniformly. This historic event moved the County toward compliance with its legal obligation to provide the County’s neediest residents with the last resort assistance to which they are entitled. Very few extremely low income county residents, despite very high poverty and unemployment rates, had been receiving aid.
GA is a program mandated by state law. It requires counties to provide about $330 dollars per month to severely impoverished lawful residents who have nowhere else to turn. Recipients often are homeless, most are unemployed and unemployable. Many recipients have disabilities or are veterans or both. A significant number are survivors of domestic violence, fleeing their abusers. GA allows these individuals to find modest shelter, such as a shared room, and to begin to become self-sufficient.
Before adoption of the new regulations, Yuba County imposed eligibility hurdles that were so extensive that very few people could navigate the application process. California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) assisted one client reapply for benefits after she was denied, only to be rejected a second time. “I’ve been to law school and am pretty good at filling out forms, but I couldn’t even fill out the GA application forms to the exacting standards used by the County,” said CRLA Directing Attorney Laura Clauson Ferree.
“My client was desperate and facing homelessness; even this small amount, only $11 dollars a day, can be critical,” said Ms. Ferree. Multiple clients asked CRLA for help after being rejected for benefits. The County asked them for duplicative and unnecessary verifications, and despite being clearly eligible, their applications had been denied.
“Sadly, Yuba County is not an outlier in its operation of its GA program” said Lauren Hansen, a staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Project (PILP). “Our ongoing Rural General Assistance Project, (Rural GAP) is dedicated to improving access to GA benefits in rural counties that have small or nonexistent GA programs, probably due to simple unawareness of the law.”
“We’re very pleased that the County has listened to us and worked to ensure the County complies with state law by providing a small safety net for its most vulnerable residents,” said Ms. Ferree. Ms. Hansen agreed, “the new regulations are a huge improvement.”
About California Rural Legal Assistance:
Founded in 1966, CRLA’s mission is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside the most exploited communities of our society. CRLA provides legal services to over 43,000 low-income people annually.
Visit www.crla.org for more information
The Los Angeles County Superior Court struck down the City of Huntington Beach’s efforts to block affordable housing. An amendment to the Beach-Edinger Corridor Specific Plan (BECSP), adopted on May 4, 2015, would have blocked the development of affordable housing at the City’s primary location for residential development, the Beach-Edinger Corridor.
“This ruling means that affordable housing is once again possible in Huntington Beach.”
– Cesar Covarrubias, Executive Director of the Kennedy Commission.
Two formerly homeless veterans and the Kennedy Commission (a non-profit dedicated to advocating for affordable housing in Orange County), represented by the Public Interest Law project, along with co-counsel Public Law Center and Jones Day, filed a petition challenging the amendment on July 31, 2015. On November 12, 2015, the Court granted petitioners’ request and declared the amendment void. The Court Ruling is available here.
“This ruling means that affordable housing is once again possible in Huntington Beach,” said Cesar Covarrubias, Executive Director of the Kennedy Commission. “Huntington Beach faces a worsening housing crisis, as one-third to one-half of all residents spend an unaffordable share of their income on housing costs. We look forward to working with developers and the City to achieve affordable housing within Huntington Beach.”
Superior Court holds settlement agreement entered after redevelopment dissolution enforceable; Department of Finance ordered to authorize payments to displaced residents
Limon v DOF
Residents of a Garden Grove mobile home parked sued for replacement housing and relocation after the City’s redevelopment agency displaced them. After redevelopment dissolution, the successor agency settled residents’ claims by agreeing to pay additional relocation, provide replacement housing and pay attorneys’ fees, but the Department of Finance (DOF) denied payments required by the settlement.
Public Counsel, the Public Interest Law Project and Norton Rose Fulbright, LLC, brought suit against DOF on the residents behalf. In June 2015 the Sacramento Superior Court found that the settlement is an enforceable obligation and issued a writ of mandate directing DOF to approve payments. DOF did not appeal.
The Ruling is available here.
September 29, 2015 – PILP, along with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, as pro bono counsel and Western Center on Law & Poverty have filed a federal class action lawsuit against Alameda County, asking the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, and ordering the defendants to approve or deny CalFresh applications within 30 days, and approve or deny expedited benefits within 3 days, as required by federal and state law.
Plaintiff Jarvis Johnson implored, “I wouldn’t ask for help unless I really needed it, and I need it now.”
Alameda County and the County Social Services Agency must be held accountable, Thomas Loran of Pillsbury stated.
The class action complaint, notes that federal and state laws require that applications for federally funded food stamps (known in California as CalFresh) be processed, and a decision rendered to an applicant, within 30 days. In California, the state has three calendar days In expedited cases.
Decision Removes Legal Uncertainty around Local Power to Require Mixed-Income Housing
July 1, 2015 – The California Supreme Court unanimously and without qualification upheld San Jose’s 15% inclusionary housing ordinance, freeing communities to adopt mixed-income housing ordinances to address critical shortages of affordable housing. PILP, the Silicon Valley Law Foundation and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati represented intervening low income tenants and affordable housing groups assisting San Jose in defending the constitutional attack on its inclusionary zoning law by the California Building Industry Association. See California Building Industry Assn. v. City of San Jose, 61 Cal.4th 435 (2015). For more info contact Michael Rawson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Melissa Morris (email@example.com).
CBIA contended the law lacked sufficient justification and, therefore, constituted an unconstitutional “exaction” resulting in a taking of property. The Court ruled that the need for affordable housing and the goal to increase diversity of housing opportunity throughout the city provided ample justification for the adoption of the inclusionary requirement. Inclusionary laws, the Court said, come within the community’s “broad authority, under its general police power, to regulate the development and use of real property within its jurisdiction to promote the public welfare” of the community or the region. Approximately 170 California communities have inclusionary requirements.
- Inclusionary Requirement Are Land Use Regulations, not “Exactions.” Inclusionary zoning is not an exaction because it does not require a conveyance of a property interest. Inclusionary housing ordinances are land use regulations that merely restrict the use of property by limiting the price of some units.
- Building Industry Ass’n v. City of Patterson Disapproved. The Court rejected CBIA’s contention that under Patterson and San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco inclusionary housing requirements or in lieu fees are justified only if the need for affordable housing “was caused by or attributed to” the impact of new housing development.
- Inclusionary Ordinances Are Valid if they are Reasonably Related to Legitimate Public Purposes. The Court found that “unquestionably constitutionally permissible purposes” for adoption of an inclusionary requirement include:
- Increasing the number of affordable housing units in a community when there is an insufficient number in relation to the community’s “current and future needs,” including regional needs under the Housing Element Law
- Assuring new affordable housing units “are distributed throughout the city as part of mixed-income developments” in order to:
- “Obtain the benefits that flow from economically diverse communities”
- “Avoid the problems that have historically been associated with isolated low income housing.”
- In Lieu Fees Are Not Exactions. In-lieu fees as an alternative to on-site inclusionary requirements are not “mitigation fees” or exactions and, therefore, are not required to be related to some impact of new housing development.
- A Nexus Study is Not Required for the On-Site Inclusionary Percentage or In-Lieu Fee Alternatives Related to the On-Site Requirement. A study is unnecessary because the community is not required to show that new housing development is the cause of the need for affordable housing.
- Provisions Granting Mandatory Options to Purchase for Local Government May Not Be Permissible in Isolation. San Jose’s ordinance authorized utilizing options to purchase inclusionary units when resold, but did not mandate an option.
Rental Housing—Palmer v. Los Angeles Not Effected – Legislative Action Now Timely. The Palmer decision’s prohibition of inclusionary rent restrictions under the Costa-Hawkins Act was not at issue in this case. When vetoing AB 1229 in 2013, which would have overturned Palmer, Governor Brown indicated the legislation was premature because he first wanted “the benefit of the Supreme Court’s thinking.” Now that we have it, similar legislation is timely.
June 2, 2015 – East Lake United For Justice and other Oakland community groups assisted by Public Advocates, PILP and Seigel & Yee delay approval of luxury condo development on City-owned property that failed to include housing affordable to very low income households. After hearing from over 90 community members and being presented with a letter from the attorneys demanding that the City Council refrain from approving the development because the City site was not first offered for development of affordable housing, the Council postponed the scheduled approval to a later date.
California’s Surplus Lands Act requires city-owned property offered for sale, to first be offered to nonprofit developers of affordable housing. If a sale for an affordable housing development cannot be worked out, the Act allows the sale of the property for market rate housing but requires that at least 15% of the units be reserved for and affordable to low and very low income households. (Low income households are those with an income between 50% and 80% of median, and very low income households are those with an income of 50% of median or below.) The City failed to first make the site available to nonprofit developers and then, in its proposed ordinance allowing sale to a market rate housing developer, failed to require that 15% of the units be affordable to low and very low income households.
WCLP and PILP eliminate $40 medical deduction from GA grants for most of California
September 25, 2014 – General Assistance/Relief (GA or GR) is a public benefit of “last resort” for people who cannot qualify for any other cash aid. This is a state-mandated, county-funded program designed to “relieve and support” all indigent County residents “when such persons are not supported and relieved by their relatives or friends, by their own means, or by state hospitals or other state or private institutions.” Welf. & Inst. Code § 17000.
Welfare & Institutions Code § 17000.5(a) authorizes counties to deduct up to $40 dollars for the monthly actuarial value of medical care. Prior to January 1, 2014, approximately 21 counties reduced GA/GR recipients’ grants by this amount, based on the fact that most GA/GR residents received health care through their county indigent health programs. However, beginning January 1, 2014, many GA recipients became newly eligible for Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
We are pleased to announce that after sending a demand letter and negotiating with counties, all except one have agreed to cease reducing GA grants for those receiving Medi-Cal. This means that the $40 medical deduction has essentially been eradicated from California, resulting in about 14,200 recipients receiving more money, amounting to approximately $570,000 each month. The minimum benefit amount is extremely low, but this $40 makes a huge difference for the poorest Californians.
It is important to note that the ACA did not obviate Counties’ responsibility to provide indigent health care.
Many thanks to Western Center on Law & Poverty, an essential partner in nearly completely eliminating these harmful medical deductions.
Report by Hilda Chan, Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow 2012-2014
April 11, 2014 – Since 1997, San Diego County has required all families applying for welfare (“CalWORKs”) to submit to warrantless, suspicionless, unannounced home searches and interrogations by District Attorney Investigators. As of June 2013 about 150,000 families, or about 9,300 families each year, have been subject to these searches. This policy, called Project 100% (“P100”), is cost-ineffective, duplicates existing staff work, and has not been shown to achieve its stated purposes of verifying eligibility, detecting fraud, or deterring fraud.
“They looked under the beds, under everything. For the first time, my daughters saw me as someone who could not protect them. My daughter asked, ‘Mom, are they going to kill you?’”
–S.G., a working mother of three girls
San Diego County remains the sole locality in the nation that has imposed a blanket home search policy on families applying for CalWORKs. All other localities use targeted investigations, initiating investigations only after a discrepancy is detected in an application.
For 10 years, Los Angeles County implemented a modified blanket home search program, using social workers rather than law enforcement officials. Its home search program was discontinued in 2009 because it was highly cost-ineffective—it cost $4.7 million annually but uncovered fraud in less than ½ percent of homes searched. Abandonment of its blanket home search policy allowed 83 staff to be redeployed to alleviate workload in other areas.
In San Diego County, at least $28.5 million—$1.76 million per year—in CalWORKs funds has been diverted from aid to needy families to fund the DA’s costs of the County’s blanket search program. While these costs are likely underestimated, the cost-avoidance figures have been verified to be overestimates. Unfortunately, historically flawed data classification methods have made it impossible to more precisely assess P100’s cost-effectiveness. Even accepting the County’s figures and flawed data classification methods, however, P100 is still cost-ineffective. P100’s yearly cost of $1.76 million could instead be used to hire 42 new welfare-to-work employment counselors to assist clients on the road to self-sufficiency.
Despite claims of P100’s efficacy, County officials cannot demonstrate that the home searches actually detect or deter fraud. For the past 18 years, the DA’s Office has represented to public and legislative officials that P100 detects fraud in 25 percent of all applicants that would otherwise have been granted. The welfare agency, called Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), has verified that this purported fraud rate has been historically inflated, systematically including non-fraudulent situations and denials unrelated to P100 such as:
- Applications withdrawn for any reason
- Denials because the applicant was not home during the DA investigator’s two surprise visits
- Denials resulting from the normal eligibility process, rather than P100 results
- Cases denied due to P100 investigations but subsequently approved after reapplication or fair hearing.
Dr. Richard Berk, UCLA Professor, Department of Statistics, concluded in his 2002 study of P100:
I have seen nothing that would lead to a credible conclusion that Project 100% has succeeded in increasing fraud detection at the levels claimed by the Chief of the Public Assistance Fraud Division of the DA’s Office.
Data trends suggest that P100 is no more effective in determining eligibility than the normal, less invasive eligibility verification tools relied upon by other localities. If P100 actually added a new, effective layer of fraud or ineligibility detection, the application denial rate would have risen at the introduction of P100. This did not occur; the CalWORKs application denial rate of 43 percent remained exactly the same in the 6 months before and after P100’s inception in June 1997. P100 also does not deter ineligible families from applying; the application rate increased slightly at P100’s introduction. Both the welfare agency and the DA’s Office have been aware that “the numbers just don’t add up.”
Other counties in California have opposed legislation that sought to impose P100 home searches on all families statewide that apply for cash aid.
For the sake of fiscal responsibility and good governance, the San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors must end P100 blanket home searches and return to the smarter, more cost-effective policy of targeted investigations.
Special Thanks to the Open Society Foundation and the Caring Council, and Supportive Parents Information Network (SPIN)