California Black News Brief: Stories to Watch – Week Beginning 1/20/2020

By California Black Media Staff

Unemployed Californians With No Children Could Lose Food Stamps

Last week, the state of California joined 13 other states — as well as New York City and the District of Columbia — in a lawsuit filed against a new Trump Administration food stamp policy scheduled to take effect April 1.

The federal government rule will require all “able-bodied” recipients of food stamp benefits between the ages of 18-49, who do not have children, to work at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a vocational training program to be eligible for low-income food assistance.

The federally-funded food assistance program is known as CalFresh in California.

“No one should have to choose between a hot meal and paying their rent,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “But this latest Trump Administration attack on low-income Americans will force them to do just that. It will cause hundreds of thousands of people to go hungry.”

Up to 400,000 Californians, about 11 percent of all people receiving food stamps in the state, could be impacted, according to the California Department of Social Services.

Trump administration officials are defending the policy, arguing that it will deter people who might need temporary help to buy groceries from relying on ongoing food assistance long-term.

“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a public statement. “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work.”

Perdue says the U.S. economy “currently has more job openings than people to fill them.”

But because of higher-than-average unemployment rates persisting in 18 of California’s 58 counties, mostly located in the northern and central regions of the state, those areas are expected to be exempt from the new rule.

The other 40 counties with more stable economies will be impacted immediately.

“Yet again, the Trump Administration has failed to offer any legitimate evidence to justify decisions that have real consequences for the health and well-being of our residents,” Becerra said.  “Together with our partners all across the country, we’re fighting back and we’re confident the law is on our side.”

California Voters Could Sanction Cities for Not Housing the Homeless

Last week, a task force Gov. Newsom appointed made an aggressive new policy recommendation: Slap legal sanctions on local governments that fail to reduce homelessness by supporting the development of shelters and other housing options for people without permanent homes.

The 13-member Council of Regional Homeless Advisors — led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas — wants legislators to amend the California Constitution to make the policy legal and enforceable. They want to present it to voters as a statewide ballot measure in November.

For the policy to be effective, it would need to have some teeth, Steinberg says.

“We’ve tried moral persuasion. We’ve tried economic incentives,”he told the Los Angeles Times. “But all of it’s optional. Why should this be optional? It shouldn’t be. It mustn’t be. Thousands of people are dying on the streets, and people are telling us this is a priority.”

Members of the governor’s task force have not outlined exactly what the sanctions would look like, but they could include cities and counties losing control over how they spend state funds locally.

Gov. Newsom says he supports the general concept but would like to see it tested in a pilot program first.

“It is a tectonic shift in the way we’ve done things. I’ve learned — and you’ve probably heard me say this — there is an old wonderful African proverb that says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together,’” Newsom said last week in Grass Valley as he toured housing facilities for the homeless.

The proposal comes just after the governor proposed about $1.4 billion in new funding in his 2020-21 budget to fight homelessness. An estimated $640 billion from last year’s budget is expected to flow into local government coffers within the next couple of months, too, to support local homelessness and affordable housing initiatives.

In California, there are more homeless people than any other state in the nation. And from 2018 to 2019, the state’s homeless population jumped by more than 16 percent to about 151,000 people, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ridley-Thomas, who is African American, is expected to propose a pilot program to reduce homelessness that meets the state’s housing goals to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week.

Urban California Could Start Looking More Like Some East Coast Cities

California, known for cities and towns with sprawling neighborhoods of single family homes with yards, typically built with short driveways, could experience a significant architectural shift.

That’s if a bill making its way through the legislature, SB 50, is passed this year.

Imagine many more walkable neighborhoods, much like some East Coast cities.  Think clusters of mid-rise apartment buildings, condos and multi-unit complexes constructed along public transportation lines and built up above local shops, restaurants and other businesses.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), proposes new height limits and lifts zoning restrictions on construction along train routes and high-frequency bus stops. It also makes provisions that would override local building restrictions, allowing developers to build higher density housing — apartment buildings and duplexes —in high-income neighborhoods where they are now rare.

Supporters of the bill believe it could trigger tens of billions of dollars in new investments to some areas. They say it would also provide thousands of new jobs and help ease the housing affordability problem in the state with a fresh stock of available housing, they believe, would drive real estate prices down.

The cost of housing is one of the factors contributing to the high rate of homelessness in California, where the number of individuals without a permanent place to live accounts for nearly 25 percent of all homeless people in the United States.

For more than a year now, SB 50 has been sitting in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where some legislators say they expected it to be shelved until it “died” on its Jan. 31, 2020 deadline.

But last week, Senate Pro Tem Toni Adkins (D-San Diego) sent the legislation to the Senate Rules Committee, giving it a chance to get to the Senate floor for a vote as early as the end of this month.

“I believe there is a good faith effort is being made to enable California to reach SB 50’s goals of building more affordable homes that increase access to jobs, reduce the time people have to spend in their cars and help meet California’s climate change targets,” Atkins said.

But some critics of SB 50 say it does nothing to help the affordability problem, especially in low-income areas already being crushed by rapid gentrification.

“It provides no help for cities to recover from developers’ disruption of low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and single-family neighborhoods,” reads a statement issued by Livable California, a community advocacy organization.

“Instead, SB 50 lavishly rewards developers who aggressively construct housing affordable only to the wealthy, and that includes just a small percentage of affordable units. SB 50 is fatally flawed,” the statement continued.

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