Indifference to state law forces homeless people to re-certify a second time to affirm eligibility for food assistance - and all the paperwork is lost. They go without for months.
A woman's child is taken from her by CPS against state law and department procedure. No findings of harm by her are ever found. Two years later she doesn't have him back.
California Council of Churches and Church IMPACT were founded to keep people of faith aware of what comes before our state legislature. IMPACT advocates for laws that are just and fair, that promote a democratic society where all may find equality and reliability before the law and from fickleness in the law.
We have labored with you to bring about socially responsible legislation that help those most in need and with the fewest resources. We have, over the years, largely won those battles.
And then we see it all fall apart at the County level.
Monitoring how any given county upholds or abuses the state laws passed is very difficult. Some of the awareness may come initially from those victimized by bureaucratic nightmares. Other wrongs go largely untended. Our media don't know the stories or the breakdown of justice any better than we do.
We do know California has observable markers that are warning bells. We have the lowest use of federal food assistance, "Cal Fresh" here, in the nation. About 50 percent of the available money is left on the table, not given to fully eligible people, meaning lots of people are going hungry for no reason.
California has the highest rate of poverty in America.
Through the pandemic there were statewide moratoriums on evictions with federal help going to landlords. And yet the counties abetted illegal evictions.
Medi-Cal, our state's Medicaid program, is excellent. And yet thousands of very poor people get almost no help as they are assigned to clinics and doctors far from where they live or who have long ago stopped accepting Medi-Cal at all. During COVID, this left the poor to flood emergency rooms too late to be helped well. Others were unable to get the care they needed, partly from the clinic closing, partly from lack of all access in even normal times.
Our ask to you - our members, our congregations, our clergy - please start asking people you help if they are getting the programmatic assistance we all fought so hard to achieve. Please start collecting stories of injustice as it plays out in bureaucracy. Is someone denied Cal Fresh? Why? Is someone going without medical care? Why?
You may remember we have a study guide on how to help people with felony convictions served in county jail to expunge those records. Your county may not have a public defender's office, the key to getting records expunged. If you have a contract system - a system of defense. That money-saving system depends on the defense counsel under contract keeping not the client but the district attorney happy. That means defense is not vigorous, often flawed and rushed, and often sacrifices truth to the fear of not being rehired. In sum, your county may not have a system of defense at all.
Many of you support our work with donations. We can keep advocating on your behalf and for your core values without difficulty. But what good is it if at your local level it all falls apart? We don't want you to stop donating! We do need you to help keep our work - and yours - truly meaningful and effective.
Lift your eyes to the counties as well. Begin to demand accountability for those our state and local systems claim they support. Let your voices ring out for justice. Because it is not rolling down as a river in our state.
Feel free to write us with questions about what should be happening if you think it is not. We will do our best to offer up the laws and requirements your counties should be meeting. We need your eyes and ears to let us know whether things are working or if the system is breaking. We want to help you. We must also rely on you.
Together we may be able to bring real justice to our communities and to the people for whom we care. Let's make this a new day for those in need.
New Beginnings: A Congregational Guide to Restorative Justice Through Expungement
County-by-County List of Public Defender Contact Information for use with the New Beginnings Study Guide