July 20th, 2022
Just days before Governor Gavin Newsom signed a budget that makes historic investments in combating poverty, more than 200 people rallied in 103 degree heat outside the State Capitol Building in Sacramento to declare that it’s time to end poverty.
The rally marked the inaugural hearing of the California Assembly’s Select Committee on Poverty and Economic Inclusion, created by Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and chaired by Asm. Isaac Bryan (D-Baldwin Hills). The mandate is to explore the root causes of poverty and find solutions. The crowd turned out to show appreciation but also to declare that they expect results.
As Monica Lazo, who grew up poor and is now the policy manager at Golden State Opportunity told the crowd, “We often hear people say ‘We are with you, we will end poverty’. We hear it in the Capitol, on election trails. But we’ve waited long enough. It’s time to end poverty now.”
“We’re in the pits of crisis,” said Tia Orr, Executive Director of SEIU California. “We need to make sure we are making bold decisions.”
The crisis Orr alluded to is clear: California boasts the 5th largest economy in the world, but has the highest poverty rate in the nation. We have more billionaires than any other country besides the U.S. and China — yet more than 6 million Californians live in poverty, and more than 1 in 3 are unable to afford basic necessities.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many of our families are so close to poverty,” said Asm. Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley). “I grew up with a single mom who worked multiple jobs just to feed us. It shouldn’t be that you need three jobs to do that.” Asm. Rivas was one of a number of legislators who talked about their own experiences in poverty or near poverty, including Speaker Rendon, who urged legislators to visit communities throughout the state where solutions can be found “through the lived experiences of those who face poverty.”
That’s exactly what Asm. Bryan intends to do, and the crowd was a microcosm of the people the Committee might meet on the road as well as the kind of coalition necessary to end poverty: Essential workers and union leaders; service providers; poor people; students and faith leaders; small business owners and health care professionals. A diverse gathering that cut across race, age, gender, orientation, religion, and class.
After the rally, folks headed to the Capitol and filled the Committee hearing to capacity. There were two panels of expert witnesses–some who had acquired their expertise through their careers, some through living in poverty, and some of us who bridge both worlds. Claudia Ramirez, a member of Parent Voices, described how difficult it is to find childcare that accommodates her and her husband’s work as janitors. “Working at night, there are not many places that take children. The state pays providers too low” forcing them to shut down. She called on the state to increase funding so childcare providers can pay higher wages, which the new budget unfortunately does not do.
Shimica Gaskins grew up poor and is now the CEO of GRACE/End Child Poverty in California. She called for policies “that create transformative, intergenerational change,” including direct cash assistance and baby bonds. Indeed the new budget invests $115 million to provide trust fund accounts for low-income children who have lost a parent to COVID-19 and for children who have experienced long-term foster care. We need to extend these investments to all children in poverty so they have access to the same basic opportunities that wealthier children do.
Chris Hoene, Executive Director of the California Budget & Policy Center, called for increased access to health care and food assistance for undocumented Californians and expanded unemployment insurance benefits. The budget does indeed make California the first state to extend health coverage to all people regardless of immigration status. And while food assistance was expanded to include undocumented people ages 55 and older, we will work to ensure it is available to all children and adults. We also will continue to push for a pilot program that would provide unemployment benefits for 144,000 excluded immigrant workers.
The Governor and legislature deserve praise for their continued work to ensure that everyone has access to basic necessities and opportunity in our state. We look forward to redoubling our efforts in the next legislative session, building on investments in housing, wealth-building tools like baby bonds, and safety net reform.
We must never become complacent or feel like we have done “enough” to make the American Dream accessible for all.
Michael Tubbs is the Founder of EPIC and the former Mayor of Stockton. This article originally appeared in Real Clear Policy.