Jan 04 2018 |
Author: Farley |
On October 5, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 607, known as the Community Resiliency and Disaster Preparedness Act of 2017, by Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego). The bill became law on January 1. It will ensure that Californians who receive public assistance can continue to access their benefits during/after declared states of emergencies. It will also provide consistent and reliable aid for those made vulnerable by the disaster.
The state of California is no stranger to catastrophe. Mere days after the bill’s signing, wildfires ravaged Northern California and turned thousands of people’s lives upside down. Fires started ripping through Southern California last month. In addition, this winter could bring more floods, and experts predict that the next big earthquake hovers on the horizon. (We in the Bay Area just experienced a 4.4 in the early hours this morning that has many of us evaluating our personal emergency response plans.)
California Association of Food Banks is now well versed in disaster response. After the Lake and Calaveras fires in 2015, CAFB helped coordinate Disaster CalFresh (also known as DSNAP) outreach. CAFB collected feedback when the work was done and presented the learnings to the state. These observations helped guide our response in Sonoma County recently. Following the outreach effort, CAFB organized a debriefing with 30+ outreach workers that responded to the emergency and will share the conclusions with the state.
Policy decisions on the state level made for a smoother DSNAP implementation this go round. One lesson learned from the Lake fire was that victims displaced to other counties should be able to apply for benefits wherever they were, rather than being forced to return to their own county. Another improvement was using PG&E data to issue automatic replacement benefits to those whose houses had likely burned down. But these actions were thanks to an amenable state administration and are not currently set in stone. Implementation of AB 607 can change that.
Of course, every disaster is different and each one presents an opportunity for learning and improvement. What we learned from the most recent disaster response experience was the need for regional disaster response plans that link local, state and federal groups prior to a disaster striking, so that everyone is aware of the others work and is able to best assist folks in need. We also learned from other states’ responses, as with the hurricanes in Texas and Florida showing the benefit of waiving face-to-face interviews. The biggest take away is that the next disaster is not going to wait for us to be ready, this is not work we can postpone.
A majority of the assistance after the Northern California fires came from the Bay Area, which boasts a thorough disaster response plan that serves as a model for other areas. Yet a major disaster hitting the Bay Area could be devastating, especially if multiple food banks and CAFB are affected. The possibility illustrates the importance of having good plans in place and having shared those plans with neighboring regional leaders in advance.
Once it becomes law, AB 607 will codify best practices, such as ensuring that recipients of CalWORKs or CalFresh don’t lose their benefits as a result of being displaced from their home county due to a natural disaster. AB 607 also calls for a strong disaster response from government-administered programs to ensure California is prepared for disaster declarations at the county, state, and federal levels. It directs the California Department of Social Services to create a committee to advise on the planning and implementation of disaster-related aide.
California Association of Food Banks co-sponsored AB 607 with the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. CAFB thanks all those involved with the passing of AB 607. We look forward to providing feedback, along with Catholic Charities and Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations and other committed partners, on implementation and hope to be part of a work group that will flesh out the legislative intent of the bill. The refinement of planning, training, and messaging for disaster response will allow those affected to start getting their lives back on track. Disaster victims have enough problems to sort through without worrying about how to find their next meal.