Even as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, 2023 marks the expiration date for many of the emergency declarations local, state, and federal government made in 2020. With the sunset of the official pandemic state-of-emergency declarations, many of the pandemic safety net programs and emergency protections are, or have already, ended.  

But not all of them.

Thanks to the work of organizers, dedicated civil servants, and other leaders, Angelenos will continue to benefit from beefed up food subsidies, tenant protections, and broadened Medi-Cal enrollment to ensure easier access to health care.

Although the city of Los Angeles’ emergency officially ends on Jan. 31, 2023, neither the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors nor the L.A. County Department of Public Health has proposed stop dates for their emergency proclamations. 

Let’s start with health care.

Health Care Programs

During the pandemic, the public insurance programs of Medicare, Medi-Cal and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) were permitted to waive some eligibility criteria and streamline enrollment. In addition, all states were required to keep people enrolled in Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic health emergency as a condition to receive more federal money.  

Going forward, some pandemic waivers and modifications will continue or become permanent. This includes plans to continue most telehealth services, expanded access for drug counseling, and behavioral and mental health services.

But going forward, an estimated 2 to 3 million Californians could lose their public insurance as Medi-Cal returns to its pre-pandemic operations in a process called  “unwinding.

The continuous enrollment expires on March 31, meaning the unwinding period in California begins on April 1. It will continue for 14 months, and terminate on May 31, 2024. As part of the unwinding process, California will have to conduct a redetermination of eligibility for 15 million all Medi-Cal enrollees.

If you’re on Medi-Cal, be on the lookout for communication from the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). DHCS must inform Medi-Cal enrollees of their redetermination using two modes of communication, such as phone calls or email.

DHCS also has community ambassadors to help get the word out about redetermination. Medi-Cal recipients can connect with ambassadors by joining the mailing list, at their doctor’s office or clinic, county Medi-Cal offices, some community organizations, and other sites.  

But, experts worry about people getting kicked off Medi-Cal, even though they’re still eligible.

“The concern is churn, where a significant number of people still eligible for Medicaid get disenrolled with lag for re-enrollment [due to] procedural errors,” said Edwin Park, research professor at Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Park recommends that recipients make sure their contact information is complete and up to date to avoid losing coverage erroneously, as mistakes are likely with so many Medi-Cal recipients in California.

Housing and Rental Assistance

Some of the most far reaching permanent policies to come out of the pandemic state of emergency revolve around housing and tenant protections. 

Although the county’s emergency order for tenant protections, including for mobile home spaces, expires on January 31, no-fault evictions, late payment leeway and anti-harassment and retaliation protections will continue, for now. The Los Angeles County Business and Consumer Affairs office has additional information for tenants and landlords.

The COVID-related rent moratorium does not stop the requirement to pay rent. Instead the emergency ordinances allow a delay in payment for rent debt from specific periods of the pandemic for renters with financial hardship related to COVID-19. 

“The pandemic exposed so many inequities that were only worsened by the realities of the pandemic,” said Janice Hahn, 4th District supervisor and chair of L.A. County Board of Supervisors by email.

The January 31 end date for Los Angeles City’s emergency declaration would have meant the termination of some tenant protections for city residents. That is, until the Council voted on January 20 to institute permanent protections for renters.

The major new protections for renters in L.A. City include: 

  • Expansion of “just cause” meaning landlords must have a justifiable reason for eviction, which can be used at the end of renter’s first lease or six months after moving in,
  • Assistance with relocation costs if a tenant can’t afford rent increases in excess of 10% has been proposed at the City Council, with final discussions set to be resolved at the very end of January
  • An eviction threshold was voted on, but will also finalize at the last minute. Under the proposal, tenants would owe more than a month’s fair market rent to be evicted.
  • A one-month grace period, with some specified debt amounts, before eviction due to nonpayment, 
  • Unauthorized roommates and pets may remain in rental units through Jan. 30, 2024. 

Securing tenant protections from the city council is a measured victory for tenant activists, community leaders, and nonprofit organizations, who have been rallying for renters throughout the pandemic.

“Housing and tenant policy advocates have been successful, but we didn’t get all we wanted,” said Stephano Medina, tenant’s rights lawyer with Eviction Defense Network.  

He said advocates had asked for no rent payments during COVID-19 hardships, and no evictions. Despite city and county tenant protections, evictions continued, many of them illegal.

The ordinance now goes for Mayor Karen Bass’ signature, which is expected before Feb. 1, the end of the city’s emergency ordinance.

For renters in L.A. City who live in rent-stabilized units, landlords cannot raise rents until January 31, 2024. Additional tenant rights information for renters in L.A. City can be found on the housing department’s website.

For residents still struggling to pay rent, help is available from the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA) by phone (800) 593-8222, online at dcba.lacounty.gov and in person at select locations. Guidance can also be found at StayHousedLA and 211LA.

For unhoused people, Project RoomKey (PRK) was created at the state level in March 2020, to provide temporary, emergency housing in non-congregate settings, such as hotel and motel rooms, to minimize the risk of COVID-19 for the individuals and spread in the community. Statewide, PRK is ramping down. Locally the program stops at the end of January, according Christopher Yee to a LAHSA spokesperson. 

Another program continuing is Project Homekey, which offers grants for developers, agencies and nonprofit organizations to create housing for unhoused individuals and families. No stop dates have been set for these grants.

Food Programs 

Some of the assistance programs created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fend off hunger during the pandemic will continue into 2023.

Farm Fresh Produce Box at LA Regional Food Bank. Jan. 18, 2023 (ChrisAnna Mink / Los Angeles Public Press)
Farm Fresh Produce Box at LA Regional Food Bank. Jan. 18, 2023 (ChrisAnna Mink / Los Angeles Public Press)

Schools in California will retain greater flexibility when it comes to serving meals to students through, at least through the end of the current school year. 

For food banks, federal funding to maintain the Farm-to-Food Bank Project will continue through October 2023. This program ensures that fresh produce is available at food pantries.

“In 2020 and 2021, we received a larger amount [of funding] from USDA that allowed us to get fresh, nutritious food out to the community,” said David May, communications officer at LA Regional Food Bank. May said they work with about 600 partner agencies who serve more than 800,000 Angelenos every month. 

If you’re looking for a food bank (whether to get food, or donate food), a good place to start is this useful regional map put together by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services also offers assistance and guidance. The agency can expedite enrollment into CalFresh so those with very low to no income can access benefits within three days.

Student Loans

The pause on student loan payments has been extended at least until the Supreme Court rules on a legal battle over whether or not the U.S. Department of Education is allowed to waive federal student debt. 

The earliest payments will restart is 60-days after the court’s ruling. In the meantime, payments are still paused. If the debt relief program isn’t implemented and the litigation isn’t resolved by June 30, 2023, payments will resume 60 days later, near the end of August 2023.

Mink is a pediatrician and journalist who loves her adopted home of Los Angeles of 20-plus years, her family of humans and two rescue pups, and a daily dose of chocolate.