Santa Cruz Good Times

Dec 01st
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Assemblymember Mark Stone

Mark Stone newWhat are you doing to protect the environment?

This year I introduced legislation that would provide education about the environment and outdoor recreation for California children, prioritizing opportunities for underserved and at-risk students.

In many underserved communities, participation in outdoor environmental education and recreation programs are the only exposure kids have to nature and the environment. Outdoor environmental education provides students with memorable real-world experiences with the environment, which increases interest in science and environmental stewardship.

Specifically, AB 1603 establishes an Outdoor Environmental Education Program under the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The program would award grants to education programs operated by public entities or nonprofit organizations. The bill prioritizes organizations that reach students who attend schools that are underserved to participate in outdoor recreation and educational activities.

Outdoor environmental education profoundly benefits students of all income levels.  Unfortunately, there are very few funding sources for programs that focus on improving academic achievement and critical thinking through education about the environment. My bill aims to change this.

You serve as the Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee, which considers legislation that affects some of the poorest, most vulnerable Californians. What bills are on the horizon that would help this population?

I have authored several bills this year to assist families in crisis, while streamlining and making more cost-effective some cash-aid services. It’s a priority of mine to help needy parents take care of their children’s basic needs, while relieving some of the bureaucratic burden they face. The programs that families rely upon need to be cost-effective and user-friendly.

This session I proposed a law to help ensure that poor pregnant women are healthier and can prepare for a new baby by allowing women who are first-time mothers to access CalWORKs benefits upon the medical verification of their pregnancy. Pregnant women with inadequate financial support are less able to afford healthy diets, preventing them from getting the nutrients necessary for proper fetal development. Women who experience multiple stressful situations during pregnancy, such as homelessness, hunger, violence, and deep poverty, are more likely to have premature and low-birth weight babies, and are at increased risk of mother and infant mortality.  Under current law, pregnant women may not access benefits until the three-month period prior to the birth of the child, unless they are under the age of 18. This bill simplifies this policy by extending the benefit to all eligible pregnant women. The measure is currently being considered in the state Assembly.

I also proposed a law that helps families receiving public benefits that lose their housing and need a place to stay while they find a new place to live. The measure increases the dollar amount of the one-time cash benefit, which these families facing homelessness can use for a hotel room. The bill is designed to make sure that families are not forced to spend the night without shelter. The current temporary shelter assistance benefit under the CalWORKs program has remained unchanged since 2006. The bill would simply increase the base benefit from $65 to $75 and would add a cost of living adjustment to the modest amount, a change that would help homeless families better afford shelter.

In addition to these and other laws I have proposed, I also co-chair the Ending Poverty in California caucus. This group was formed to highlight the issues of poverty and inequality and better educate legislators on these topics. This is a long-term effort to cultivate a philosophy that prioritizes addressing the questions of poverty and inequality.

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