Ten years ago, when I became Speaker of the Assembly succeeding my friend John A. Pérez of Los Angeles, he told me the Speakership was like buying a boat: your happiest day is when you buy the boat; your second happiest day is when you sell the boat. Well, in February I “sold the boat” when I stepped down as President pro Tem of the Senate. And I’m kidding about the boat part, because I loved every minute. Having the ability to serve others is an amazing joy and privilege, and to be in a position like leader of the State Senate to do so much good for so many people was a truly amazing honor, one I owe to both my colleagues in the Senate and the people who elected me to represent them in the 39th Senate District.
The good ship “Pro Tem” is in good hands with Senator Mike McGuire from the North Coast. His district, like San Diego, has suffered harm from wildfires and other elements of climate change, has a strong tourism economy, and is home to several of California’s tribal partners. As I tried to do, I know he will work hard for his district and the entire state. My term as Senator lasts through November, and I intend to be just as active and effective as ever, both for the people I’ve represented for years, and for the new folks who have been assigned to me until the election catches up with the census.
Team Toni and I have recently put the finishing touches on the legislation I will carry in Sacramento this year, and I’ll have updates on those bills as they move forward in the process. As always, work on the state budget is a priority this time of year, and we have a new Budget Committee Chair in Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco. Senator Wiener and I have worked closely on a number of bills, and I know he and all the Budget Subcommittee Chairs—who divide the massive budget up into manageable pieces for consideration—will do a great job. As I’ve said, this will be a more difficult year than we’ve had lately, but the Senate’s budget team is up to the challenge and we’re in better shape than in the past because of the careful decisions we’ve made.
March is when we acknowledge Women’s History Month. I’m proud to join the Legislative Women’s Caucus, which includes members of the Senate and the Assembly and both Democrats and Republicans, in honoring several outstanding women from around the state in ceremonies at the Capitol later this month. Of course, during Women’s History Month I always think about my own personal she-roes, like my mom, Christine Kehoe, Shirley Weber, and, of course, Dolly. Sadly, we lost two she-roes last month – Jeri Dilno, a trailblazer in the LGBTQ+ community and a true friend, and Candace Carroll, a brilliant legal mind and humanitarian. We share more about them later in the newsletter.
At the end of the month we celebrate an early Easter, the holiest day in the Christian calendar. Along with the start of spring, Easter is a sign of renewal and hope in all that is possible. Jennifer and I send our best wishes and happiest thoughts to everyone celebrating Easter on the 31st.
Thanks for reading,
PS: Senate First Dog Emeritus Joey (who has grudgingly accepted his new title) would like to remind everybody that Easter lilies and their relatives are toxic to feline fur babies—so please remember safety as well as beauty when getting ready to celebrate. Happy Easter and Happy Spring!
Each March, Women’s History Month presents us with an opportunity to celebrate and uplift women. It’s a chance to champion the progress we’ve made towards gender equality, and acknowledge the ceilings we still need to shatter.
We are closer to gender parity in the California Legislature than ever before. Serving alongside the talented, dedicated women in the Legislative Women’s Caucus has been one of the highlights of my tenure in the legislature, and I look forward to continuing to partner with them this year to pass legislation that addresses the needs of women in our state – protecting reproductive rights and access to health care, prioritizing child care and education, fighting for equal pay, and much more. I’m also dedicated to ensuring that while I was the first woman to lead the State Senate, I will not be the last. I intend to keep working to provide pathways for women to lead at every level of government – because representation matters!
I can’t let Women’s History Month pass without mentioning a true leader and inspiration we lost last month, my dear friend Jeri Dilno. Jeri was a trailblazing activist for the LGBTQ+ community, a civic leader, and a community treasure. Her optimism, quick wit, and wicked smarts will be deeply missed by us all. She is truly a part of LGBTQ+ and women’s history, and it’s my hope that we celebrate her legacy through the causes she dedicated her life to and the impact she had on our community.
Another trailblazer, Candace Carroll, also passed away last month. Candace was a giant in the legal community, and she was deeply committed to equality and fairness for women, the LGBTQ+ community, workers, immigrants, and refugees. Her legal acumen and humanitarian commitment will be deeply missed.
Cast Your Ballot by March 5th
California’s primary election is just a few days away on March 5th! All registered voters have received a ballot in the mail, which can be returned by mail (postmarked by March 5th), or dropped off at a ballot drop box. You can also vote in person at a vote center – remember to check their hours before you go! For more information on voting and elections, visit sdvote.com. Every vote matters!
CalEITC Puts Money Back Into the Pockets of Low-Income Working Californians
The California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) is a program I created in 2015, when I was Speaker of the Assembly, to help working families and individuals struggling to make ends meet. Since that time, the program has been continuously expanded and now provides over $900 million of relief to low income Californians. Last year, 3.5 million Californians benefitted from the program. Wage earners must have an income of no more than $39,950 to qualify. The amount of the tax credit, which ranges between $285 and $3,529, depends on income and family size. In order to claim the tax refund or reduction, a resident must file a California tax form. Residents can see if they qualify and the amount of the tax credit by visiting caleitc4me.org.
Program to Assist First-Time Homebuyers Relaunches in April
The California Housing Finance Agency has announced that it will be administering an additional round of applications for the California Dream For All Shared Appreciation Loan Program, an initiative I created through the 2022-23 State Budget to help more Californians become homeowners.
The program provides first-time homebuyers with up to 20% of the home purchase price to be used as a down payment and/or closing costs assistance, up to $150,000. The state will be repaid the loan plus a share of the home’s appreciation when the home is sold again, and the repayment would go into a revolving fund to allow other future homebuyers to take advantage of the program.
Last year, $300 million was set aside for the program, and an additional $220 million has been allocated for the program in the 2023-24 State Budget. This year’s funding will target first-generation homebuyers, with an equitable distribution in different regions of the state, and prioritize homebuyers in the lower tiers of income eligibility.
For eligibility criteria and application details go to: calhfa.ca.gov/dream
Financial Aid for Students
The priority deadlines for the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and the California Dream Act (CADAA) application have been extended until April 2, 2024 for the 2024-2025 school year. By filing one of these applications, students may be eligible for a variety of types of federal aid, as well as state aid such as the Cal Grant. For more information, visit csac.ca.gov/.
The California Department of Aging is surveying mid-life and older adults who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The data gathered in this survey will help the Department of Aging understand the experiences and needs of mid-life and older LGBTQIA+ Californians. If you fit this demographic, fill out the survey by March 31, 2024: aging.ca.gov/Survey_of_LGBTQIA/.
California has designated March 31 as César Chávez Day, a state holiday and day of service to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader who was born on that day in 1927. Chávez, along with Delores Huerta, co-founded the union which later became the United Farm Workers. They shined a light on the exploitation, deplorable conditions, and meager pay of farmworkers, and fought for them to be treated with the same dignity, respect, and protection as workers in any other industry. Chávez devoted his life to promoting the values of social justice, education, service to others, non-violence, and respect for the environment. César Chávez Day provides an opportunity to reflect and recommit ourselves to living by the values to which he devoted his life.
Angela de Joseph and her team of volunteers have done a marvelous job producing the Women of Color ROAR Breakfast for the past six years, and have recognized inspirational women throughout California and across the United States. I was truly honored to receive a special tribute from them last month.
San Diego County has the 7th largest AAPI population in the nation, and I was honored to join the community at the San Diego United Lions Club’s Lunar New Year Celebration for the Year of the Wood Dragon.
I joined community partners at a press conference to encourage qualified residents to apply for the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC). The CalEITC helps get money back into the hands of hard working California families who need the support most for necessities such as rent, health care, utilities, groceries, and other important expenses.
The League of Women Voters of San Diego keeps our communities engaged on issues facing California, like open and accessible government, housing, health, climate change, and transportation. I enjoy talking with them each year about my legislative priorities.
Team Toni had a PAWesome day at the San Diego Humane Society Adoptions Center Grand Reopening last month!