Drive Me, Crazy

Jon Conway, PhD

Date: 06/01/2022

Imagine being one of the roughly 25 million Californians living paycheck to paycheck with no long-term financial stability.

One day you find your car—the only means you have of getting to work—won’t start, and the mechanic gives you the dreaded news: it’ll cost more to fix than it’s worth.

You have managed to save up a small rainy day fund, but you don’t have much, and you need a new car ASAP to keep your job. You remember hearing one of your co-workers talking about how they got some money from the state for an electric vehicle, so you decide to look into what kind of help you could receive.

A quick Google of “California clean car money” gets you some 100 million results for state programs that, honestly, all kind of sound the same. After a great deal of scrolling, you read about the Clean Cars for All Program: up to $9,500 towards the purchase of a new or used clean car! That amount of money, coupled with your savings, would actually make the difference you need. Your heart sinks when you realize the program is no longer accepting applications: too many people have applied. The program has run out of funding.

Next, you read about the “Clean Vehicle Rebate Program,” or CVRP. You scroll through your search results and see more encouraging signs: up to $5,250 toward a new electric car, a decent selection of models, and even some extra money for low-income applicants (which you discover, bittersweetly, that you qualify for). But you aren’t seeing any information about the most important factor: how long will it take to get the money in your hand so you can get a replacement car and get back to work?

After going slightly cross-eyed deciphering the legalese on the website, you come across the FAQs, where — aha! — there’s a question about how long the application process takes. You click it open and your heart sinks to see an estimated processing time of 100 days, which means you wouldn’t be able to get any money until long after that. Waiting that long simply isn’t an option.

You click through a few of the other programs, but there are so many details, caveats, and exceptions that after a while you start to feel like you’re in that memeable scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

At this point, you feel like you’ll just have to go with a backup plan: a cheap used car from one of the lots nearby. It won’t get you great mileage, won’t last long, and certainly won’t decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but it’ll get you to work and back. Sure, it’d be nice to have a clean car, but California’s incentives just aren’t set up for you.

What’s wrong with this scenario?

A lot! I’ve painted a picture here that illustrates an all too common struggle. The average Californian is someone making about $38,000 per year, living paycheck to paycheck, and relying on a car to get to work and back. These are the folks who most need access to clean cars, but our incentive programs aren’t making it easy.

Between 2011-2015, households earning less than $100,000 per year represented 72% of new and used gasoline vehicle purchases. Furthermore, the communities suffering the worst impacts of toxic tailpipe pollution are least equipped to take part in the clean transportation revolution. As of 2019, fewer than 6% of California’s clean cars were registered in our most disadvantaged communities. If we want to rapidly and equitably transition California’s 39 million residents into clean cars, we need to make these programs truly accessible, and we have to do so quickly.

I alluded earlier to one of the biggest barriers that prevent folks from utilizing these incentive programs: timing. If you are able to wait the roughly 6-8 months it can take from purchasing a car to actually getting rebate money, chances are you are in a relatively stable financial situation and likely could have afforded your new car without state funds.

Our clean car equity bill, SB 1230, sponsored by California State Senator Monique Limón, is designed to address this exact issue. This bill would streamline all of California’s residential clean car incentive programs into one easy-to-use online application with a fast turnaround time. Furthermore, SB 1230 would reroute the majority of clean car incentive funds to low-income households, while still allowing higher-income households to access appropriately-sized rebates.

And what to do about the popular programs like Clean Cars for All that are oversubscribed? Let’s Green CA!, along with Sens. Monique Limón, Lena Gonzalez, and a coalition of allies, are calling for a near-doubling of the Clean Cars for All program’s funding. After all, the state of California has a historic budget surplus this year. It’s time to invest in our future.

These common sense fixes, along with the unprecedented amount of funding for climate programs we are seeing this year, should help put California on a firm footing for getting to a fully sustainable transportation system in the near future — a crucial step in creating a safe, healthy, thriving Golden State. Click here to voice your support for SB 1230!

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SB 1230 for Clean Car Equity!

We've partnered with the Dolores Huerta Foundation and State Senator Monique Limón to introduce SB 1230 and equitably accelerate California's clean car revolution. Replacing dirty, gas-powered vehicles with clean cars will not only reduce our GHG emissions; it will save lives. Take action by signing the petition in support of SB 1230 today!