1 million unemployment claims in 12 days

Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, March 26.

What federal $$$ means for CA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. gives a thumbs up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, where a deal has been reached on a coronavirus bill. The 2 trillion dollar stimulus bill is expected to be voted on in the Senate Wednesday. Photo by Andrew Harnik, AP Photo
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. gives a thumbs up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Photo by Andrew Harnik, AP Photo

If the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that the U.S. Senate passed late Wednesday night is passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, California will receive over $10 billion in block grants, individuals will see up to a $600 increase in weekly unemployment benefits, and there will be other “specific, very direct support” to the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

Newsom said $5.5 billion would be allocated to the state and the rest to local governments. But he emphasized the importance of putting money directly in people’s pockets, saying that federal unemployment relief “cannot happen soon enough,” given that over 1 million unemployment insurance claims have been filed in California since March 13.

Many of the people filing for unemployment are still recovering from the 2008 recession, the governor added.

  • Newsom: “People are older and still struggling. And so these are individuals that once again are disproportionately impacted by this moment. … We need to focus on those faces, their stories, not just the face of government, not just the face of business, but on the faces of individuals struggling day in and day out to make ends meet, struggling to feed their families, feed themselves.”

California currently provides weekly unemployment insurance ranging from $40 to $450. With the federal stimulus package, many Californians would receive more than $1,000 a week, Newsom said.

Yet California’s unemployment insurance system faces significant hurdles in meeting increased demand. A recent report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipated delays “much longer” than three weeks for workers to receive first benefits. And if California decided to increase weekly benefit levels during the coronavirus crisis, the report said it could take the department a year to adjust because of technological limitations.

It’s unclear whether those limitations would also affect the rollout of federal unemployment insurance benefits, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Another way of putting money directly in people’s pockets: Newsom said Wednesday that JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, US Bank and nearly 200 state banks and credit unions will provide a 90-day mortgage payment grace period for Californian homeowners directly impacted by coronavirus, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.

“The worst is yet to come”

UCSF workers erect Accelerated Care Units (ACU) outside the Parnassus emergency room to provide a negative pressure environment to house patients with respiratory symptoms
UCSF workers erect Accelerated Care Units outside the Parnassus emergency room. (Photo by Noah Berger courtesy of UCSF)

The number of Californians testing positive for coronavirus has been doubling every three to four days, instead of the expected six to seven days, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Wednesday, adding that a surge in patients is expected within the next two weeks.

Based on evolving data models, Ghaly said, the 50,000 extra hospital beds the state anticipates needing for an influx of coronavirus patients is “exactly where we need to be for phase one.” But he added that there are “early signs” some of California’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus “are making a difference” in “certain pockets of the state.”

As a surge in coronavirus cases hits states like New York — 13 individuals died of COVID-19 in a 24-hour period beginning Tuesday — health officials say a similar wave could soon strike California, although Newsom’s early and aggressive shelter-in-place order may have helped contain the spread of the virus and limit deaths.

  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday: “The peak is not here yet. The peak will be bad. People will lose their lives.”
  • San Francisco Health Director Grant Colfax on Monday: “The worst is yet to come. Every community where the virus has taken hold has seen a surge in the number of coronavirus patients who need to be hospitalized. We expect that to happen in San Francisco soon, in a week or two, or perhaps even less.”

As more Californians are tested, the number of positive cases will rise. As of Tuesday, 66,800 tests for the novel coronavirus had been conducted in California — up 39,200 from Monday — and 48,600 results are still pending, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker and Ana Ibarra report.

The Bottom Line: As of 10 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 3,158 confirmed coronavirus cases and 67 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker. (These numbers are different from those of the state Department of Public Health, which are updated less often.)

Other stories you should know

1. The challenges of tackling coronavirus in the Central Valley

Photo of Emergency tents are set up in the parking lot outside the emergency entrance at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno where staff is gearing up for expected coronavirus cases
Emergency tents at the Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. (Photo by Craig Kohlruss for The Fresno Bee)

The central San Joaquin Valley has a doctor shortage that could be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the large ratio of patients to doctors, each doctor faces a higher risk of being infected by the virus. On top of that, Fresno County residents suffer from diabetes, asthma, cancer and serious heart conditions at higher rates than the rest of California — meaning they also have increased risk of contracting COVID-19. The Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias explores the county’s response to these challenges in a CalMatters collaboration.

2. How to adjust special education rules in a pandemic?

online education
Online learning (Illustration via iStock)

While many shuttered school districts are switching to distance learning during the pandemic, some are reportedly limiting or not offering instruction out of fear that they’ll be sued for not being able to provide special education students with an equal education online, EdSource reports. Last weekend, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced greater flexibility in federal special education laws and reiterated that districts should continue providing special education services. Some advocates say this will help special education students get the instruction they need and deserve; others say the increased flexibility will let school districts off the hook and allow them to say “this is the best we can do” without actually trying their best.

CalMatters coronavirus content

  • Tune in to our webinar today at 1 p.m. with Loree Levy, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the California Employment Development Department, and California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower. We’ll answer questions about unemployment, job loss, sick leave and related issues. Register here or visit calmatters.org.
  • Newsom ordered Californians to stay home except for essential services, leading many to wonder: What’s essential? CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons has a video explainer to answer your questions.
  • Coronavirus by the numbers: Check out our up-to-date dashboard breaking down California’s coronavirus cases, testing capacity and supply of protective equipment.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Among the coronavirus pandemic’s many effects, it will alter the November election by keeping some proposals off the ballot and making approval for tax and bond measures more difficult.

This is no time for partisanship: Everyday heroes like grocery store clerks, health care providers and delivery drivers aren’t refusing to take action or demanding special favors. To win the war on COVID-19, our politicians shouldn’t either, argues Brynne Kennedy, a businesswoman and candidate for Congress in California’s 4th District.

Digital divide leaves families disconnected: With coronavirus closing schools, we need to bridge the digital divide for students by establishing internet access for all, writes Nick Melvoin, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

Other things worth your time

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warns Los Angeles residents will likely need to stay home until May. // LAist

Will California change scope of practice laws to get more nurses and doctors to treat coronavirus patients? // The Sacramento Bee

State agencies should prepare to receive less money in the June budget. // The Associated Press

Los Angeles threatens to cut off water and power for nonessential businesses staying open. // The Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County Sheriff reverses position, says gun shops are essential businesses. // The Los Angeles Times

Kaiser Permanente cancels $900 million Oakland headquarters — but not because of the coronavirus pandemic. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Farm workers face challenges during coronavirus epidemic. // The Ventura County Star

One rural school district in California remains open despite shelter-in-place order. // EdSource

“United in isolation”: Portraits of Bay Area residents as they shelter in place. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Homebound Californians are finding hope by chalking messages of unity on sidewalks. // The Orange County Register

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See you tomorrow.

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