In summary

California jobless claims soar, Newsom faces tug of war over when to reopen economy. Counties scramble to trace coronavirus.

Good morning, California. It’s Friday, April 24.

Will feds bail out CA?

A pedestrian walks past boarded-up windows of an Oakland business on March 24. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

Understatement of the century: California’s economy isn’t looking so good. In six weeks, the state has seen as many unemployment applications as it did 59 weeks into the Great Recession.

More than 3.4 million Californians filed for unemployment since March 15, with the state distributing nearly $4 billion in benefits, including $1 billion since Sunday alone, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

But California will soon have to take out federal loans to pay unemployment benefits, and experts project it will have to borrow more than the $10.7 billion it did during the Great Recession — money it just finished paying back in 2018.

Federal aid to plug California’s budget shortfalls will be “indispensable” and “determine much about the pace” of the economic recovery, according to a recent memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. But it’s unclear how much Congress is prepared to give.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday: “I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated. … I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.”

Newsom clapped back against McConnell on Thursday in a rare show of frustration during the pandemic.

  • Newsom: “His comments were offensive. … States are laboratories of democracy, cities are laboratories of innovation. If you care about democracy and innovation, you care about states, you care about cities. I hope and expect he’ll take back his comments.”

It’s too early to say what California’s downturn will look like. The LAO predicts two possible paths: One U-shaped, in which there’s a sharp downturn that persists for a while, followed by a fairly quick recovery; and one L-shaped, in which a sharp downturn, continued threat from the virus, and inadequate federal aid lead to a lengthy recession with high unemployment rates.

Let’s hope for the U — but only time will tell.

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The Bottom Line: As of 8 p.m. Thursday night, California had 39,555 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,530 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.)

Also: CalMatters is tracking, by county, positive and suspected cases of COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout the state. We’re also tracking the state’s daily actions. And we have an explainer for everything you need to know about California’s response to coronavirus.

Other stories you should know

1. Newsom in the middle of a tug-of-war over stay-at-home order

A protester during a Los Angeles rally calling for an end to the stay-at-home order on April 22. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

Newsom is walking a political tightrope when it comes to California’s stay-at-home order — and he’s facing a series of decisions far more difficult than the one he made March 19 telling Californians to stay home, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Some local leaders, particularly those from rural areas, want to decide for themselves when they should reopen. Businesses are also eager to reopen, but health experts caution not enough testing has been done. Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said the federal government may join lawsuits against states with strict stay-at-home orders. What’s a governor to do?

  • Jeffrey Martin, UC San Francisco epidemiologist: “You can resurrect an economy. You can’t resurrect dead bodies. This is the defining moment of leadership, making difficult decisions in the face of criticism.”

2. Coronavirus detectives: Counties scramble to trace the virus

As California announces a new contact-tracing workforce, local health departments are already expanding their staffs. Image via iStock

There may soon be an app to trace the spread of coronavirus through California, but right now it’s being done the old-fashioned way: through phone calls and interviews conducted by public health workers. But the ability of California’s 61 county and city public health departments to keep up with increasing cases varies widely, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. On Wednesday, Newsom said the state plans to create an “army” of 10,000 tracers, but the timeline for training and deployment remains unclear.

  • Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California: “We need to make sure that there is capacity in every county to do adequate contact tracing. That’s part of containing the disease. Are we ready today? No. When will we be ready? I don’t know.”

3. Prop. 13 on the November ballot, two ways

A proposal to amend Prop. 13, the iconic 1978 measure that capped property taxes, has qualified for the November ballot.

The measure, backed by the state’s Realtors, would let people over the age of 55 and disabled homeowners transfer their capped tax if they move, even to a bigger place. Yes, they unsuccessfully tried to pass this in 2018, but there’s a big difference this time: This measure would remove the “Lebowski loophole” that allows children to inherit their deceased parents’ low property tax rates along with their homes.

Another proposal to amend Prop. 13 by nixing its protections for commercial property owners will likely make it on the November ballot, too.

CalMatters commentary

Protect farmworkers: President Trump’s effort to single out farmworkers for less pay during the pandemic is a call to action. I hope my colleagues in the California Legislature will protect this critical workforce with a farmworkers COVID-19 relief package, writes Assemblymember Robert Rivas, a Hollister Democrat.

Less not always more: A sparse November 2020 ballot when it comes to ballot initiatives is something Californians can handle. But it would be bad if this became the norm, argues Wayne Pacelle of Animal Wellness Action.

A tale of two crises: With school closures, there’s the immediate challenge of keeping students safe, fed and housed — and then there’s the education equity crisis, writes Elisha Smith Arrillaga of The Education Trust-West.

Food security fearmongering: There is no evidence that San Joaquin Valley’s water-supply challenges are linked to California’s food security or the rise in produce imports, argues Cora Kammeyer of the Pacific Institute.

Other things worth your time

California endures “deadliest day” in coronavirus pandemic with 115 deaths. // CNBC

Newsom prevents debt collectors from garnishing federal stimulus checks and postpones most private student loan payments for 90 days. // CalMatters

As Newsom continues to make executive orders, state Legislature is getting restless. // Politico

Newsom sued over plan to give direct relief to undocumented immigrants. // The Los Angeles Times

U.S. judge denies bid to open California churches during pandemic. // The Associated Press

Will the coronavirus come back stronger in the winter? // The Los Angeles Times

UCSF doctor calculates San Francisco saved thousands of lives with its early shelter-in-place order. // SFGate

How California’s Imperial Water wars will affect water politics across the West. // The Los Angeles Times

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See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...