In summary

Unemployment claims surge 500% in California, small businesses face devastation as coronavirus pandemic upends state econony.

Good morning, California. It’s Friday, April 3.

Newsom: Small businesses are “devastated”

Restaurants and bars across the Bay Area closed on March 16, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

A record 6.6 million Americans filed new unemployment claims in the week ending March 28, in addition to the 3.3 million the week before, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Nearly 879,000 of them were Californians — more than twice as much as any other state.

California saw nearly a 500% increase from the 186,333 new unemployment claims filed the week before. Since March 12, over 1.9 million Californians have filed for unemployment, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

  • Newsom: “The economic consequences are profound. And I want to speak to these issues, not only from an individual’s perspective … but also the impact on Main Street, the impact on small businesses. So often we take them for granted, even in the best of times. Right now, they have been devastated.”

The governor highlighted a series of initiatives Thursday to relieve small businesses and keep people employed:

  • A bridge loan allowing small businesses to defer payment of sales tax revenue up to $50,000 to the state for up to 12 months
  • A new federal program providing loans up to $2 million paid back over 30 years
  • Another new federal program providing loans up to $10 million, as long as 75% of that money is used to keep employees on payroll (applications open today)
  • An additional state pot of $50 million in microloans for small businesses not eligible for federal small business relief
  • A new website, onwardca.org, that pairs individuals with open jobs
  • A small business relief page on the state’s COVID-19 website for more information on the new initiatives

Newsom added that the state Employment Development Department, which processes unemployment insurance claims, is “struggling to keep up” its past schedule of sending out checks within three weeks.

The Bottom Line: As of 10 p.m. Thursday night, California had 11,175 confirmed coronavirus cases and 246 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. Check out our tracker here.
  • Listen to CalMatters’ podcast with Carmela Coyle, CEO of the California Hospital Association, and Dr. Stephen Lockhart, chief medical officer for Sutter Health. They discuss preparing for COVID-19 and how hospitals are losing money hand over fist as elective surgeries are canceled to make room for COVID-19 patients.

Other stories you should know

1. Non-English speakers struggle to file unemployment claims

A locked playground gate in San Francisco on March 25, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

In other unemployment news, Californians who don’t speak English or Spanish fluently — the only languages in which unemployment insurance applications are accepted — are struggling to file claims, The Mercury News’ Erica Hellerstein reports. There are two main challenges: Many of these new filers don’t understand the bureaucratic phrases even when translated into their native language, and low-wage and elderly workers without internet access or computer skills face difficulties in filing claims online, especially with libraries, nonprofits and internet cafes closed.

2. At least three homeless Californians test positive for coronavirus

Homeless tents line Santa Clara Street outside the Poverello House in Fresno. Photo by Manuela Tobias, The Fresno Bee

Coronavirus cases have begun cropping up among California’s homeless population, including at least three in the past week — one in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco and one in Fresno, the Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias reports. The news comes weeks after the death of a homeless individual in Santa Clara due to COVID-19 and a continued lack of information on how the virus is spreading among the homeless. The Fresno-Madera area used $2 million in emergency coronavirus funding to provide 335 beds for the homeless, but experts say it won’t be nearly enough.

3. As evictions continue, tenants groups say Newsom to blame

Martha Kapla, right, holds a sign during a rally in San Pablo in December. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

Newsom issued an executive order last week declaring a “statewide eviction moratorium,” but only for tenants who can prove financial fallout due to coronavirus. As of late last week, only 27 of California’s 58 county sheriff departments had stopped locking tenants who had lost eviction cases out of their apartments, and advocates say they’re at increased risk for contracting the virus by not being able to shelter in place. Some local governments have banned all evictions and lockouts, regardless of whether they’re related to COVID-19. CalMatters’ Matt Levin breaks down the fallout from Newsom’s order.

4. CA tax agency temporarily stops garnishing wages, collecting on debt

The state’s tax agency has stopped garnishing wages, intercepting taxes and levying banks to collect government debt — at least for now, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts has found. In normal times, the Franchise Tax Board works as a collection agency when Californians fall behind on their payments to local and state agencies for things like criminal fees, child support and unpaid traffic tickets. Advocates hope the enthusiasm for relieving government debt sticks. Two pending bills aim to eliminate criminal administrative fees and debt in the adult and juvenile justice systems.

CalMatters commentary

Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate: The federal government doesn’t mind accepting the billions of tax dollars that undocumented immigrants contribute each year but won’t send them $1,200 stimulus checks. If the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on citizenship, neither should the government, writes Yazmín Franco, a political scientist who has worked for the California Legislature.

Chef’s kiss: Two chefs have a solution for the economic disruption the coronavirus has wreaked on farmers, restaurants, the supply chain and those who go hungry every day. Check out the plan from Patrick Mulvaney, owner and chef at Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento, and Brad Cecchi, chef at Canon in Sacramento.

Time to code better computer science programs: California needs to provide high-quality computer science education to its students, especially to girls, students of color, and students in low-income and rural communities, argue Julie Flapan and Allison Scott, co-directors of the Computer Science for California Coalition.

Other things worth your time

California’s testing backlog is among the worst in the country. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Riverside and Los Angeles counties: Wear face masks when you go out shopping. // The Los Angeles Times

Webinar: Here’s some expert advice on how to homeschool your kid. // CalMatters

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti authorizes shutting off utilities for nonessential businesses remaining open. // The Los Angeles Times

Nearly one-third of Sacramento coronavirus cases linked to churches. // The Sacramento Bee

Running in the age of coronavirus: Some tips for better etiquette. // The San Francisco Chronicle

In an ironic twist, Bay Area bans reusable grocery bags. // Politico

Forget Fox News: President Donald Trump has taken a liking to a conservative San Diego media outlet. // The Los Angeles Times

Despite March storms, California’s snowpack is at 66% of its historical average. // 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...