In summary

Enrollment in state food stamp program lags. Drug-overdose deaths fall nationally but rise in California. Paint companies settle two-decade-old lead suit.

Good morning, California.

“‘Manpower’ will be eschewed for ‘human effort’ or ‘workforce,’ while ‘maintenance hole’ will replace ‘manhole.’”—San Francisco Chronicle’s Ashley McBride, describing a Berkeley ordinance to make language in the city code gender neutral.

A hole in the safety net

California leaves $1.8 billion in federal food aid on the table.

About 70% of eligible Californians are enrolled in CalFresh, the state’s name for the federally funded food stamp program—the fourth-lowest rate in the nation in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Low-income Californians would have received an additional $1.8 billion in federal funding that year if CalFresh had reached every eligible person, CalMatters reporter Jackie Botts writes, as part of a new collaboration called the California Divide.

  • Only one in five eligible seniors in California receives CalFresh compared with the national average of 42%.
  • California is one of 10 states in which food stamps are administered at the county level, creating a variety of application processes.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, is carrying legislation that would require the state to enroll 95% of eligible households by 2024. It passed the Senate without a single no-vote and awaits an Assembly vote.

  • Wiener: “It’s time to kick into gear, streamline the system, get people signed up and stop with the excuses.” 

Some county officials worry Wiener’s benchmarks are too ambitious. The bill doesn’t include funding for counties. But Advocates say there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit, like streamlining the application.

Overdose deaths rise

California has seen a significant rise in drug-overdose deaths two years in a row.

Drug-overdose deaths rose in California by 6.6 percent in 2018 to an estimated 5,624, even as they fell nationwide by 5.1%, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.

It was the second year in a row that California had a significant increase in overdose deaths, CalMatters’ Mohamed Al Elew, who crunched the numbers, found. It also was the first time since 2015 that California had the largest number of overdose deaths.

  • 68,557 died from overdoses in 2018 nationwide, preliminary data show.
  • Fewer than 20,000 overdose deaths were recorded 20 years ago.

Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys, a former adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was quoted in The Washington Post:

  • “Since the epidemic started, we’ve had a few years where deaths were flat or barely grew year on year, but this is the first time they’ve actually declined. Losing nearly 70,000 people a year of course still means we’re in the midst of a public health disaster, but this is the first real sign of hope we’ve had that we might be turning the corner.”

In Sacramento, legislation to tax opioid manufacturers to combat addiction has stalled in the Assembly. It’s a rare bipartisan tax hike proposal, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, who represents Butte County.

Lead paint settlement

Paint companies will pay California cities and counties $305 million.

Paint companies that used lead in their products have settled a two-decade-old suit by agreeing to pay California’s largest cities and counties $305 million.

Remind me: A judge required Sherwin-Williams Co., ConAgra Grocery Products Co. and NL Industries Inc. to pay $1.15 billion to clean up lead paint. An appeals court trimmed that sum by ruling the companies only would have to pay for cleaning up homes built before 1951.

Who collects: Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Ventura counties, and Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. The money is supposed to be spent on lead paint remediation and to help people who have been poisoned by lead. 

Outside lawyers including Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy, Motley Rice, Mary Alexander & Associates PC, Peter Earle and Altshuler Berzon will split 17.225% of the settlement.

  • Attorney Joseph W. Cotchett, the lead lawyer: “Future generations of Californians, especially children living in poverty, will be safer and healthier—years will be added to their lives.”

Trump’s California haul

President Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Photo by Michael Vadon
President Trump has raised millions of dollars from Californians.

President Donald Trump raised $3 million in the first half of 2019 from Californians who donated $200 or more, even though only a third of the state’s voters approve of his job performance, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher finds

Trump’s haul exceeded every Democratic candidate other than Sen. Kamala Harris, who raised $7.5 million in California, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who raised $4.8 million. 

For a breakdown of the ZIP codes where Trump raised his money, please click here

Soda tax, once more

The push for a soda tax has been revived. 

Health groups are renewing a push for legislation imposing a two-cent-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks, and say they may go to the ballot if that fail. It will fail if past is prologue.

The coalition includes the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association, the American Heart Association American Diabetes Association, and others.

Several bills to regulate soda and sugary drinks failed this year, as they did in past years. A final bill to place California-only warning labels on soda stalled in the Assembly Health Committee earlier this month.

  • Money matters: The L.A. Times reported the soda industry donated campaign money to 14 of 15 Assembly Health Committee members, $51,000 in all.

Consultant Steven Maviglio, representing the American Beverage Association, said the bills failed “because they are an unfair burden on working families and neighborhood businesses already struggling with the state’s high cost of living.” 

Initiative promoters believe turnout will be huge in November 2020, as Californians show their disdain for President Trump. Whether people would vote for a soda tax is another question. The beverage industry would spend huge sums to defeat such a measure.

  • More money matters: In 2018, the American Beverage Association anted up $8.5 million for an initiative that would have made it more difficult for local governments to raise taxes.
  • The soda industry dropped that measure when the Legislature capitulated by approving legislation prohibiting local governments from passing new soda taxes.

Police shooting legislation

Calmatters has closely followed the issue of police accountability.

Civil rights advocates have long sought more accountability for law enforcement in California, as police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement have roiled the nation.

After falling short in past years, the pattern shifted after Sacramento police killed Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard. 

CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall has been paying particular attention to the issue as it plays out in the Capitol.

  • For her explainer on what she has found, please click here.
  • To hear CalMatters’ podcast on the issue, Force of Law, please click here.

Take a number: 2 million

The invasive nutria threatens levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

California’s new budget includes almost $2 million to fund the eradication of nutria, an invasive species of South American rodents with large yellowish teeth that can grow to 15 pounds and wreak havoc to levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Delta Conservancy has awarded another $8.5 million.

  • The Mercury News: The new money will allow the state to hire staff and try methods inspired by a successful eradication effort in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • One such project is the use of “Judas nutria,” sterilized swamp rats with radio collars that lead hunters back to their families. Dogs will be used to point to, but not hunt, creatures, which have been known to seriously injure dogs that get too close.

Commentary at CalMatters

Daniel Marti, head of global policy at RELX, parent to Elsevier: Elsevier proposed a series of arrangements that would contain costs for the University of California, achieve the objectives of the Academic Senate, and provide students, faculty, researchers and medical professionals with uninterrupted service to the research platform that supports their work. UC Library negotiators rejected all offers.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...