In summary

Newsom unveils plan to get food to hungry Californians. Details of coronavirus-response contracts remain hidden. COVID-19 challenges homeless residents.

Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, April 30.

How state plans to keep people fed

A volunteer helps direct traffic along W. Williamette Avenue to a food bank food giveaway held at Easton Presbyterian Church Monday, April 6, 2020 in Easton. Photo by Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee
A volunteer helps direct traffic to a food bank food giveaway held at Easton Presbyterian Church on April 6. Photo by Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee

How do you ensure people are fed during a pandemic?

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled the latest in a series of state initiatives to help hungry Californians get food as traditional points of access — restaurants, schools — close down and the number of people showing up at food banks and experiencing food insecurity rises.

“We want to address that mismatch … in supply and demand,” Newsom said, adding that farmers and ranchers are experiencing a 50% decrease in demand while food banks are seeing a 73% increase. In the first three weeks of April, CalFresh, the state’s food stamp program, saw a 140% increase in applications compared with the same time last year.

The new initiatives include:

  • $3.64 million in federal and philanthropic funds to expand the state’s Farm to Family Program, which facilitates farmer and rancher donations to food banks, with the goal of raising $15 million to support the program for the rest of the year.
  • A 15% tax credit for farmers.
  • A $365 debit card credit for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. The card can also be used to buy food online from Amazon or Walmart. The state expects to issue $1.4 billion to roughly 3.8 million children.

Meanwhile, Newsom’s multimillion-dollar plan to buy three daily meals from local restaurants and deliver them to vulnerable seniors will run out of federal funding by May 10, the Associated Press reported. California hasn’t yet applied for an extension for the funding, which would cover 75% of program costs.

And much about the plan remains unclear, including which counties and cities are participating, which seniors qualify, which restaurants will contribute and how food will be delivered.

  • Want to know more about the breakdowns in California’s food-supply chain? Tune in Friday at 12 p.m. for CalMatters’ virtual conversation with Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Company, Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of United Western Dairies, and Jaclyn Pack, food-acquisitions manager for the Central California Food Bank. Register here.


The Bottom Line: As of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 48,746 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,944 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. What’s going on with Newsom’s huge contracts with private companies?

Gov. Gavin Newsom writes down a note during a March 28 tour of the Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale, which refurbished ventilators to meet the COVID-19 pandemic. This week Newsom announced the state would loan 500 ventilators to the national stockpile for use by New York and other states, and that it would share excess masks from its massive purchase of them. Photo by Beth LaBerge/Pool Photo via AP
Gov. Gavin Newsom during a March 28 tour of Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale. Photo by Beth LaBerge/Pool Photo via AP

California has spent more than $2 billion on its coronavirus response so far, with most of the money going to private companies the state is contracting with to produce medical equipment and protective gear. Yet the details of many contracts remain unknown, even to the state Legislature, the Sacramento Bee’s Sophia Bollag reports. A few examples:

  • Newsom’s nearly $1 billion deal with Chinese company BYD for a monthly shipment of medical-grade masks. His administration has denied repeated requests from lawmakers and journalists to release the contract, citing concerns that shipments could be jeopardized.
  • Bloom Energy’s refurbishing of hundreds of ventilators. It’s unclear how much the state is paying Bloom, though a Bloom spokesperson said the company is refurbishing ventilators at cost.
  • Virgin Orbit’s production of bridge ventilators. CEO Dan Hart said the state is paying his company $2,000 apiece for 600 bridge ventilators, but the contract has not yet been made public.
  • Hospital leases. The state has not yet released contracts for two hospital leases totaling $30 million, despite lawmakers’ requests.
  • Testing. The state is contracting with several companies, including Verily Life Sciences, to provide widespread diagnostic testing, but details remain unclear.

2. Inside the lives of four homeless Californians during the pandemic

A hand sanitizing station at a homeless encampment near Oakland city hall. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A hand-sanitizing station at a homeless encampment near Oakland City Hall. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

How are California’s 150,000 homeless residents weathering the coronavirus pandemic? A month after Newsom announced plans to provide 15,000 hotel and motel rooms to house homeless Californians, only one-third of the rooms are filled, and many unsheltered residents are living where they were before the outbreak. In this CalMatters mini-documentary produced by Byrhonda Lyons, four homeless Californians — one in a state-leased hotel room, one in a shelter, one in a trailer park, and one in an encampment — take us through their daily lives in the era of COVID-19.

  • Ashley Hammond, a resident of a government-sponsored RV park in Oakland: “We use a handwashing station here, but there’s no soap. No soap on the other side, either. Makes it really hard not to contract this virus here.”

3. How coronavirus is upending California’s census count

A sign encouraging residents to participate in the 2020 census hangs from the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland on April 28, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A Census sign hangs from the Alameda County Courthouse on April 28. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Coronavirus could singlehandedly sink California’s $187 million census campaign, which so far has a response rate of 54.6% — over 10% lower than the final 2010 count, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports. In some counties, only one in 10 households have filled out the survey, and after the pandemic halted door-to-door canvassing, there currently aren’t any plans to count the state’s sizable homeless population.

  • Heather Heckler, communications manager for public agency Connecting Point: “I think the census is very important, but it’s not top of mind for a lot of people at this moment.”

4. Tracking California’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county

Be sure to check out CalMatters’ updated coronavirus hospitalization tracker. Tables can be sorted by county, total patients, daily change in the number of patients and more. Our data journalists also mapped out trendlines for each county.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California may be heading toward an all-mail election in November, but there are worrisome aspects, such as delayed election results and controversy about “ballot harvesting.”

Time to review AB 5: Today is the second anniversary of the state Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision, which unleashed Assembly Bill 5. If policymakers want to restart the economy, they should review it ASAP, argues John Kabateck of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Congress must act boldly on DACA: If the U.S. Supreme Court decides in June to terminate DACA, Congress must find permanent solutions for the more than 700,000 recipients brought to the country as children, writes Jose Garcia of the Latino Community Foundation.

California and feds need to resolve differences: The historic cooperation between the state and federal governments to manage California’s water supply is threatened by a looming battle. We can’t let that happen, writes Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition.

Other things worth your time

Newsom to announce closure of all state parks, beaches Friday. // Fox LA

All Los Angeles residents can now get free coronavirus tests, Mayor Eric Garcetti says. // The Los Angeles Times

Bay Area counties modify stay-at-home orders for some outdoor businesses and recreational activities. // The San Francisco Chronicle

UC San Francisco and Stanford to launch two long-term, large-scale coronavirus studies in May that could shape the state’s reopening. // The San Francisco Chronicle

UC campuses: Fall classes could be online but don’t expect a refund. // CalMatters’ College Journalism Network

Last week the Newsom administration released guidelines for whom hospitals should prioritize for care in a crisis. After pushback, it plans to revise the guidelines. // The Los Angeles Times

Podcast: Three California teachers at the forefront of distance learning talk tips and strategies for parents and teachers. // CalMatters

San Francisco supervisors consider allowing homeless Californians to legally pitch tents in parks and parking lots during pandemic. // The San Francisco Chronicle

How major Silicon Valley group was plunged into chaos months before the November election. // Recode

How a potential conflict of interest by PG&E fire victims’ lawyer could complicate voting on the multibillion-dollar settlement. // KQED


See you tomorrow.

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