In summary

Surge in unemployment claims plagued by old IT system. California’s coronavirus death model comes under scrutiny. All-mail election looks likely.

Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, April 28.

15 million unemployment calls last week; some disconnected

A construction worker in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco on March 25, 2020. Public works employees are exempt during the shelter in place order. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A construction worker in San Francisco on March 25. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Today, California will begin accepting unemployment insurance claims from millions of previously ineligible workers, including gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed. But will the state unemployment agency’s overloaded and antiquated tech system be able to handle it?

If the past — or the present — is anything to go by, probably not.

Many who called the agency in recent weeks found phone lines jammed or calls disconnected before they could talk to a live representative, the Los Angeles Times reported. Others said attempts to file online claims resulted in error messages, frozen screens and other glitches.

With over 3.4 million Californians filing for unemployment since March 15, the Employment Development Department has rushed to keep up by drastically expanding call center hours, redeploying 1,340 state employees to answer phones, and simplifying the online application.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the state has already issued an unprecedented $4.4 billion to jobless Californians since March 15. And he said an additional 600 employees will be added to state call centers to meet demand, which reached 15 million calls last week.

The governor also introduced several initiatives to “reduce stress on the call center,” including an online chat-bot and a texting service to answer frequently asked questions.

Will it help?

  • Newsom: “I’m not going to sit here and complain about old IT systems, except we have an old IT system. And let me just acknowledge head-on that’s not the only old IT system in government. … lest I not remind you of (the Department of Motor Vehicles’) infamous IT system. These things can’t change overnight, but know we’re working day and night to begin to do justice to … your rightful demands for performance from the state of California.”


The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 45,157 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,782 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 is going on with California’s coronavirus model?

Health care workers demonstrate flattening the curve. Image via iStock

Why is California using a coronavirus model that appears out of sync with what’s happening on the ground? It projects, for example, that 10 Bay Area counties will see 8,727 deaths in early June; as of Friday, 241 deaths had occurred in the region. “This is just way, way, way off from the observed data,” Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, told the Mercury News.

Though the model could help explain Newsom’s reluctance to loosen the stay-at-home order, its apparent deviation from reality could spark increased public pushback, as highlighted by thousands of Californians who crowded beaches in Orange and Ventura counties last weekend. Nevertheless, six Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley announced Monday an extension of shelter-in-place orders through the end of May.

2. Will November be an all-mail election? All eyes on Newsom

Photo via iStock

With the November election approaching, experts say it’s inevitable Newsom will issue an executive order to make the election all vote-by-mail, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. The main question: Will it uphold current state law requiring counties to provide a certain number of in-person polling places? Some advocates argue that a lack of physical voting sites will disenfranchise thousands of voters, while county registrars argue polling places may put voters and poll workers at increased health risk in the age of COVID-19. But California’s top election official seems to support an all-mail election supplemented with physical voting sites.

  • Secretary of State Alex Padilla: “I think people who need or prefer an in-person option deserve it. And so we’re going to have to work really hard with counties to ensure we maintain as much in-person voting as we can.”

3. Newsom finally launches accountability website — but it’s not all lawmakers asked for

Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services, under increasing scrutiny from legislators, launched a webpage Monday that breaks down the personal protective equipment, or PPE, sent to each county — more than two weeks after a deadline from lawmakers to provide such information. But it doesn’t include everything Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles, asked for in a sharply worded letter earlier this month.

Lawmakers wanted more information about a nearly $1 billion deal the governor announced on national TV to procure more than 200 million medical-grade masks and other equipment each month. But the page launched Monday doesn’t reveal how much equipment went to cities, or how much of it went to medical facilities or other essential worksites. It also doesn’t show how local requests have been fulfilled or the priority for distributing supplies.

CalMatters virtual events

Today at 4 p.m.: Curious how California’s teachers are navigating the most significant disruption to education in modern history? Want some tips for how parents can help their children learn from home? Join us for a virtual conversation with three California teachers at the forefront of remote instruction. Register here and submit questions here.

CalMatters commentary

A clearer path forward: The governor laid out six indicators to gradually reopen California’s economy, but they need more clarity and specificity. Here are five precise steps to help the state move forward, writes state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, a Republican representing the 8th Senate District.

Pandemic takes marijuana mainstream: The actions of regulators in California and dozens of other states acknowledge that cannabis is not some alternative on-the-fringe therapy option but rather an essential medicine for many Americans, argues Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Economy vs. environment a fallacy: The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the economy and led to lower vehicle emissions, which begs the question: What if a robust economy didn’t have to come at the cost of cleaner air? asks Mike Gatto, a former member of the California Assembly.

Other things worth your time

Debunking claims from Bakersfield doctors that COVID-19 is no worse than influenza. // CalMatters

Los Angeles leaders to discuss requirements for sheltering city’s homeless population following lawsuit from LA Alliance for Human Rights. // Los Angeles Daily News

George Skelton: It’s not a one-party system in California, it’s a one-man system. // Los Angeles Times

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on nursing homes. Will it end the “warehousing” of the elderly? // The Sacramento Bee

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi endorses Joe Biden for President. // The Wall Street Journal

Stanford hospital system cuts pay by 20%, furloughs workers amid pandemic. // The San Francisco Chronicle

One year after the Poway shooting, hate crimes are still rising. Their source? Online hate groups. // The San Diego Union-Tribune


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...