Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, August 6.

And overhaul entire department

California lawmakers are not impressed with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attempts to address a massive backlog of claims at the state unemployment department.

A bipartisan group of 61 legislators led by Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat, sent Newsom a scathing letter Wednesday, arguing that the governor’s new “strike team,” tasked with coming up with a blueprint for overhauling the department’s outdated technology, doesn’t go nearly far enough. They also decried the governor’s goal of eliminating a backlog of 1 million claims by the end of September, demanding he commit to an earlier date.

Lawmakers want the department to start paying backlogged claims immediately and certify them later. They want weekly status updates. And they want to completely revamp the leadership and culture of the Employment Development Department — which Newsom oversees.

  • The lawmakers: “EDD is an organization directed by a small inner circle of long-serving bureaucrats rooted in the status quo and unable to drive reform. … There is a culture within EDD that presumes every claimant may be guilty of fraud and must prove themselves innocent, rather than a desperate constituent who should be treated with compassion and dignity via a model of truly customer-focused government.”

Lawmakers also want to overhaul the department’s call center, which currently has a four-to-six-week callback window. Though Newsom in April expanded call center hours to twelve hours a day, seven days a week, the main unemployment line didn’t change its hours and remains open only four hours a day, five days a week.

The letter marks a new front in the unemployment battle as lawmakers — many of them members of Newsom’s party — turn from eviscerating EDD to targeting the Democratic governor.

  • Lawmakers: “It is unacceptable that millions of Californians have gone for months without income due to the failure of our state government.”
  • Vicky Waters, Newsom’s press secretary: “The Administration is fully committed to ensuring impacted California workers get the benefits they have earned.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 524,722 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,703 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


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Other stories you should know

1. Will Newsom’s middle-of-the-road strategy work?

Newsom at Miss Ollie’s restaurant in Oakland on June 9. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo/Pool

Newsom is attempting to walk a middle path amid the pandemic, not too strict and not too relaxed. But it’s unclear whether that strategy is paying off — once praised for being the first governor to impose a statewide lockdown, Newsom now finds himself in a position where Californians can’t travel to New York without being quarantined, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. As deaths surge and people grow antsy under government control, the choices he faces — more restrictions and more jobs lost, or less restrictions and more lives lost — leave him with no clear path out.

  • State Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat: “We have this quagmire: We have neither a healthy public nor a healthy economy. We’re in a situation where it’s not safe to open further but nobody feels there is enough justification to close down again.”

2. State mistakenly drops Medi-Cal coverage for some low-income Californians

A doctor listens to a man’s heartbeat at a clinic in Bieber on July 23, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

In yet another technical glitch, hundreds of thousands of low-income Californians lost health insurance benefits or saw them reduced due to an error in the state’s Medi-Cal renewal system, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. The problem occurred despite Newsom’s executive order ensuring Medi-Cal enrollees wouldn’t be cut off from benefits amid the pandemic, frustrating lawyers who say their clients tried to access health care — only to find out they were no longer insured. While the state tries to fix the problem, it’s advising dropped enrollees to call their county’s Medi-Cal office.

  • Liza Thantranon of Legal Services of Northern California: “It hasn’t been too difficult to get people back on once you can actually talk to someone. But 99% of the time you can’t get ahold of them. I’ve left countless messages.”

3. California sues Uber and Lyft — again

Image via iStock

In the latest battle of the ongoing war between California and Uber and Lyft, the state labor commissioner sued the ride-hailing giants Wednesday, arguing they committed wage theft by refusing to reclassify independent contractor drivers as employees under AB5, the state’s controversial gig-work law. Today, a state court will consider a separate lawsuit Attorney General Xavier Becerra and three city attorneys filed against Uber and Lyft in May. Becerra will seek an injunction to force the immediate reclassification of drivers, while Uber and Lyft want to postpone the case until voters weigh in on their November ballot measure — which would keep drivers classified as independent contractors but provide additional benefits, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Veena Dubal, a UC Hastings law professor: “The state is doing this all at once as a concerted action to show the state’s conviction around the reality that these companies have been misclassifying their workers. It gives additional public and political weight for an injunction.”

4. AG Becerra sued over ballot measure language

Image via iStock

What’s in a name? A lot, given that Attorney General Xavier Becerra was sued six times in the past two weeks for how he titled and described some of the most contentious measures on California’s November ballot, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. Although state courts seem likely to defer to Becerra’s choice of language, a slew of newspaper editorial boards have accused the attorney general of “playing favorites,” “skewing the language” of the ballot and “tricking the electorate” — raising questions about whether a partisan, elected official should be in charge of writing what are supposed to be nonpartisan summaries.

  • One example: Becerra was sued by business groups and anti-tax advocates for describing Prop. 15, which would raise property taxes for large commercial properties and funnel the money to schools and local governments, as “increas(ing) funding sources for public schools” — and not mentioning the phrase “tax increase.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s education department has ruled that Los Angeles Unified School District’s plan for educating at-risk kids is seriously deficient — a warning to other school systems.

Protect workers: Too many California workers aren’t provided sufficient paid sick days or job-protected leave, putting patients and their families in impossible situations, argue Sharad Jain and Melody Tran-Reina, primary care physicians at Sacramento County Health Center.

Invest in California higher ed: Congress should approve federal funds to help universities continue to play a leading role in combating today’s public health emergency, write Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.

Kids rely on nutritious school meals: California schools and families will need more resources to feed their kids this fall, write Kathy Saile and Barbara Friedrich of No Kid Hungry.


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Other things worth your time

Los Angeles battles mansion parties that could spread COVID-19. // Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County: No school reopening waivers will be considered. // Los Angeles Times

California counties empty juvenile halls to combat COVID-19. // The Imprint

California to study the possible link between air quality and coronavirus. // KQED

Tired of wells that threaten residents’ health, a small California town takes on the oil industry. // Inside Climate News

Record number of homeless people died in Sacramento County last year, report shows. // Sacramento Bee

Senior California Public Utilities Commission official claims she’s being ousted after whistleblowing. // San Francisco Chronicle


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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...