Planning on applying for unemployment benefits? Well, you won’t be able to do so for the next two weeks.

California’s beleaguered unemployment department is putting a pause on new claims until Oct. 5 to give it time to implement an automatic identity-verification tool to speed up processing times. The move follows recommendations outlined in a report released late Saturday night from the “strike team” Gov. Gavin Newsom formed in July to find solutions to the department’s myriad problems. The report was due Sept. 14 and released five days late.

Also delayed: eliminating the Employment Development Department’s massive backlog of claims. Newsom said in July the department aimed to clear nearly 1 million unresolved claims by the end of September. But the strike team’s report found that nearly 1.6 million claims remain pending, and the backlog likely won’t be fully cleared until Jan. 27, 2021 — even as it continues to grow by at least 10,000 claims per day.

  • Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat: “The report documents how EDD has failed the people it serves in almost every imaginable way. The size and scope of the backlog are shockingly large.”
  • Jennifer Pahlka, co-chair of the strike team: “With this roadmap, EDD is already on their way to meeting claimants’ needs faster, and I’m confident that over time the department will continue to improve the experience people have filing for unemployment insurance.”

Long-term, the strike team recommended completely overhauling the department — something lawmakers demanded of Newsom in a scathing August letter. The team also recommended ending an ongoing project to modernize EDD’s tech systems, pointing out that three years in, “a contractor has not been selected, and software code has not been written.” At this point, the team wrote, it makes more sense to start a new project from scratch, one “reimagine(d) for the future.”

Scrutiny on the department is far from over. By the end of this month, the state auditor will begin an emergency audit of EDD. But that may not provide much solace to Californians waiting on delayed payments, especially given the recent expiration of $300 weekly extra federal benefits.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 778,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 14,987 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. California’s role in Supreme Court seat battle

Sen. Kamala Harris at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 4, 2018.

California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris will lead the Democratic attempt to prevent Republicans from filling the Supreme Court seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Friday. Feinstein, as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, will be in charge of implementing her party’s strategy, while Harris, as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate and a former prosecutor, will be a key interrogator in the likely confirmation hearings, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Although Republicans control the Senate, strategists say the hearings will also be a major opportunity for Harris to tie the future of the Supreme Court to the November presidential election.

Top California lawmakers paid their respects to Ginsburg Friday.

  • Newsom: “Justice Ginsburg … proved over and over again that sex-based discrimination harmed not just women, but men and families, and that reckoning with this inequality was required for our nation to live out its promise.”
  • Harris: “Tonight we mourn, we honor, and we pray for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her family. Tomorrow we fight for her legacy.”
  • State Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove: “We mourn her loss, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans.”

2. Pandemic reopening battles loom

A woman carries a sign in favor of reopening schools for in-person instruction during a demonstration in Brentwood on Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Opposition to Newsom’s new reopening guidelines is heating up. Today, San Diego County supervisors will consider suing the state over the county’s rising coronavirus case rate, which could push it into a more restrictive tier and force businesses to close for the third time. (Newsom refused to let the county exclude an outbreak at San Diego State from its case count.) Tuesday, Riverside County supervisors will consider rejecting the state’s guidelines in favor of allowing businesses to reopen faster and without indoor capacity limits. And a reopening showdown is also shaping up in Fresno County, where a private school is providing in-person instruction in defiance of state rules and a judge’s Tuesday order for them to close the campus. Nearly 40 lawsuits have been filed against Newsom’s shelter-in-place order, most recently from a group of nearly 300 gyms and health clubs.

  • Meanwhile, as schools throughout California inch toward reopening, decisions about whether to routinely test teachers, staff, and students for COVID-19 are proving controversial — and potentially costly, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.

3. Undocumented workers now eligible for tax credit

Illustration via iStock

Newsom on Friday expanded California’s tax credit for low-income workers to include undocumented tax filers who earn less than $30,000 annually, two days after the Golden State was found to have the highest poverty rate in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. Around 600,000 Californians are expected to benefit from the expansion at a cost of around $65 million per year. This expansion comes a year after Newsom more than doubled the size of the California Earned Income Tax Credit to reach 3.6 million households, pushing the cost of the program from $400 million to $1 billion annually.

  • Newsom: “Undocumented frontline workers leave their families every day to keep our economy running, but many are still struggling to make ends meet. … These Californians are taxpayers and should be treated like taxpayers, eligible for the same credits, and pay the same tax rates.”

One in 10 California workers are undocumented, and many have been hit hard by the pandemic due to ineligibility for unemployment benefits and federal stimulus payments.

4. State of the state for California kids

Image via iStock

The number of children living in California has been decreasing for more than a decade and will likely continue to drop — a trend with major economic implications, as a smaller younger generation will be expected to financially shoulder a ballooning population of seniors. That’s just one nugget from a comprehensive explainer on California children from CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera. Another: About 20% of kids in the Golden State live below the poverty line — the highest rate in the nation — and nearly 50% live in low-income households, pushing California to rank 35th nationwide in overall child well-being. For more, check out Elizabeth’s explainer.


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California has the nation’s highest poverty rate thanks to our high housing costs, which restrict much-needed construction.

Keeping California’s lights on: We must enable customer-owned solar-charged batteries to provide energy to the grid when needed, argues Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, an Orinda Democrat.

A burden for working families: California cannot continue heaping the cost of “green” policies on marginalized and impoverished communities, argues Assemblymember Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Democrat.

More than just water: Science shows that a holistic approach to healing California’s rivers and helping struggling fish populations leads to better results, writes Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition.


Other things worth your time

Bobcat Fire approaches 100,000 acres, making it one of Los Angeles County’s largest ever. // Los Angeles Times

A California town’s fire-protection plans hit red tape. Then the flames came. // Wall Street Journal

California wildfires keep breaking air pollution levels. // Los Angeles Times

California recalls N95 masks from Santa Clara company with $90 million state contract. // Mercury News

Coronavirus-induced student housing levels could cost UC $1 billion annually. // CalMatters

Thousands of COVID tests went uncounted, Kern County officials report amid critique of new state system. // Bakersfield Californian

Federal judge tosses Uber lawsuit challenging AB 5. // San Francisco Chronicle

What’s next for California’s job market. // CalMatters (plus video and podcast)


See you tomorrow.

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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...