California is struggling to provide residents with two items central to surviving the pandemic — the vaccine and unemployment benefits.

California as of Wednesday had administered 38% of its 4.2 million doses of vaccine, ranking 45th nationwide in the number of doses administered per capita. And on Thursday, the beleaguered Employment Development Department revealed that nearly 943,000 claims remain backlogged — the highest total in months, and an increase of more than 130,000 from last week.

The shortcomings appear to be due in part to technical problems. For example, nearly two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a goal of vaccinating 1 million Californians in 10 days, the state is unable to determine if he met the goal due to a series of coding errors and data collection problems. (Officials estimate it likely took 12 days.) And EDD, after suspending 1.4 million unemployment claims in an attempt to root out fraud, is now extending the time claimants have to verify their identity from 10 to 30 days due to a severely overloaded system that has left some Californians spending more than three days trying to get through.

In an attempt to streamline California’s chaotic vaccine rollout, Newsom today will unveil a pilot program to help counties, cities and other entities schedule appointments, as first reported in this newsletter. But challenges remain. Even as additional mass vaccination sites open, providers say they are running out of doses. And 10 lawmakers alleged in a Thursday letter that the state has not shared how it determines the number of doses each county, hospital and mass vaccination site should receive.

  • The lawmakers (9 Republicans and 1 Democrat): “A lack of communication and transparency from the administration has resulted in mass confusion by both the general public and our local public health officers.”

Meanwhile, EDD maintains it is on track to meet its Jan. 27 deadline of clearing the original backlog of 1.6 million claims. (Newsom in June had pledged to clear the backlog by September, a deadline later pushed to January.) But combining the 943,000 unresolved claims and 1.4 million suspended ones gives EDD a current functional backlog of 2.3 million claims — its largest yet.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,039,044 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 35,004 deaths (+1.7% from previous day), 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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1. Time running short for eviction ban

Demonstrators protest rent payment and evictions in Oakland on Dec. 5, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Despite a new federal moratorium that prevents residential evictions until the end of March, California lawmakers say they need to meet a much sooner deadline — Jan. 31 — to preserve the state’s delicate and complicated eviction protections.

The federal eviction moratorium is simple: Those who haven’t paid rent will be at risk of eviction on April 1 and owe all back rent immediately. However, California’s moratorium allows people who have paid 25% of their rent during the pandemic to stay in their homes and to work out back rent with their landlords in small claims court. Lawmakers are now rushing to negotiate an extension before those protections expire Jan. 31 — but haven’t yet decided how long it should last, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports.

New estimates suggest that California tenants owe $400 million in unpaid rent — a significant decrease from the $1.7 billion estimated in December, largely due to expanded federal unemployment benefits. If that figure is accurate, California’s $2.5 billion in federal rental relief would more than cover that debt. Nevertheless, state court officials anticipate that landlords will file 240,000 new eviction cases this year — double the typical amount.

2. COVID intensifies family caregivers’ work

Ann Lucero teaches her mother, Fern, how to use her new tablet. Photo by Clara Mokri for CalMatters

Around 4.7 million Californians — predominantly women — care for elderly friends or family members without pay, work that has gotten orders of magnitude more difficult amid the pandemic. Many have labored within the four walls of their home without any breaks for nearly a year and are looking to the vaccine as a path out of isolation. But since they aren’t considered health care workers, it’s unclear when the doses will be made available to them, CalMatters’ Anne Marshall-Chalmers reports.

Lucero, who is on unpaid leave from her job with Redwood City Schools, says some nights she gets so lonely she’ll “shotgun text” 15 friends at once, an attempt at conversation. The pressure of caring for her mom has also increased. This summer, Fern slipped in the bathroom and hit her head so hard the wound required staples. She now wears a tomato-red helmet as she shuffles through the house.

3. California’s bill for fighting Trump

Former President Donald Trump; Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photos by Gage Skidmore via Flickr; Anne Werrnikoff, CalMatters

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s 110 lawsuits against the Trump administration have cost California $41 million — a number that will continue to rise, as a majority of cases are still pending, CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons reports. Of those that have been decided, Becerra’s office won 82%. Meanwhile, the costs of running the attorney general’s office shot up from $3.7 million in fiscal year 2016-17 to $16 million in 2019-20. The California Department of Justice calls it money well spent, adding that one case it won against the federal Department of Energy will generate $8 billion in energy savings for consumers over the next 30 years. Another case forced the federal government to award California $57 million.

  • Becerra: “We have paid for all the work that we’ve done in essentially one action.”

For more on the legacy of Becerra’s lawsuits, check out Byrhonda’s story.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Even once California emerges from the pandemic and the recession, it will still face the threat of prolonged drought.

Ethnic studies model curriculum isn’t faithful to discipline: Capitalism has been erased as a system of oppression and Arab American studies relegated to an appendix, argue Aimee Riechel and Robert Roth of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Higher Pell Grant investment needed: Federal Pell Grants should be doubled to make college a reality for more students like me, writes Edgar Oseguera Martinez, a student at UC Berkeley.


Other things worth your time

Chance of dying from COVID-19 in the hospital doubles in Los Angeles County. // Los Angeles Times

County distributes COVID patients’ addresses to police agencies. // Voice of San Diego

In California, the clock is ticking on high school football season. // Mercury News

Fremont school board reverses course, will bring cops back to campuses. // Mercury News

A Vallejo police lieutenant has a long history of excessive force allegations, but he continues to rise in the ranks. // The Appeal

Fresno County District Attorney latest to deny George Gascon jurisdiction. // Los Angeles Daily News

Much-needed rainfall headed for California. // CNN

Is fire season now a year-round reality in California? Experts weigh in. // San Francisco Chronicle

Two Biden priorities — climate and conservation — collide in the California desert. // Los Angeles Times


See you Monday.

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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...