Good morning, California. It’s Monday, May 3.

Repaying public aid

$18.4 billion.

That’s how much California parents owe in overdue child support payments, but a staggering $6.8 billion of that debt is due to the government, not families — the result of the Golden State keeping an unusually large portion of payments for itself. No other state in America takes a higher percentage of payments — and only one state charges a higher interest rate when parents don’t pay on time, the Salinas Californian’s Kate Cimini reports in a new series, “Intercepted,” for CalMatters’ California Divide project.

The result: The average noncustodial parent in California — usually the father, and disproportionately Black or Latino — makes less than $15,000 a year, but owes $39,000 to both their children and the government.

California takes money out of child support payments if the custodial parent — usually the mother — uses public assistance programs, such as food stamps. That’s due to decades-old federal law that suggests people who use public programs are obligated to repay the government. Failure to do so results in steep penalties: California can suspend driver’s licenses just 30 days after parents fall behind on payments. Though state officials say license suspension is sometimes the only effective tool at their disposal, it can also make it harder for parents to hold down a job — driving them deeper into debt.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill last year that would have ended California’s practice of charging 10% interest on public child support debt, noting that “it would lead to an estimated revenue loss of millions of dollars.” But a pilot program in San Francisco found that writing off that debt — most of which is deemed to be uncollectible in the first place — resulted in fathers paying larger sums more frequently and maintaining better relationships with their children and exes.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,642,480 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 60,748 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 30,412,414 vaccine doses, and 40.2% of Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

This week on the podcast, we talk with state Sen. Bob Hertzberg about the cash bail system and discuss the challenges of vaccinating migrant farm workers. Listen here.

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1. Democrats unify behind Newsom

Magaly Colelli, left, talks with Newsom and actor Danny Trejo, center, in San Fernando on April 29, 2021. Photo by Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles Times via AP/Pool

The animating force behind the California Democratic Party’s online convention over the weekend: Defend Newsom from the upcoming recall election. The all-star lineup included national party leaders such as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — but many of the remarks, including Newsom’s, were pre-recorded, making for an event that felt a bit “like watching maple syrup being tapped,” in the words of Capitol reporter Scott Lay. Still, the message was clear: Democrats want to present a united front to discourage party members from running in the recall as an alternative to Newsom, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

With polls showing lukewarm Latino support for Newsom, former GOP San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is ramping up outreach to Latino voters. Caitlyn Jenner is set to appear on Fox News this week for her first major interview after making headlines over the weekend for saying she opposes transgender girls competing in girls’ sports. Meanwhile, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt announced Friday he would run against Newsom as a Libertarian.

2. State works to reduce prison population

Image via iStock

California on Saturday quietly adopted new rules that give 76,000 inmates the opportunity to shorten their prison sentences, the state’s latest effort to reduce its incarcerated population as officials prepare to close two prisons. The new rules — which increase the rate at which 63,000 violent felons and 13,000 nonviolent repeat offenders can earn credit for good behavior — were issued as emergency regulations, permitting the state to avoid public comment until next year. The state also established a new credit that allows inmates who work in fire camps or who are assigned minimum custody status to earn 30 days of credit for every 30 days served.

Although California’s prison population fell by nearly 20% in the early months of the pandemic, many facilities remain overcrowded. The pandemic also slowed transfers from county jails, where thousands of people are waiting despite not having been convicted or sentenced for a crime.

3. Vaccine supply up as demand falls

Medical assistant Letrice Smith, right, hands a filled syringe to a volunteer at a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by Ravenswood Family Health Network at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021. The clinic will run every Saturday through May 1 to reach members of the underserved communities in the immediate area. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Medical assistant Letrice Smith, right, hands a filled syringe to a volunteer at a community COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California’s vaccine supply is set to reach new heights this week as the federal government resumes shipping the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was paused due to concerns over rare blood clots. But demand appears to be decreasing, concerning health experts who say the downturn could inhibit the Golden State from reaching herd immunity. First-dose appointments have fallen 50% in Los Angeles County, which has also seen 18% of residents miss their second-dose appointments for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In Solano County, 15% of people have skipped their second-dose appointments, and 17,000 people are overdue for their second shot in San Mateo County. The drop in demand is pushing local governments to focus on community and mobile clinics in underserved areas rather than mass vaccination sites: Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, for example, will close at the end of May. Still, some Californians — particularly those in rural and inland areas — remain concerned.

  • Ann, a Napa resident in her 80s: “It’s not gone through all the steps it usually goes through. … I’m not against vaccines, I just don’t trust this one yet.”

To help encourage Californians to get the shot, the state on Friday launched two TV ads aimed at vulnerable populations and announced a partnership with local artists to spread public health messaging in disproportionately impacted communities. It also unveiled a strategy to help Californians who are homebound or need transportation to get their shot.

4. Wildfire season starts up

A sign damaged by fire at Big Basin Redwoods State Park on April 22, 2021. Photo by Nic Coury, AP Photo

It appears that wildfire season is upon us. A red flag warning went into effect for Northern California on Sunday morning as powerful, dry winds swept across the drought-ravaged region, and is expected to remain in effect until Tuesday evening. A blaze broke out in Santa Cruz County’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park, 95% of which was destroyed in a lightning-sparked wildfire last year. In El Dorado County, the 32-acre Salmon Fire was 40% contained as of Sunday, while the 2,900-acre Southern Fire in San Diego County was 0% contained.

  • Cal Fire Director Thom Porter: “The potential is great for the dry, hot weather that fueled the massive fires over the last few years (to) return again this year, so it is up to the public to be ready.”

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CalMatters events

May 11: The Post-COVID Future of Work. Join CalMatters and the Milken Institute for a discussion on how California’s economic recovery can prioritize diversity, inclusion and innovative workforce development. Register here.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A prime example of Newsom’s virtue-signaling is his attitude toward fracking.

The promise of psychedelic therapy: California can help end the veteran suicide epidemic by giving all veterans access to psychedelic therapy through Senate Bill 519, argues Marcus Capone, a former Navy SEAL and founder of VETS Inc.

A college system in crisis: The UC system is in dire need of reform. Here’s a four-step proposal to unlock its potential and expand access to California students, writes Nils Gilman of the Bergguren Institute.

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Other things worth your time

Arnold Schwarzenegger is no longer the governor of California. Right? // New York Times

How a $1 million donation on behalf of Newsom was hidden in plain sight. // Los Angeles Times

California Bar cited for inefficient discipline reforms. // Associated Press

Turmoil at California National Guard with firing, suspension of top generals. // Los Angeles Times

State agency’s ‘safe space’ email after Chauvin verdict turns into reply-all melee. // Sacramento Bee

Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz filed for unemployment even as city checks kept coming. // Orange County Register

The Bay Area is losing Latino homeowners. Where are they going? // San Francisco Chronicle

Disneyland reopens and reemerges as a beacon of optimism. // Los Angeles Times

A boy was swept into the ocean. His story reveals the hidden danger of California’s sneaker waves. // San Francisco Chronicle

Poseidon wins key permit for desalination plant in Huntington Beach. // Orange County Register

How California’s climate solution is actually adding millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. // ProPublica

1 in 5 electric vehicle owners in California switched back to gas because charging their cars is a hassle, new research shows. // Business Insider

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...