Good morning, California. It’s Monday, May 3.
Repaying public aid
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.
- Stacy Estes, who owes about $47,000 in child support debt: “How do you live on half of your makings, how do you even get a house or anything like that? What about gas, electric, food? What about just living?”
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.
- Heather Hahn, a researcher with the Urban Institute: “Parents who have their child support taken by the state feel like they have to choose between supporting their children and paying their child support.”
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.
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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Other stories you should know
1. Democrats unify behind Newsom
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.
- Amar Shergill, chairperson of the party’s Progressive Caucus: “Even the most progressive Democrats who are ill at ease with Gavin Newsom don’t want a Trump-lover for governor, so we are all going to be working hard to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
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
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.
- Republican State Sen. Jim Nielsen, former head of the state parole board: Newsom is “doing it on his own authority, instead of the will of the people through their elected representatives or directly through their own votes. … He’s putting us all at greater risk.”
- Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: “The goal is to increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behavior and follow the rules while serving their time.”
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
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
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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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 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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