“Everything that should be up is up and everything that should be down is down,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in January when lifting California’s regional stay-at-home order.
Today, that statement holds true for many aspects of California’s pandemic response — vaccinations are up, infections are down, hospitalizations are down — but rings hollow when it comes to the state unemployment department, where numbers are trending in the wrong direction. According to figures released Thursday, the Employment Development Department’s backlog of unresolved claims had ballooned to 1.08 million as of May 1, up from 1.05 million the week before and 1.03 million the week before that. The logjam has contained more than 1 million claims for 13 straight weeks.
Around 283,800 of those claims are pending EDD action — including 166,208 that have been on hold for more than three weeks — while the remainder are awaiting certification from jobless Californians, according to agency documents. But residents have long said jammed phone lines and tech glitches have hampered them from certifying claims, and data shows EDD’s call center is also going in the wrong direction. The agency answered less than 6% of the 4.8 million calls it received from April 24 to May 1, with each person calling about 12 times in an attempt to get through. That’s significantly worse than in late March, when EDD answered 10.5% of calls and each person called about eight times.
- Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat: “My office has been receiving countless calls from desperate constituents, many of whom are in tears, some of whom are on the brink of homelessness and even some of who have threatened suicide.”
Lawmakers this week recommended rejecting Newsom’s budget proposal to create a new Department of Better Jobs and Higher Wages within the state labor agency, noting that “a new bureaucracy” wouldn’t help reduce the claim backlog. EDD, apparently cognizant of the Legislature’s mounting frustration, published this week a list of new tools and resources to improve customer service.
Newsom also appears aware that EDD is a liability. The same day Secretary of State Shirley Weber said enough signatures had been gathered to force a recall election, the governor’s unemployment fraud task force announced it had arrested 68 people and opened another 1,641 cases.
Correction: The newsletter was updated on May 10 to clarify the number of claims pending EDD action.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,648,276 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 60,927 deaths (+0.1% 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.
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Other stories you should know
1. Pediatricians to bypass MyTurn
California will allow pediatricians to bypass the state’s cumbersome vaccine management system in a move intended to speed COVID-19 vaccinations for children, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov has exclusively learned. The decision — which comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize vaccines for children ages 12-15 as early as next week — is a tacit acknowledgment of the problems the $50 million MyTurn system poses for doctors and smaller medical groups seeking to immunize their patients. For more information on families’ options for vaccinating their kids, check out Barbara’s story.
- Steve Escamilla, executive director of Tamalpais Pediatrics in Marin County: “To be able to bypass the bureaucracy would be a godsend. That’s definitely a game changer for our ability to give the vaccine.”
2. California’s changing population
Lower- and middle-income residents are leaving California, while higher-income people with college degrees are moving into the state, according to a Thursday report from the Public Policy Institute of California. From 2015 to 2019, for example, 465,500 residents without a bachelor’s degree left the state, while 74,500 people with bachelor’s degrees entered. During that same period, 204,900 lower-income and 210,000 middle-income residents exited California, while 49,500 higher-income people moved in. The data complicates the much-discussed narrative of wealthy residents like Elon Musk fleeing to Texas to avoid California’s high income taxes: If anything, those cases seem to be the exception, not the rule.
- Hans Johnson, the report’s author: “The state’s high cost of living, driven almost solely by comparatively high housing costs, remains an ongoing public policy challenge — one that needs resolution if the state is to be a place of opportunity for all of its residents.”
Case in point: The median price for a single-family home in California in March was a staggering $758,990, and polls show that nearly one-third of residents worry every day about the cost of housing.
3. Money going to the wrong places?
In today’s episode of Where Has the Money Gone?, we have a KQED investigation revealing that, during its first year of operation, a special trust set up to compensate survivors of PG&E-sparked fires spent nearly 90% of its funds on overhead — including $1,500 hourly charges for some financial professionals and claims administrators. Yet the vast majority of the fire victims — many of whom are teetering on the edge of poverty — have yet to receive a penny.
- Retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer Bill Cook, who lost his Paradise home in the 2018 Camp Fire: “They have these enormous legal costs and there’s not much to show for it. It’s like everything is a black hole and nothing moves, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
We also have a Los Angeles Times investigation that found California’s problem-plagued and years-delayed bullet train only employs 1,000 workers on an ongoing basis — 20% of the 5,000 jobs union leaders and politicians say the project has created. Of the $8.1 billion spent on the project so far, only 3% has gone to labor — a reflection of the state spending vast sums of money on consultants, design changes and legal disputes. The bullet train costs California about $3.5 million per day and is years from completion.
- Richard Little, an infrastructure policy consultant at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: “If the sole purpose is to put people to work, then maybe we should build pyramids. The high-speed rail is the biggest money pit in California at the moment.”
4. The TikTok angel of street vendors
Sometimes, however, money does end up in the hands of those who need it the most. Jesus Morales, a 24-year-old San Diego resident, went from losing his job at the beginning of the pandemic to gaining more than 1 million followers on the social media platform TikTok. He’s leveraged his massive audience to raise more than $90,000 for street vendors throughout California, many of whom are elderly, Latino and undocumented, La Opinión’s Jacqueline Garcia reports for CalMatters. When delivering the money, Morales asks to buy all of a vendor’s merchandise — and then hands them $1,000 in an envelope and tells them to keep both the money and the merchandise.
- Morales: “I have failed many times in my life. This is the only thing I can say that I have not failed.”
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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.
A down payment for racial equity: Here are five ways in which California can use federal stimulus money as an initial investment to address racial inequities, writes Kiran Savage Sangwan of the California Pan Ethnic Health Network.
Increasing opportunity for high schoolers: California policymakers must expand high school student access to dual enrollment community college classes, argues Joe Radding of educational and leadership consulting firm JR & Associates.
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Other things worth your time
How Newsom’s reliance on big tech amid pandemic undermines the public health system. // California Healthline
CalSavers state pension plan survives challenge by Howard Jarvis taxpayers group. // San Francisco Chronicle
California bill would let bicyclists roll through stop signs. // Sacramento Bee
Two San Francisco women stabbed amid wave of attacks on Asians. // Associated Press
Entire Bay Area has gone from ‘severe’ to ‘extreme’ drought levels in just two weeks. // San Francisco Chronicle
Marin County first in region to limit outdoor watering with mandatory rules. // SFGATE
In historic move, county removes barrier to tribal land expansion. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California tribes call out harmful algal blooms in Clear Lake. // Circle of Blue
Why this year’s Folsom Lake super bloom is so amazingly rare — and troubling. // San Francisco Chronicle
There are only about 200 California condors in the wild. About 10% landed on one woman’s deck. // San Francisco Chronicle
See you Monday.
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