Ironically, as Californians celebrate Labor Day weekend, millions will see their unemployment benefits reduced or cut off altogether.

That’s because the federal government on Saturday is ending four key programs intended to help keep people afloat amid the pandemic — a shift that will cause about 2.2 million of the 3 million Californians currently receiving some form of unemployment insurance to completely lose their benefits, according to the state Employment Development Department. The cutoff will primarily affect two groups of people. The first: gig workers, the self-employed and those ineligible for typical unemployment insurance. The second: those who used up their standard benefits but were still unable to find a job.

Another 500,000 Californians receiving regular benefits will no longer receive a $300 weekly supplement from the feds. President Joe Biden’s administration in August told states they could use federal relief funds to continue paying the supplement themselves, but California — which has already allocated all of that money — seems unlikely to do so. Meanwhile, nearly 19,000 people have signed a petition asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to extend pandemic jobless benefits.

With the legislative session ending in a week, staffers told me they weren’t seeing any movement among lawmakers to repurpose federal funds. Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for a comment. Voters concerned about their EDD benefits could be a key voter bloc in the Sept. 14 recall election.

On Sept. 11, yet another federal program will end: a 13- to 20-week extension of unemployment benefits beyond the traditional 26-week cutoff. And, on Sept. 30, California’s eviction moratorium is set to expire.

The rapidly unraveling safety net comes as California seeks to jump-start its economy: Though the Golden State is leading the nation in job creation, it’s also home to the country’s second-highest unemployment rate. Yet there are signs things are heading in the right direction. Around 60,000 Californians filed initial jobless claims for the week ending Aug. 28 — a sizable decrease from the week before, federal numbers show.

Still, experts say it’s unlikely the expiring programs will result in workers flooding California’s job market. They also note it will take a while for jobs to be filled.

  • Michael Bernick, a former EDD director and an attorney at Duane Morris: “California employers and staffing companies can expect to see an uptick in job seekers, but the job placement process will be a gradual one, and the extent to which California workers are reconsidering their previous occupations remains unclear.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,256,244 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 65,585 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 47,083,051 vaccine doses, and 66.8% of eligible 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.


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1. A big day on the campaign trail

A recall supporter holds up a sign at a petition signing event in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Today, Secretary of State Shirley Weber is set to release the list of certified write-in candidates for the Sept. 14 recall election — the latest procedural step before a quickly approaching Election Day. The campaign was in full swing on Thursday, with Newsom appealing to Asian American voters during a stop in San Francisco’s Chinatown and holding a Zoom event with Voto Latino, which recently announced a $1 million get-out-the-vote effort against the recall. During their own Thursday campaign events, replacement candidates Larry Elder and John Cox denounced Newsom’s crime record, while Kevin Faulconer discussed “open air drug markets and tent encampments” in San Francisco. Newsom is set to hold a weekend rally in Los Angeles with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; he also said Thursday that Biden is still planning to visit California to campaign against the recall. Meanwhile, more than a dozen civic groups sent a Thursday letter to the CEOs of Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter, urging them to ensure the “information ecosystem” is not “dominated by deceptive content and conspiracy theories” about the recall election. (CalMatters debunked some of those election fraud myths this week.)

And with just a week left in the legislative session, here’s a look at some controversial — or just plain interesting — bills that state lawmakers on Thursday sent to the governor’s desk, as well as ideas that didn’t make it through.

2. Following up on vaccine lottery $$

Newsom juggles vaccine lottery balls in celebratory fashion at Universal Studios in Universal City on June 15, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Remember Newsom’s vaccine lottery program? When I noticed that funds in the “Vax for the Win” account were approved on Aug. 18 to participate in California’s Surplus Money Investment Fund — which allows them to earn interest — I started wondering why there was leftover money, and who would benefit from the interest. It turns out that three minors won $50,000 prizes, and the state is holding onto that money until they turn 18 — at which point they will also get their portion of the interest accrued in the fund, the California Department of Public Health told me. The department declined to disclose the ages of the winners, citing patient privacy.

Speaking of vaccines, Democratic state lawmakers are planning to introduce a bill that would establish legal protections for employers that require workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing, the Sacramento Bee reports. The measure is backed by some of the state’s most powerful business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, and comes on the heels of lawmakers tabling a stricter proposal that would have established a vaccine mandate for many indoor venues and required workers statewide to get vaccinated or tested weekly. (Berkeley on Wednesday became the second city after San Francisco to adopt these rules for itself.)

However, a recent Small Business Majority poll found that 61% of California small businesses would support a statewide vaccine and/or testing requirement to enter certain establishments — and a Wednesday poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 61% of residents favor proof of vaccination for large outdoor gatherings and certain indoor spaces.

3. Drought and fire update

Boaters fishing on the Sacramento River outside of Rio Vista in Sacramento County on June 15, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

From CalMatters environment reporter Rachel Becker: California’s controversial new orders to temporarily stop thousands of farmers, landowners and others from diverting water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed saw their first legal challenges this week. Three irrigation districts — together responsible for irrigating nearly 50,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland — sued the State Water Resources Control Board, saying the regulations could cause landowners to lose their crops, businesses and livelihoods. Both the Central Delta Water Agency and South Delta Water Agency also filed suit over the curtailments. The state water board said in August that if it doesn’t restrict water use, the drinking water supply for 25 million Californians and irrigation for 3 million acres of farmland could be at significant risk within the next year.

In other environment news: Exhausted firefighters attacking the Caldor Fire got some reprieve Thursday as powerful winds abated and humidity rose, though the battle is far from over. Despite crews protecting many homes, cabins and resorts in and around South Lake Tahoe, more than 33,000 homes and structures remain threatened. Meanwhile, the Dixie Fire, already the second-largest in state history, spread rapidly Wednesday night. PG&E has said its equipment may have sparked the Dixie Fire — prompting environmental advocates to cry foul on the utility’s recent request for state regulators to increase its rate of return on equity, which would cause a $201 million jump in revenue. Meanwhile, the fund established to compensate more than 70,000 PG&E wildfire victims may be short $2.5 billion, its trustee said Wednesday.


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CalMatters commentary

Lawmakers must ensure $6 billion broadband plan reaches unserved households: Public funds should first be used to connect households with no service or slow service before funding upgrades where service is already available, argues Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Prisoner rehabilitation works: A Stanford University study examining the state corrections department’s rehabilitation and reentry program shows it should be expanded, writes Garrett Jensen, coauthor of the Male Community Reentry Program study.


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Other things worth your time

As Caldor burns, Forest Service criticized over California wildfires. // Sacramento Bee

GOP recall election candidates want big California tax cuts, but who would benefit? // Los Angeles Times

Larry Elder disclosed sexual harassment allegations on 2011 radio show, but implied one woman was too ugly for it to be true. // CNN

‘Too quiet for comfort’: Did Silicon Valley botch the recall? // The Stratosphere

Bonta claims victory in East Bay Assembly race as lead widens over Ramachandran. // San Francisco Chronicle

A labor leader guides Orange County Democrats’ quest to revamp county politics. // Los Angeles Times

Sacramento district plans to fire teacher filmed discussing antifa. // Sacramento Bee

Santa Clara City Council fires City Attorney Brian Doyle, a frequent 49ers critic. // San Francisco Chronicle

SF Giants concession workers, who haven’t gotten a raise in three years, to hold strike vote. // SFGATE

Court says Los Angeles can’t discard bulky items from homeless. // Los Angeles Times

California woman faces federal charges for knocking out Southwest attendant’s teeth. // Mercury News

UCSD wants to give its frontline health care workers a booster shot; feds say wait. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Yuba City hospital ICU at 142% capacity due to COVID surge. // Sacramento Bee

Can a historic Black town in California be revitalized? // CalMatters

California landscapes seen through the lens of Bob Wick. // The Atlantic


See you Tuesday.

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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...