Youth mental health is taking on more urgency for California policymakers as the pandemic enters its third year
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As California approaches the two-year anniversary of when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order due to COVID-19, the issue of children’s mental health is taking on increased urgency in the state Capitol.
- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is sponsoring a bill that would help fund aspiring mental health clinicians’ education and push California closer to his goal of filling 10,000 new school counselor positions.
- Attorney General Rob Bonta is investigating both TikTok and Instagram for promoting their social media platforms to kids and young adults, despite allegedly knowing they exert “a devastating toll on children’s mental health and well-being.”
- And a bipartisan pair of state lawmakers introduced a proposal Tuesday that would allow California parents to sue social media companies for harms caused by hooking their kids on addictive algorithms.
“The types of harm we’re seeing out of the social media addiction epidemic … is eating disorders, it’s depression and suicidal ideation,” said Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, a San Luis Obispo Republican and co-author of the bill. “I don’t know why all of us — society and the kids — have to pay the cost of that. It seems like the cost should be borne at least in part by the companies that profit from the behavior.”
In some ways, however, money isn’t the main problem.
Indeed, as CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports in the first installment of her yearlong series — “On the edge: Can California heal its ailing mental health system?” — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration plans to spend $4.4 billion over the next five years to overhaul the state’s youth mental health infrastructure.
Yet many children’s advocates say help is needed now.
- Lishaun Francis, director of behavioral health for Children Now: “I think what people are looking for is an emergency response. That has never been the state of California’s plan.”
The figures in Jocelyn’s story underscore the scope of the crisis:
- Opioid-related overdoses among California’s 15- to 19-year-olds nearly tripled between 2019 and 2020, according to a CalMatters analysis of state data.
- Suicide rates among Black youth doubled between 2014 and 2020.
- Kids’ mental health emergency room visits have spiked dramatically during the pandemic.
- One in 330 California children has lost a parent or caregiver to the pandemic so far.
- And on top of all this, California is facing a shortage of mental health providers. “No one likes you to say you have a waiting list,” said Stacey Katz, CEO of WestCoast Children’s Clinic in Alameda County. “I don’t know what you call it when there are 176 people waiting for services.”
A similar dynamic is playing out in California’s schools: Even as the state funnels billions of dollars into teacher recruitment, retention and training programs, districts are struggling to address persistent staff shortages, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports.
- Barrett Snider, a lobbyist who represents school districts across California, told Joe that he once heard a superintendent equate the state’s grants with giving a Disneyland vacation to a family in poverty.
- Snider: “That’s nice. But that’s not what we need.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 8,442,537 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 86,927 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other stories you should know
1. Dems propose $400 rebate
Every California taxpayer would get a $400 rebate to help cover the skyrocketing price of gas under a proposal a group of Democratic lawmakers (and one independent) is set to unveil today. The rebates would be funded using $9 billion of California’s massive budget surplus, and would be sent to every tax filer “because all Californians have seen an increase in living expenses,” the 11 legislators said. “Consistent with the state’s values as the global leader in combatting climate change, this will ensure that the rebate includes taxpayers who use public transit, active transportation options and zero-emission vehicles.”
- By offering the rebate to all tax filers, the lawmakers will likely avoid some of the criticism levied against last year’s $600 Golden State stimulus checks, which only went to those making $75,000 or less. And it could help them circumvent the pushback to Newsom’s vague proposal of sending rebates to Californians with cars registered in the state. (Lawmakers are likely, however, to get heat for proposing sending rebates to the state’s wealthiest residents.)
- The lawmakers said the rebate would “more than cover” the cost of California’s 51-cent-per-gallon gas excise tax when filling a car with a 15-gallon tank once a week for a year. They added that a rebate was preferable to simply suspending the tax — as Republicans have proposed — because doing so “would severely impact funding for important transportation projects and offers no guarantee that oil companies would pass on the savings to consumers.”
- Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City had a mixed reaction to the proposal. “This bill should be fast-tracked to the governor’s desk and targeted to working Californians who actually feel the pain at the pump,” he said, adding that Republicans will still work to suspend the gas tax and halt an increase scheduled in July (Newsom supported the latter idea as of last week).
- More ideas are all but certain to follow; this proposal is just one of many on the table to help Californians hurting at the pump.
2. Single-payer gets a price tag
It would cost California between $494 billion and $552 billion annually to operate the single-payer health care system envisioned in a bill that died last month in the supermajority-Democratic Legislature, according to a Tuesday analysis I obtained. The cost estimate from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office is significantly higher than one prepared by committee staffers in January, which projected single-payer could cost California between $314 billion and $391 billion annually. It’s also between $9 billion and $67 billion higher than the $485 billion California is expected to spend across all health care funding sources in 2022.
The eye-popping price tag — for reference, the record-breaking state budget blueprint Newsom unveiled in January barely topped $286 billion — could only strengthen the political headwinds single-payer already faces in California. Another massive hurdle for single-payer supporters: the legislative analyst’s conclusion that “with higher demand and potentially lower supply from lower payment rates than today, CalCare could create shortfalls in the quantity and/or quality of health care available to Californians” while also “exacerbat(ing) the state’s workforce challenges.”
Other key takeaways from the legislative analyst’s report:
- The cost estimate doesn’t include the cost of setting up CalCare — which, among other things, would require developing “information technology systems for tracking and reimbursing more than 100 million health care claims and encounters.” Those startup costs could be at least tens of billions of dollars and could require “years of planning and resources,” including securing approval from the federal government.
- Even with a series of new tax hikes to pay for CalCare, the state would still face an estimated annual funding shortfall of between $70 billion and $193 billion — and the costs to run CalCare would likely grow by at least $20 billion to $30 billion annually.
- When operational, CalCare would be responsible for overseeing and funding around 15 percent of economic activity in California — which has the fifth-largest economy in the world.
3. GOP goes all in on homelessness
Republican lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a sizable package of legislation aimed at addressing California’s homelessness crisis — the latest example of the GOP seeking to expose Democrats’ vulnerabilities ahead of the 2022 election. It remains to be seen how well the bills will fare among Democrats, although at least one proposal — which would give funds to local law enforcement agencies to establish homeless outreach teams — has already cleared a key committee.
- Republicans have tried — unsuccessfully — to get Newsom to declare a special legislative session devoted to homelessness. And earlier this week, they suffered back-to-back defeats when Democrats shot down their attempts to temporarily suspend California’s gas excise tax and end the COVID state of emergency
- Other bills in the GOP package seek to increase oversight of state spending on homelessness, exempt supportive housing and emergency shelters from lengthy environmental reviews, clean up encampments, reform the state’s conservatorship laws for the severely mentally ill, expand mental health and homeless courts, and use funds from California’s multimillion-dollar settlement with opioid manufacturers to help homeless people struggling with substance abuse disorders.
- Some of the measures supplement efforts already underway: Newsom, for example, is funneling an unprecedented amount of money into clearing encampments. And the governor also recently unveiled a framework for courts to force people with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders into treatment. (However, there are still very few details as to how the program would work.)
Here’s CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias with more housing news: Today, Democratic Assemblymember Alex Lee of San Jose is set to introduce a bill that would curb an owner’s ability to evict their tenants using the Ellis Act in rent-controlled jurisdictions. It’s essentially the same measure as the one that failed in February, except with a few tweaks to exempt smaller mom-and-pop landlords.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The Legislature’s solution to the UC Berkeley enrollment saga exposed the Capitol’s most worrisome tendencies.
Ending foreign influence on California elections: State lawmakers should pass a bill that would block foreign-influenced corporations from spending money on local and state elections, argue Michele Sutter, co-founder and president of Money Out Voters In, and Courtney Hostetler, senior counsel at Free Speech For People.
State should optimize sales of zero-emission cars: The California Air Resources Board’s proposed requirements for zero-emission vehicle sales start unnecessarily low in 2026, writes Ryan McCarthy, director of climate and clean energy at the Weideman Group Inc.
Other things worth your time
Former Sacramento Congressman Vic Fazio dies at 79 // Sacramento Bee
How does Federal Reserve interest rate increase affect you? // Sacramento Bee
Data shows gender, racial pay gaps persist at larger California companies. // San Francisco Chronicle
Oakland cannabis sellers, once full of hope, face a harsh reality. // New York Times
Community near Yosemite grieves together on last day in their homes before forced removal. // Sacramento Bee
S.F. restaurants and bars get a break: Parklets won’t be fined until 2023. // San Francisco Chronicle
California draws $766 million in new congressional earmarks. // Los Angeles Times
Plans for proposed Madera County distribution center expand to 59 football fields. // Fresno Bee
A new law saved UC Berkeley admissions. But the university still has an expansion problem, // San Francisco Chronicle
Oakland’s Hail Mary: City asks Supreme Court to revive its suit over Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. // San Francisco Chronicle
It’s been two years since the Bay Area went into lockdown. What have we learned? // San Francisco Chronicle
Meet the ex-Hollywood filmmaker bankrolling a far-right political revolt in rural California. // Los Angeles Times
D.A. Chesa Boudin recall: New poll of S.F. voters suggests he might be in trouble. // San Francisco Chronicle
Suspended California union leader’s past includes gun charge. // Sacramento Bee
Troubled L.A. County juvenile hall emptied ahead of state inspection. // Los Angeles Times
Man who started fire in homeless encampment gets mental health treatment, no prison time. // Los Angeles Times
California settles with ‘drinkable sunscreen’ maker. // Associated Press
See you tomorrow.
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