In summary

Youth mental health is taking on more urgency for California policymakers as the pandemic enters its third year

CalMatters is dedicated to explaining how state government impacts our lives. Your support helps us produce journalism that makes a difference. Donate now.

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.

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.

California has administered 72,292,634 vaccine doses, and 74.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Dems propose $400 rebate

Image via iStock

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

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

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

Tents line up near a fence in the Chinatown neighborhood of Fresno on Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters
Tents lined up near a fence in the Chinatown neighborhood of Fresno on Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

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.

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 commentary

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.

Tips, insight or feedback? Email

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on TwitterFacebook and RSS.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

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...