California Democrats Tout $100 Billion Covid Relief Plan

The California Capitol building in Sacramento. (Courthouse News photo / William Dotinga)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Promising sweeping pandemic relief for business owners and renters without raising taxes, California lawmakers on Monday introduced a $100 billion coronavirus stimulus plan.

Endorsed by the leaders of the Democratic-controlled Assembly and state Senate, the plan would increase unemployment benefits, deter evictions and foreclosures and streamline environmental review to speed up new housing projects. Lawmakers said the massive package stands to fill a critical void left by Congress’ failure so far to produce another round of pandemic aid.

“Millions of Californians are suffering in this economic downturn, and Republicans in Washington, D.C., don’t seem to care,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a statement. “Assembly and Senate Democrats are advancing innovative proposals to help people and small businesses.” 

Released on the day lawmakers returned from an extended summer recess, the Democrats claim they can scrape together $100 billion during a recession by allowing the state treasurer to issue “future tax vouchers,” and by tapping into unused voter-approved bonds and transportation tax funds. The plan also expands tax breaks for small businesses, includes new federal loans to pay for spiking unemployment claims and pries revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade system.  

State Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said green-lighting road repairs and other infrastructure projects will result in thousands of new jobs.

“We must pass a strategic stimulus package to boost our economy, help struggling families, and get people back to work,” Beall said in a statement. “An estimated 13,000 jobs are created for each $1 billion invested in infrastructure.”

Exact details of the package are expected to be released in the Legislature in the coming weeks, as lawmakers have until the end of August to approve new bills.

The Democrats’ plan could find a soft landing with California families, particularly those of color, struggling through the pandemic.

According to a new Public Policy institute of California poll, 56% of Latinos responded they are “very worried” about Covid-19 harming their family’s finances. The figure drops to 31% for black and Asian families and 22% for white respondents.

As a whole, just 19% of the over 1,500 surveyed said they expect “good times financially” over the next year.

Covid nails Central Valley

After another week marred by spiking coronavirus deaths and new hospitalizations, Governor Gavin Newsom signaled Monday the state’s pandemic focus is switching to California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley — where infections continue to spike.

To give overburdened hospitals breathing room, Newsom announced from a nut processing facility in Stockton the state was sending Covid-19 strike teams to assist public health officials get a grip on the pandemic in eight counties. With the Legislature’s approval, Newsom says the state will divert $52 million in federal relief funds to improve testing capabilities and hire more health care workers in the Central Valley. 

“These dollars certainly are critical and important, and will build off local infrastructure that’s already in place,” Newsom told reporters.

Along with the Los Angeles area, the virus is spreading rapidly in the Central Valley as testing positivity rates — a key indicator of community spread — soar.

Counties like Merced (18.7%), Stanislaus (17.9%), Kern (17.2%) and Fresno (11.1%) are all above the statewide seven-day positivity rate of 7.8%. As a result, each of the counties are on Newsom’s coronavirus monitoring list, which has grown to 37 counties and represents over 90% of the state’s population.

The virus disproportionately affects the Central Valley’s essential workforce, including farmworkers, and Newsom said officials are particularly focused on stopping the spread among the region’s Latino population as well as within nursing homes and the various state prisons and jails.

While Latinos comprise nearly 39% of the statewide population, they have accounted for 56% of the state’s total coronavirus cases. The disproportion is more glaring in Fresno County for example, where Latinos make up 52% of the population but 65% of the county’s Covid-19 deaths.

Newsom, who said he hasn’t reviewed the Legislature’s $100 billion stimulus, reported 108 additional deaths over the weekend, bringing the state’s rolling seven-day average for deaths to 109. The Golden State now has the fourth most coronavirus-related deaths of any state with 8,454, behind New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

California and Florida overtook New York last week for the top spots in terms of most confirmed coronavirus infections.

Shutting down Los Angeles?

It has been 145 days since Los Angeles County declared its local health emergency in response to the novel coronavirus. Since then, over 4,000 people are dead and 176,000 have been infected according to the LA County Public Health Department.

But there are no immediate plans to roll out a new stay-at-home order, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.

“I’ve said before that additional rollbacks or closures must remain on the table,” said Ferrer during a Monday briefing. “But at this stage in the pandemic we believe we have a lot of tools available that if fully utilized should allow us to slow the spread without going back to the more stringent safer-at-home orders that were in place earlier in the pandemic.”

More is known now about the virus and what precautions people can take to slow the spread of the virus, like wearing face masks given transmission from people who do not show symptoms of the virus can occur.

But LA County continues to report an average of over 2,000 people hospitalized a day. And over the last two months, there has been a steady increase of infections among people between the ages of 18 to 49.

Health officials reported 2,039 new cases on Monday. But they said there’s a lag in lab results being reported to the county and those late results are expected to spill over into the rest of the week.

As of this weekend, more than 1.6 million tests have been administered to LA County residents with a 10% positivity rate.

Ferrer said compliance with health orders and responding to contact tracers during phone interviews will be key to containing the spread of Covid-19. LA County will give people a $20 gift certificate to answer questions from contact tracers who call them to determine if they were exposed to the virus.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced Monday that his mother, 61-year-old Gabriella O’Donnell, has died from complications related to the virus and his stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, is hospitalized and on a ventilator. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department reported officer Valentin Martinez has died from the virus and the LA Fire Department said firefighter paramedic Jose Perez, 44, has died from Covid-19.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the Golden State has reported over 453,000 cases, followed by Florida with 432,000 and New York with 412,000. California is now averaging less deaths per 100,000 residents with 21 compared to Florida (28) and New York (168).

Meanwhile hospitalizations and new cases continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace than the beginning of the month.

Over the last week, total hospitalizations increased 3% while the state’s 14-day testing positivity rate is 7.5%. Newsom said he’s encouraged by the “modest increases” but reminded the state’s 40 million to continue wearing masks throughout the summer.

“We are in the midst of the first wave of this pandemic, and we’ve got to do what we did at the outset of this pandemic,” Newsom said.

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