California Legislature Grants Newsom’s Request for $1 Billion to Fight Pandemic

(CN) – The California Legislature granted Governor Gavin Newsom’s request to pass emergency bills injecting $1 billion into the economy to fight the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has infected hundreds and killed six.

Both houses passed bills unanimously to allocate the money for the activation of two hospitals while freeing up money for public health officials to purchase necessary equipment, assist the medical community and lend support to nursing homes and other aspects of the medical industry. A separate bill called for an emergency allocation to California schools.

In another coronavirus precaution, California officials cordoned off the sculpture of a bear outside the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, at the Capitol in Sacramento on March 11, 2020. The sculpture was purchased by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and was quickly nicknamed “Bacteria Bear,” after it became a favorite backdrop for photographs and selfies by school children and other Capitol visitors. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

“Our state, our nation, and our world are facing a challenge unprecedented in modern times,” Newsom said in a letter to lawmakers. “The COVID-19 pandemic compels us all to find new ways of coming together, even as we must also seek out new ways of staying apart.”

The money is to be used to activate two hospitals while freeing up money for public health officials to purchase necessary equipment, assist the medical community and provide support to nursing homes and other aspects of the medical industry.

The bill will initially allocate $500 million, and then disburse an additional $50 million in increments until it reaches as $1 billion.

Part of the bills focus on sheltering homeless people particularly vulnerable to the spread of the disease. Specifically, funds can be used to requisition hotel beds to shelter those without homes.

Additional money is aimed at helping child care centers with sanitary practices and bolstering programs at senior centers where people are encouraged to stay in isolation, which can be difficult for the mental health of the aged.

“We must rise to the challenge facing our state with every tool at our disposal and without a second of delay,” Newsom said. “We cannot hesitate to meet this moment.”

The passage of the measures was remarkable not only from a procedural standpoint – both the assembly and the senate voted to waive the 72-hour noticing requirement required by the state constitution – but also because of the bipartisan nature of the voting.

“I call on every Californian and every legislator, regardless of political party preference, to trust in the governor’s leadership and listen to his guidance,” said Kevin Kiley, a Republican Assemblymember from Roseville. “The partisan rituals of ordinary politics have no place in these extraordinary times.”

Another Republican, Assemblyman Jay Obernolte from Big Bear Lake, said the passage of the two bills in question vested an extraordinary amount of power and responsibility in Governor Newsom, a Democrat who typically earns the ire of lawmakers across the aisle.

But on Monday, the dire nature of the threat of a global pandemic temporarily put to rest any partisan acrimony.

“In these extraordinary times, it makes sense to concentrate decision-making to the place that can best expedite funds necessary to combat this virus,” Obernolte said.

In the Senate, the sentiments were much the same. Senator Brian Dahle, a Republic from Beiber said passage of the bills was necessary to give some comfort to residents of California, many of whom are worried about their health, while others are worried about their jobs.

“Maybe we can flatten that curve out to stop what we are seeing in Italy and other countries,” he said.

Less than an hour after the Legislature cleared the emergency funding — and lawmakers stood in recess for the time being to do their part to stop the spread of the virus — Newsom switched his relief focus to California’s struggling renters and homeowners.

In a separate announcement, Newsom issued an executive order allowing local governments to pause evictions and also asked banks to consider slowing foreclosures. The order also tasks state regulators with working with public and private utilities to temporarily prevent service shutoffs for residents who may fall behind in the coming weeks.

“People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their home because of the spread of COVID-19,” Newsom said in a statement. “Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices – but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I strongly encourage cities and counties take up this authority to protect Californians.”

The bills and the executive order come on the same day seven California counties ordered their citizens to shelter in place, banned all nonessential activity and travel while shuttering nonessential businesses throughout the greater Bay Area.

Santa Clara County, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Golden State, saw its confirmed cases soar to 138 people, although Public Health Department Director Sara Cody said officials expected the number to rise in the coming days.

Two more people died in the county Monday evening, one man in his 70s and another man in his 50s.

There are 540 confirmed cases in California and more than 300 in the Bay Area alone. In the United States, delays in the testing roll out means officials do not understand the full extent of the disease at present and the number of infected people is likely much higher than has been confirmed.

Across the U.S., there are more than 4,200 confirmed cases and 74 deaths, nine in California.

Worldwide, more than 180,000 people have been infected with over 7,000 deaths.

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Courthouse News Reporter Nick Cahill contributed to this report. 

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