August 14, 2020 Edition

Marathon Hearings Continue, CHEAC Sponsored Measure Advances

This week, the California Legislature continued committee meetings with packed though truncated agendas for a variety of policy committees. Despite curtailing the number of bills heard in committees, meetings often took several hours as most testimony was provided over a conference line and extended cleanings took place between hearings.

CHEAC’s sponsored measure AB 3224 (Rodriguez), along with our partners at HOAC and SEIU, was heard in the Senate Health Committee on Monday, passing on a 8-0 vote. The bill advances to the Senate Appropriations Committee and will be heard this Monday, August 17th. AB 3224 proposes to require CDPH to contract with an appropriate and qualified entity to conduct an evaluation of the adequacy of the local health department infrastructure, including recommendations for future staffing, workforce, and resource needs.

Please see our updated CHEAC Weekly Bill Chart for specific information on bills of interest to CHEAC.

Angell Resigns as CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer

Late Sunday, Dr. Sonia Angell announced her resignation as the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer. In her announcement, Angell did not indicate the reason for her departure.

The Newsom Administration indicated Ms. Sandra Shewry will serve as acting director of CDPH, and Dr. Erica Pan, the current CDPH State Epidemiologist, will serve as the acting state public health officer.

Kaiser Permanente, PHI Announce $63m Contact Tracing Initiative

On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a partnership between Kaiser Permanente and the Public Health Institute (PHI) to strengthen and support contact tracing efforts throughout the state. Kaiser Permanente has committed $63 million in grant funds for PHI’s Tracing Health program which will hire, train, and deploy approximately 500 full-time, culturally and linguistically competent, clinically-based team members. According to PHI, these contact tracers will be able to contact up to 5,500 people per day. Governor Newsom also announced a coalition of 10 philanthropies have committed $18.8 million to support local health departments in building a culturally and linguistically competent contact tracing workforce.

PHI reports that over half of their contact tracers operating in Washington and Oregon are bi- or multi-lingual and most come from the communities they serve. The new initiative will recruit contact tracers from within communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, providing individuals with immediate jobs and income in the short-term, and providing job training and skills to guide them into the health sector or other career paths after the initiative has concluded.

An announcement from the Governor’s Office is available here. An announcement from Kaiser Permanente and PHI is available here.

UC Berkeley Publishes Report on Economic and Health Benefits of a PPE Stockpile

On Wednesday, the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and the UC Berkeley Labor Center published a report on the potential economic and health benefits of a personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpile in the state of California. The report draws upon the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, indicating the pandemic has exposed “tragic shortcomings in California’s preparedness for infrequent but catastrophic public health threats.” The report explores procurement of PPE supplies during pandemic and non-pandemic times, PPE shortages and impacts on healthcare service delivery, and COVID-19 cases among essential workers.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Potential Savings from Averting High-Priced Emergency PPE Contracts Dwarf the Budgetary Cost of Creating a PPE Stockpile at Normal Non-Pandemic Prices – Procuring an adequate PPE stockpile in advance at non-pandemic prices would have cost only 17 percent of the projected amount needed to procure the PPE at current pandemic-inflated prices. Maintaining a stockpile would be cheaper than real-time purchases even if it was not needed for another 35 years, and even if the state were fortunate enough to not need the stockpile for longer than that time period. According to the report, a PPE stockpile would be a highly financially prudent form of insurance.
  • Healthcare Access was Severely Affected in Early Months of the Pandemic in Part Due to Lack of Adequate PPE – Some 251,100 California healthcare workers received unemployment benefits during the pandemic. For every week earlier that these healthcare workers could return to work in the next pandemic if PPE were readily available at the beginning of the pandemic, the state would save approximately $93 million in unemployment insurance payments. This would additionally have substantial benefits in terms of improved healthcare access for routine, non-emergent care, including preventive health services.
  • At Least 20,860 Essential Worker-Related COVID-19 Cases May Have Been Avoidable if Proper PPE Had Been Available – With over 50,000 healthcare and other essential workers in California testing positive for COVID-19, available research suggests that adequate and appropriate use of PPE can largely mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among these populations. UC Berkeley conservatively estimates that nearly 21,000 COVID-19 cases could have been avoidable. It is likely that dozens of deaths among essential workers could have been avoided with proper use of PPE had an adequate stockpile been in place prior to the beginning of the pandemic.

In closing its report, UC Berkeley indicates that the human cost of inadequate PPE during the current pandemic has been “enormous” in terms of illness and death due to COVID-19, indirect health threats from reduced healthcare access, and employment and income loss due to furloughs. The total avoidable social costs of unemployment insurance payments, as well as the value of lost life, could easily reach the hundreds of millions of dollars in the next pandemic, making a PPE stockpile an urgent investment, according to the report. As researchers indicate, “both fiscal prudence and public health commonsense align in strongly recommending the establishment of a robust PPE stockpile for the future.”

The full UC Berkeley report is available here.

Lawsuit Seeks to Overturn Ban on Local SSB Taxes

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed in the Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to overturn a law that restricts local jurisdictions throughout California from enacting new taxes on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) until 2031. Recall, the Legislature passed and then-Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 1838 in 2018. The measure represented a deal struck by labor and the California Business Roundtable to stop the “Tax Fairness, Transparency, and Accountability Act of 2018” initiative that would have required two-thirds voter approval for a local tax or fee increase and a two-thirds vote by a local electorate to place a tax on the ballot. Proponents of the “Tax Fairness, Transparency, and Accountability Act of 2018” withdrew the initiative upon AB 1838 being signed into law in June 2018.

Monday’s lawsuit was filed by Jarvis, Fay & Gibson, LLP, on behalf of Cultiva La Salud, Santa Cruz City Councilwoman Martine Watkins, ChangeLab Solutions, and the American Heart Association. The lawsuit argues that the state statute unlawfully penalizes charter cities that exercise their constitutionally protected authority to manage municipal affairs, including taxation. Plaintiffs in the case further argue that if the case is successful, California communities would not experience state interference with local governments’ ability to enact policies aimed at protecting the health, safety, and welfare of residents. Further, ChangeLab Solutions points to the successes of a handful of California communities that have enacted SSB taxes prior to the prohibition on taxes enacted through AB 1838, indicating cities have generated significant revenues to help provide food to families experiencing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the installation of clean drinking water systems in schools and childcare centers.

A press release from ChangeLab Solutions regarding the lawsuit is available here.

Newsom Issues Executive Order on Digital Divide

Today, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-73-20 addressing a series of digital device and internet access issues statewide amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As Governor Newsom detailed in a press conference, over 90 percent of California school students are beginning the school year via distance learning. Today’s executive order directs state agencies to pursue a goal of 100 Mbps download speed and outlines actions across state agencies and departments to accelerate mapping and data collection, funding, deployment, and adoption of high-speed internet.

The Newsom Administration framed the executive order as building upon the state’s work in responding to educational impacts of COVID-19 by delivering nearly 200,000 computing devices and internet hotspots to hundreds of school districts statewide, with a priority on rural communities. The full announcement, including information on school funding, from the Governor’s Office is available here.

LAO Issues California Spending Plan Overview

This week, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published the California Spending Plan providing an overview of the 2020-21 Budget Act, a history of notable events during the budget process, and major features of the budget approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. The report details the state’s $54.3 billion budget deficit, primarily as a result of lower revenues and higher caseload-related spending amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The LAO discusses the solutions adopted by the Legislature during the budget process to address the state’s unprecedented budget challenge, including making baseline adjustments and assumptions (19 percent), using budgetary reserves (15 percent), increasing revenues (eight percent), adjusting K-14 education spending (27 percent), reducing spending (15 percent), shifting costs and borrowing (10 percent), and using federal funds (five percent). Notably, the LAO indicates that approximately $11 billion in spending reductions, K-14 deferrals, and special fund loans are subject to federal “trigger” language. Under this arrangement, if the federal government passes legislation by October 15, 2020, providing at least $14 billion in funding to California, all the amounts subject to the trigger would be restored.

The report further details the condition of the state’s General Fund, indicating that the state makes its first-ever withdrawal from the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) in the amount of $7.8 billion, largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The LAO determines that under the spending plan assumptions and estimates, California would end FY 2020-21 with $11.4 billion in reserves.

The LAO report is rounded out by a timeline of major events in the 2020-21 budget process, including the unprecedented adjustments in the California Legislature’s spring calendar. The report further details major features of the 2020-21 spending plan in areas of education, COVID-19 spending, safety net programs, and funding for local governments.

The full LAO report is available here.