July 31, 2020 Edition

Legislature Reconvenes with Ambitious Agenda

This week, the Legislature reconvened under compressed timelines and very busy calendars. Complicating things a bit, there appears to be some irritability between the houses as the Senate, with the lion’s share of bills to consider, has opted to not hear several Assembly passed bills. Assembly Speaker Rendon cancelled several hearings on Tuesday in response. However, many committees proceeded with their scheduled hearings, though their dockets were considerably slimmer than in session’s past.

Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Speaker Anthony Rendon, along with their top leaders, announced a proposal on Monday for a $100 million stimulus plan that includes “future tax vouchers,” counts on additional unemployment insurance borrowing from the federal government, expands tax credits for low-income earners, and offers help for small businesses. Meanwhile, several democrats, led by Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, unveiled a competing proposal to add several new income tax surcharges on California’s high earners, raising up to $6.8 billion, in order to provide additional funding for schools, health services, unemployment benefits, and other needed investments.

Convening yesterday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee #4 on State Administration examined unemployment insurance payment delays. Members of the committee blasted the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) response to the deluge of unemployment claims that have swamped the department since the beginning of the pandemic. Tearful testimony was provided by many Californians who have been trying for months to obtain unemployment benefits. Reports indicate up to one million claims have yet to be processed, and legislators’ offices have been deluged with complaints from their constituents for months about delays. On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the creation of a strike team to look at both technology improvements at EDD as well as improvements for processing claims in a timely manner.

Legislative policy committee hearings have begun in earnest, including the Senate Health Committee meeting this weekend, and will run through mid-August.

CHEAC will continue to keep its members posted with the latest information as it becomes available. The latest version of the CHEAC Weekly Bill Chart is available here.

DOF Issues Interim Fiscal Update on CDCR COVID-19 Activities

On Thursday, the Department of Finance (DOF) issued an interim fiscal update on actions of the Newsom Administration to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). CDCR has undertaken a number of emergency actions to address COVID-19 over the past weeks and months, reporting on Thursday for the first time in three decades that California’s incarcerated population dipped below 100,000 persons. The last time California’s incarcerated population was below 100,000 was in 1990 when California’s overall population was approximately 10 million less than it is today.

DOF’s memo reports that costs of nearly $138 million have been incurred by CDCR in responding to the ongoing pandemic, including $103.4 million for inmate and staff testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and deployment of tents for housing and health care. DOF also indicates that $34.2 million has been incurred in fiscal year 2019-20 to reimburse counties for housing inmates due to the temporary stoppage of prison intake and to provide for supervision of inmates released on an accelerated basis. Notably, DOF indicates that “the majority of CDCR’s COVID-19 related costs have not yet been formally reported” to DOF. As such, the $138 million incurred thus far is expected to grow significantly once additional costs have been fully accounted.

The memo provides additional details on CDCR’s actions in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and staff within state prison facilities and surrounding communities. The memo also provides information on the state’s response to the significant outbreak at San Quentin State Prison and identifies CDCR’s expenses through June 30, 2020. The full memo is available here.

CDPH Issues Emergency Regulations on Communicable Disease Demographic Data

On Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued emergency regulations requiring the collection of data on race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency regulations require providers to continue to collect and report to CDPH race and ethnicity data and collect and report a patient’s gender identity and sexual orientation so the state has more information on patients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The regulations also require laboratories to collect and report to the state race and ethnicity data.

The regulations apply to all reportable communicable disease conditions, including COVID-19, and took effect immediately on Tuesday. A copy of the regulations is available here. A CDPH news release on the emergency regulations is available here.

Citing Concerns with Pandemic, Federal Judge Halts Public Charge Rule Nationwide

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge George Daniels on Thursday issued a nationwide injunction against the Trump Administration’s public charge rule, citing ongoing and urgent concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Recall, the Trump Administration’s public charge rule, finalized last year, enables federal immigration officials to deny entry or legal status to immigrants who are likely to rely on specified public benefits, including non-emergency Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), housing subsidies, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, among others.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a similar nationwide injunction allowing the rule to take effect nationwide while legal action took place in federal appeals court. A handful of states in April again sought to block the rule from taking effect, but the Supreme Court denied the request. In Thursday’s ruling this week, the federal judge determined that since the Supreme Court’s ruling in April, the pandemic has gotten notably worse and noted that “the irreparable harm and public interests that warrant an injunction have come into sharper focus. … We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in real time.”

The plaintiffs in the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York argued that the public charge rule makes it more difficult for immigrants to seek COVID-19 testing and care. While the Department of Homeland Security did acknowledge that medical treatment for COVID-19 conditions would not count toward the public charge rule test, Judge Daniels indicated, “Any policy that deters residents from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 increases the risk of infection for such residents and the public. Adverse government action that targets immigrants, however, is particularly dangerous during a pandemic.”

In response to the ruling, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly released a statement indicating, “We are heartened by yesterday’s federal court ruling blocking implementation of the federal public charge rule during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should have to fear for their immigration status when seeking vital assistance during this public health emergency and time of economic disruption.” CHHS additionally issued an updated public charge guide fact sheet that reflects the federal court ruling.

BARHII, Public Health Alliance Issue Brief, Schedule Webinar on Equity and Emergency Operations

The Bay Area Reducing Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) and the Public Health Alliance of Southern California this week released the brief “Embedding Equity into Emergency Operations: Strategies for Local Health Departments During COVID-19 and Beyond.” The brief outlines case studies, resources, and priority recommendations for counties and cities to explicitly and intentionally embed equity staff and practices into emergency operations structures and throughout the public health emergency response and recovery process. The briefing is available here.

The groups will additionally hold a webinar on Friday, August 7 from 9:00 am to 10:30 am. The webinar will feature four leading national equity leaders working to advance and embed equity into their own local emergency response structures. The San Francisco Department of Public Health and the City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services will be featured, as well as the City and County of San Francisco and the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. Registration for the webinar is available here.