May 1, 2020 Edition
The California State Assembly will return to Sacramento on Monday, May 4 following an unprecedented joint recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate was also scheduled to return on Monday, but Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins indicated the Senate will instead return to Sacramento on Monday, May 11.
Recall, legislative leaders once already extended their joint recesses in early April with a scheduled return to Sacramento on May 4. Upon their return to Sacramento, lawmakers will face a significantly abbreviated legislative and budget process with a series of upcoming deadlines, including the June 15 constitutional deadline to pass a state budget.
Policy committee hearings will take a significantly different form, marked by location changes (including using the Assembly Chamber), limited in-person public admission, public comment via telephone, and remote witness testimony via videoconferencing. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon released this memo detailing public health measures being implemented at the Capitol, including health screening and controlled movement within the Capitol, to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Two COVID-19-Related Hearings to Occur Next Week
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate and Assembly will be convening two hearings next week to assess various impacts of the current emergency.
The Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services will hold an informational hearing on Monday, May 4 at 10:00 am on critical health and human services issues related to the COVID-19 crisis. The hearing will feature two panels that will examine the future of California’s health care workforce and how safety net programs are responding in the COVID-19 and unemployment crises.
The Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Preparedness will also hold its first hearing on Wednesday, May 6 at 1:30 pm. At the time of this update, a hearing agenda has not yet been made public.
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom and California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell provided an update on California’s Pandemic Resilience Roadmap, detailing the statewide approach to reopening the state in light of COVID-19 through four phases. The four resilience roadmap stages include:
- Stage 1: Safety and Preparedness
- Stage 2: Lower Risk Workplaces
- Stage 3: Higher Risk Workplaces
- Stage 4: End of Stay-at-Home Order
During Tuesday’s Newsom Administration noon press conference, Governor Newsom and Dr. Angell discussed the process through which the state will progress through the stages, opportunities for regional variations, and indicator considerations as part of the roadmap. The presentation is available here and a recording of the Governor’s press conference is available here.
This week, Governor Gavin Newsom launched new initiatives related to food insecurity and access and childcare amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The initiatives are detailed below:
Farm to Family Program
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, California food banks have seen an unprecedented level of demand, seeing a year-over-year increase in demand of approximately 73 percent, according to the Newsom Administration. California’s Farm to Family Program is a partnership between the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the California Association of Food Banks to facilitate food donations from farmers and ranchers by supporting food production, processing, and distribution of the food supply chain. The Newsom Administration announced this week that CDFA received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to redirect $2 million in unused Specialty Crop Block Grant funds to the California Association of Food Banks to offset the costs of picking, packing, and transporting donated produce. An additional $861,854 from the USDA Farm to Food Bank Program was awarded to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to support the program. The Farm to Family Program partners with 41 food banks serving all 58 counties and handles the logistics of packaging the food and communicating with foodbanks.
Further, roughly 128 farmers and ranchers are donating to the California Association of Food Banks and another 200 farmers have expressed interest in participating in the program. The additional funds will support the donation of 21 million pounds of fresh crops for the month of May. $775,000 in additional private funds have been secured for the California Association of Food Banks to help provide a bridge to local food banks to be able to meet the increased demand through the end of May and will be leveraged to launch the $15 million campaign to support the Farm to Family Program through the end of the year.
Expanded EBT Program
Governor Newsom additionally this week announced that CalFresh recipients will receive the maximum amount of benefits for the month of May. The expansion of benefits was secured through a USDA waiver that allows all households to receive the maximum allowable benefit amounts and is a continuation of the same level of benefits received in March and April.
Families with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals are eligible to receive additional support through the Pandemic Emergency Benefits Transfer Program (P-EBT). CDSS has identified roughly 3.8 million children who could qualify under the program, and each eligible child could receive up to a total of $365 in P-EBT benefits. P-EBT eligible children that receive CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits do not need to apply for P-EBT benefits and will receive a P-EBT card in the mail in early May. Other families receiving free or reduced lunches but not enrolled in CalFresh will be required to complete an online application which is expected to be launched in late May.
Further, Governor Newsom announced the launch of EBT for online purchasing. EBT participants are now able to use their EBT card to make purchases online at Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Purchases are able to be completed online with CalFresh food benefits and P-EBT benefits.
On Thursday, Governor Newsom and CDSS Director Kim Johnson announced a new portal, www.MyChildCare.ca.gov, to enable California parents to enter their location and type of childcare they need to instantly receive a list of local licensed childcare programs, including their capacity, availability, hours, health and safety information, and contact information. In announcing the portal, Newsom discussed the expenditure of $50 million in childcare vouchers which prioritize children at risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, as well as children of essential workers. An additional $50 million was made available to go toward childcare facility cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement.
Additional information on the initiative announcements on food insecurity is available here and childcare access is available here.
On Monday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6 on Budget Process, Oversight, and Program Evaluation held its second COVID-19-related hearing to explore recovery efforts and economic stimulus activities. In beginning the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Assembly Member Phil Ting discussed the ongoing and anticipated fiscal implications of COVID-19, including that the state is unable to deficit spend which limits the state’s capacity to provide economic stimulus similar to that of recent federal economic stimulus actions. Ting further framed the hearing as an opportunity for experts to weigh in on the Legislature’s task in forming a state budget that benefits as many residents and businesses as possible.
Monday’s hearing consisted of one panel of witnesses participating via videoconference and featured economic, business, and labor experts, as well as representatives from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), Department of Finance (DOF), California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS). Panelists discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on business and employment activities, including technology needs, supports for low-wage workers, and regulatory burdens, among other topics.
Notably, Economist Jerry Nickelsburg from the UCLA Anderson Forecast anticipates the state’s unemployment rate will reach 16.5 percent by the end of the year based on the assumption that the economy will return to a pre-COVID-19 status. The economy recovery is anticipated to be quicker than that of the 2009 Great Recession, but disproportionate impacts are expected on retail and tourism industries, as well as low-income service workers. Nickelsburg further anticipates California’s recovery to 2019 employment levels will take approximately 18 months.
Subcommittee members queried panelists and Administration officials over unemployment insurance claim processing, small business relief, allocation of federal funds throughout the state, potential regulatory reductions, modifications in businesses and workplaces to support physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees, and other economic investments and fiscal interventions to spur economic activity and drive down unemployment. Several subcommittee members also expressed comments related to the need to invest significant resources in public health services and health care workforce throughout the state.
Assembly Member Jim Wood raised a series of questions related to the procurement of PPE among businesses to ensure workers and consumers are able to remain safe when businesses begin to open. Wood additionally pressed the Administration on a plan for distribution of PPE, particularly masks received as part of the Administration’s $990 million contract for such equipment.
In closing the hearing, Assembly Member Ting discussed the difficult road ahead for the Legislature and state in managing the fiscal crisis caused by COVID-19. Monday’s full hearing agenda is available here and a video recording of the hearing is available here.
On Thursday, the Department of Finance (DOF) issued a two-page budget letter directing all state agencies and departments to immediately undertake specified actions to reduce current year expenditures amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Pointing to the significant economic impact from COVID-19, DOF indicates that revenue decreases and cost increases are expected to last for several years and that “federal funding provided to date will not be sufficient to address the magnitude of the fiscal crisis resulting from COVID-19.
As such, DOF detailed four areas that all state agencies and departments must reduce expenditures and identify operating savings:
- New Goods and Services Contracts: DOF indicates that departments may not enter into any new service contracts, contracts or agreements to lease or purchase equipment, issue purchase orders for goods or services, or make changes to an existing contract if the change would increase costs, except purchases that directly support teleworking strategies, personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, or other purchases necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, respond to COVID-19, or meet other time-sensitive critical needs.
- Travel: DOF indicates the current restriction on all non-essential travel will remain in place until further notice. All state agencies and departments are instructed to cancel all plans for non-essential travel both in-state and out-of-state.
- Hiring: Departments are instructed to use discretion when filling vacancies and assessing staffing needed to fill essential positions “given the need to maintain flexibility in an environment of severely constrained resources.”
- Leave Buy-Back: DOF indicates the annual leave buy-back of accumulated vacation or annual leave in 2019-20 has been cancelled due to the fiscal emergency, including for excluded employees.
The DOF letter further provides exemptions to agency secretaries and cabinet-level directors under the following instances:
- Addressing a declared emergency
- Providing 24-hour medical care
- Avoiding a significant revenue loss
- Achieving significant net cost savings
The full DOF budget letter is available here.
Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed Executive Order N-58-20 allowing adults to obtain a marriage license, at the discretion of their local county clerk, via videoconferencing as long as both adults are located within the State of California, are present, and can present identification during the video conference. The license can then be issued via email. Adults will also be able to conduct a ceremony to solemnize the marriage via videoconference as long as both parties are present and have at least one witness who can join the live video conference.
On Tuesday, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published a report summarizing recent federal legislative and other actions to allocate funding to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The post details federal emergency funding streams and the process by which federal COVID-19-related funding will flow to public and private entities throughout the state.
The full LAO post is available here.
This week, several federal developments related to the oversight and accountability of COVID-19 response funding and activities occurred. Below, we detail these actions:
Pandemic Response Accountability Committee Names Leader, Establishes Website
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) this week announced a series of developments, including the appointment of its executive director and U.S. House of Representatives Democratic members. Recall, the PRAC was established as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to coordinate oversight efforts of federal Inspectors General of the $2.4 trillion in federal emergency relief for individuals, businesses, hospitals, and industries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert A. Westbrooks was appointed to serve as the PRAC Executive Director. Westbrooks has held various independent oversight leadership positions at the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Department of Transportation OIG, U.S. Postal Service OIG, and National Archives and Records Administration OIG.
PRAC also launched a new website, www.pandemic.oversight.gov, to provide the public with several resources regarding the federal pandemic spending, including allocations of federal funding authorized by four emergency COVID-19 relief laws, oversight reports published by federal OIGs, listings of ongoing pandemic-related work, and fraud, waste, abuse, or whistleblower information.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Names COVID-19 Crisis Select Committee Membership
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday this week announced the appointment of seven U.S. House Members to serve on the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The select committee was established by the CARES Act and is tasked with exercising oversight of all aspects of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaker Pelosi appointed the following Democratic House Members to the Select Committee:
- Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (Committee Chair)
- Chairwoman Maxine Waters of California, House Financial Services Committee
- Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, House Oversight and Reform Committee
- Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez of New York, House Small Business Committee
- Chairman Bill Foster of Illinois, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of Science, Space, and Technology Committee
- Chairman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of Oversight and Reform Committee
- Chairman Andy Kim of New Jersey, Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access of Small Business Committee
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is reportedly considering whether Republicans will participate in the select committee.
A coalition of national public health organizations and associations, including the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), and the National Coalition of STD Directors, released a $7.6 billion federal emergency supplemental funding request to support an expanded and robust nationwide contact tracing workforce amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition request details a three-tiered approach to building the national contact investigation workforce:
- Tier 1: At least 100,000 Contact Tracers ($4.8 billion)
- Tier 2: At least 10,000 Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) Supervisors ($1.3 billion)
- Tier 3: At least 1,600 Epidemiologists ($240 million)
The supplemental funding request also includes at least $700 million for technology and training, at least $100 million for the Medical Reserve Corps, and at least $350 million for public health workforce loan repayment.
The full emergency supplemental funding request is available here.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Essentials for Childhood (EfC) Initiative invites local health departments to a webinar entitled, “Health Equity and COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Child Wellbeing through Policy. The webinar will be held on Wednesday, May 13 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm and will feature a special guest presentation from Dr. Flojaune Cofer, Senior Director of Policy with the All Children Thrive (ACT) California project.
The interactive webinar will examine what success could look like in addressing COVID-19 by describing equity concerns arising for children and families that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, sharing examples of where California’s approach has been effective, and exploring opportunities for improvement. The primary goals of the webinar include:
- Describing the relationship between infection control and public health by identifying the implications for equity
- Exploring policy strategies to address COVID-19’s impact on health equity
- Sharing policy ideas that organizations and programs have considered, developed, or supported
A facilitated discussion about ways in which organizations and programs can implement the information shared during the presentation will also be held. Additional information and registration is available here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a new grant program to provide funds to states, local governments, tribes, and U.S. territories to work collaboratively with environmental justice communities to understand, promote, and integrate approaches to provide meaningful and measurable improvements to public health and the environment in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds are intended to address COVID-19 concerns faced by low-income and minority communities through public education, training, and emergency planning for communities.
EPA anticipates awarding five grants of approximately $200,000 each for up to a two-year funding period. The agency encourages applicants to develop innovative plans and processes to conduct effective outreach to underserved communities, especially in areas where internet access may not be readily available to all residents.
Applicants must submit proposal packages on or before June 30, 2020, to be considered. Additional information is available here.
On Monday, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued ten warning letters to manufacturers and retailers who sell, manufacture, and/or import unauthorized electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) products targeted to youth or likely to promote use by youth. The warning letters targeted unauthorized products, including backpacks and sweatshirts designed with stealth pockets to hold and conceal an electronic cigarette, an ENDS product resembling a smartwatch, or devices appearing as children’s toys. FDA’s letters also included warnings to companies marketing e-liquids that imitate packaging for food products that often are marketed and appeal to youth, such as candy or feature cartoon characters.
FDA indicated these letters are part of FDA’s ongoing enforcement efforts against ENDS and other electronic cigarette products that are targeted to youth or likely to promote use by youth. If recipients of the warning letters do not cease the manufacture, distribution, and/or sale of these unauthorized tobacco products, the entities face additional FDA actions, including injunction, seizure, and/or civil money penalty actions.
FDA additionally issued warning letters to 73 brick-and-mortar retailers, including three in California, selling unauthorized flavored, cartridge-based ENDS products.
The full announcement from FDA is available here.