Weideman Group COVID-19 Update
May 8, 2020

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The spread of COVID-19 across California and the country is impacting everyone’s personal and professional lives. To ensure you are receiving the most up to date and pertinent information, Weideman Group is closely monitoring actions being taken by the state (Governor, Legislature, regulatory agencies) and the federal government. We will be sharing the most significant COVID-19 information with you on a periodic basis. Here is a summary of important information from this past week. 

Budget Deficit Takes Center Stage

The Department of Finance (DOF) released a fiscal update on California’s budget outlook post COVID-19. The impact COVID-19 has had on the state, and nation, is unprecedented and has caused a nationwide recession. The DOF estimates a $54.3 billion deficit over the next year. It’s a stark contrast to January when Newsom, in a $222 billion budget proposal, projected the state would accumulate a $5.6 billion surplus and add to its reserves through July 2021. Governor Newsom has been urging the federal government to direct more money to the states. Absent significant federal assistance, Newsom has said this deficit will overwhelm existing reserves and the state will need to make substantial cuts in its 2020-21 budget. 

As previously reported, the DOF and Assembly Budget Committee both released memos indicating that the June 15 budget will become a “workload budget” that reflects 2019-2020 current service levels. The Assembly stated that subcommittees will be directed to only agendize items necessary to build this baseline budget or items providing direct oversight of disaster response and recovery spending. The Governor is expected to release his May Revise of the state budget on May 14th. Given the delay to personal income tax receipts until July 15, there will be a second budget revision in August that will allow for another round of deliberations to consider issues that they do not discuss in May/June. 

California Statistics

As the curve in California continues to flatten and there is significant stabilization, California begins to reopen under Stage 2. The compliance with the stay at home order has given the Governor and health authorities the confidence to begin slowly reopening the state, but they urge compliance with physical distancing to minimize the surge in positive COVID-19 cases. THESE are the most recent facts released by the Department of Public Health.

Newsom Administration

Governor Newsom releases guidelines ahead of California reopening under Stage 2. Through his executive orders and press briefings, Governor Newsom and his Administration have been announcing a number of actions to assist the most vulnerable populations with expanded workers’ compensation, property tax relief, and increased testing capacity. Here is a recap of recent actions:

  • Stage 2 & CA’s Report Card - Governor Newsom announced that based on the state’s progress in meeting metrics tied to indicators, the state can begin to move into Stage 2 of modifying the stay at home order today. He also released a report card showing how the state has made progress fighting COVID-19 in a number of categories such as stabilized hospitalization and ICU numbers and acquiring PPE.
  • Industry Guidance to Reopening - Governor Newsom has released a number of guidelines for 17 different industry establishments (e.g. energy and utilities, manufacturing, hotels) that are considered low-risk workspaces and allowed to reopen, with adaptations, under Stage 2. All industry specific guidelines can be found here
  • County Variance to Reopening - Governor Newsom announced that some counties may move through Stage 2 faster if they are able to show greater progress. Counties that have met the readiness criteria and worked with the Department of Public Health can open more workplaces as outlined on the County Variance page. 
  • Deadline Extension - Governor Newsom signed an executive order extending deadlines throughout state departments including certification requirements for public schools, notary public commission expirations, Labor Commission wage claims, Cal/OSHA citation appeals and more. The text of the order can be found here
  • Statewide Vote By Mail - Governor Newsom signed an executive order allowing every voter the option to vote by mail for the upcoming November general election. Each County election official will be required to send every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot. There will still be in-person voting facilities for those that require a physical facility with state guidelines on sites forthcoming. The text of the order can be found here.
  •  Testing Website - Governor Newsom announced a new tool available at the COVID-19 website that allows individuals to locate testing facilities and schedule a test. 
  • Workers’ Compensation Expansion - Governor Newsom signed an executive order authorizing all workers to be eligible for workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 while on the job. The order creates a time-limited rebuttable presumption for accessing the benefits, this applies retroactively to March 19 and 60 days from the signing of the order.  The text of the order can be found here
  • Property Tax Penalties Waived - Governor Newsom signed an executive order waiving penalties, until May 6, 2021, on property taxes for residents and small businesses that demonstrate financial hardship due to COVID-19. The order also extends, until May 31, 2020, the deadline to file Business Personal Property Statements. The text of the order can be found here.
  • Facilitating CalWORKs Verification- Governor Newsom signed an executive order that temporarily broadens the capability of counties to enroll persons into the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program using various eligibility verification methods (e.g. self attestation) to minimize person-to-person contact. The text of the order can be found here

Regulatory Agencies and Department Actions

California regulatory agencies and departments continue to work through the pandemic. Numerous departments are providing updates on their efforts to address issues brought on by the pandemic and others begin to provide in-person services. Here are some highlights:

  • DMV Extends Temporary Permits - The California Department of Motor Vehicles is extending driving, commercial, and learners permits set to expire during the COVID-19 emergency.  
  • Select DMV Offices Open - The Department of Motor Vehicles will begin to reopen field offices to provide the necessary in-person services. A total of 25 offices will reopen starting today. 
  • Digital Divide Task Force - The Department of Educations’ Digital Divide Task Force held a virtual meeting where internet provider companies were asked to speak to their commitment to the state’s most vulnerable students and families. 
  • PUC Penalizes PG&E - The California Public Utilities Commission voted yesterday to penalize Pacific Gas & Electric $2 billion, and could possibly take future action on approving a $200 million cash fine that would save customers an estimated 3% on their bills.

California Legislature

Assembly resumes work under strict physical distancing guidelines. A number of Assembly policy committees have begun to hold hearings while they implement strict physical distancing guidelines such as requiring face masks in the hearing rooms, only allowing remote witness testimony via video or phone, providing a phone line for public testimony, and only allowing a very limited number of individuals in a hearing room. These new guidelines are likely to last throughout the remainder of the legislative session. 

Senate set to reconvene. The Senate will reconvene Monday May 11th. All hearings and Floor sessions will take place in the state Capitol and Members will be required to wear face coverings while participating in Senate proceedings. A quorum will be established for any preceding where bills are considered and the presiding officer or committee chair will preside in the Capitol. Senators will be allowed to participate remotely from a District office using a video conferencing platform. Due to the staggered start dates of the two houses, the legislative calendars will not be aligned until after July 13 when both houses will return from Summer Recess. 

Important Legislative Dates:

  • May 11 – Senate Reconvenes
  • May 14 – May Revise (expected)
  • June 15 – Budget Must Be Passed
  • June 19 – Assembly House of Origin Deadline
  • June 19 – July 13 -  Assembly Summer Recess
  • June 26 – Senate House of Origin Deadline
  • July 2 – July 13 -  Senate Summer Recess
  • August 31 – Last Day of Session

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services met to discuss the future of the healthcare workforce and how safety net programs are responding during COVID-19. This hearing marked the first hearing the Assembly held after they reconvened from their recess. The Committee heard from the Legislative Analyst Office, Health Department heads, and advocates representing health plans, health workers and consumers. The discussion largely focused on the impacts COVID-19 has had on these different sectors, challenges they are facing and ideas on how to move forward. The topics covered included emergency funding for hospitals, advanced provider payments and assistance, long-term plans for PPE, impacts on the health workforce and employers, and the need to protect safety net programs, which are being tapped into given the rise in unemployment. The California Hospital Association claimed their total losses as a result of COVID-19 were in the neighborhood of $13-14 billion and that they had received $3 billion from the federal government to date. CHA testified that in order for many hospitals to stay solvent, they would need a $1 billion infusion from the state.

Senate Special Committee Hearing on Testing. The Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response held its first hearing Wednesday, focusing on the state’s efforts on testing. The Testing Task-Force Co-Chairs, Paul Markovich, CEO of Weideman Group client Blue Shield of California, and Dr. Charity Dean, Assistant Director of the California Department of Public Health, were on hand to testify alongside public health officials about the Task Force’s activities and progress. The Task Force presented data demonstrating that it has been exceeding targets in terms of improving access to testing in the state. Members of the committee asked questions regarding scientific progress, privacy measures in regards to tracing, and urged more actions to ensure more testing sites are available in “testing deserts”. Several Senators also discussed the importance of ensuring that pharmacists be given the ability to conduct testing, which is a priority of Weideman Group client California Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The Committee will be holding additional hearings and is tasked with reviewing the state’s response to the COVID-19 health crisis, assess what has worked, what can be improved, and provide findings and recommendations for future preparedness and legislation.

 Federal Government

Discussions around the next round of a federal package continue between the two parties. Below are other updates from the federal government:

  • Relief Package -  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer are set to unveil a new relief package they are describing as “Rooseveltian” in its size and scope. 
  • Small Businesses Receive Paycheck Protection Program Money - Following the initial announcement and troubled roll out of the Federal Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, after additional funds were authorized by congress, small businesses originally left out are starting to see relief. 
  • Small Business Assistance Disaster Loan Slashed - The cap of $2 million for the SBA disaster loan was quietly cut to $150,000 affecting all new applicants. 
  • CDC Critical Infrastructure Response Plan - The CDC has posted guidelines specific to critical infrastructure workers and employers to guide a reopening business on how to develop their response plan. 
  • California Clinics Receive Federal Money - 179 California health centers received $97 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand testing in low-income communities. 

Local Action

With stay-at-home requirements beginning to ease, local governments go beyond the requirements of the state stay-at-home order while others eagerly begin the process of reopening. Here are some local highlights:

  • Los Angeles Extends Mask Requirement - Mayor Eric Garcetti extended requirements for face covering to public transportation and Los Angeles International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest air hubs. 
  • OC Beaches Reopen - Following closure by the state, Orange County leadership worked with the Newsom Administration on putting together guidelines that allow for the safe reopening of beaches in Orange County.
  • Free Testing in Sacramento - In partnership with the state and county, Verily has opened up a drive through testing site at CalExpo in Sacramento. 

Resources

  • California Coronavirus Response website can be found here
  • California Department of Public Health guidance documents can be found here
  • California COVID-19 risk screening and testing can be found here
  • California Local Public Health Authority information can be found here
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 updates can be found here
  • Looking for ways to help your community? Visit this site here