CA's Jobless Claim Backlog Is Growing Again, Sparking Opposition To Proposal For New Agency

Publication: Los Angeles Times

State lawmakers on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the governor to create a new state agency to improve working conditions in California, with opponents saying the state should first resolve serious problems that have delayed payment of unemployment benefits to many of those left jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Assembly panel recommended against creating the new department at a hearing where lawmakers noted that a backlog of delayed claims has grown in the last month. 

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Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the Assembly’s Budget Committee chair, agreed the time wasn’t right to create “a new bureaucracy” in the labor agency.

“Given the multitude of ongoing problems at EDD, now is not the time to transfer numerous employees from the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to a newly created department,” Ting said. “They’re desperately needed to resolve the tremendous backlog in unemployment claims, prevent fraud and implement job training programs to get people back to work.” 

Money For California's Electric-Car Rebates Is Gone. Will Newsom Restore It?

Publication: San Francisco Chronicle

California’s main rebate program to coax more drivers to buy electric cars has run out of money — and there’s no guarantee that buyers on the waiting list will get checks later.

The program, one of the largest electric-car rebate efforts in the world, is destined to end unless the Legislature goes against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to cut funding for it next fiscal year, starting July 1.

Newsom wants to redirect money that has gone to most buyers of new electric cars, spending it instead to increase incentives for lower-income buyers. He also wants to install more public charging stations.

But he faces resistance from some legislators and electric-car advocates, who say cutting rebates could undermine the state’s climate goals.

Money for the rebate program ran out last month. Electric vehicle sales surged in the first few months of this year, after plummeting in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Without rebates, it would be a significant step backwards in this struggle to transform our vehicles into clean cars,” said Assembly Member Phil Ting, the San Francisco Democrat who chairs the Budget Committee.

Ting said Assembly Democrats will propose restoring funding for the program, though they have yet to set an amount. In the Senate, Democrats have proposed to spend $525 million on rebates over the next three years.

Will California spend $20 billion on homelessness?

Publication: San Jose Mercury

Bay Area mayors push for historic five-year investment

Bay Area mayors on Thursday urged the state to do something unprecedented — spend $20 billion in a multi-year effort to combat California’s massive homelessness crisis.

Their proposal would dedicate $4 billion every year for five years to continue the historic efforts California has made to house and shelter people during the pandemic. That sum would be roughly half of the state’s projected 2021 budget surplus, when factoring in $26 billion California was allocated in federal stimulus money.

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Democrats in both the state Assembly and Senate also are backing the proposal, and called for the $20 billion, five-year investment when they released their 2021 budget priorities earlier this month.

“Since the pandemic began, we’ve invested even more state money for homelessness and prevention,” Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, wrote in an emailed statement. “But to have meaningful and ongoing impact, the Legislative Analyst Office says we need a long-term strategy.”

If approved, it would be the largest allocation of funds dedicated to fighting homelessness in U.S. history, according to the mayors.

Budget Surplus: Here’s What CA Lawmakers Plan To Do With Extra Money

California lawmakers are expecting the state’s budget surplus to reach up to $20 billion.

State Democratic lawmakers in the assembly Wednesday laid out their financial priorities with more money available than initially expected.

“Our budget situation has drastically changed,” Assm. Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said. 

Budget Chairman Phil Ting says while the assembly is still waiting on a final budget estimate for the year, lawmakers expect the state surplus to be between $15 billion to $20 billion.

That money coupled with $26 billion collected in federal stimulus makes this year a more flexible one for spending.

“We also want to make sure we’re protecting Californians. We have millions of vulnerable Californians living paycheck to paycheck, worried about evictions, homelessness jobs, and covid has just continued to exacerbate them,” Ting said.

Budget Surplus & Federal Funding Boost Allow Investments That Ensure Economic Recovery Captures All Californians

Slide Presentation:  A Budget of Opportunity 

California is in its strongest state and federal funding situation in budget history. Because of a boost in state tax revenue and $26 billion from the American Rescue Plan, the Assembly is revising its 2021 Budget Blueprint, originally unveiled in December. The surplus and federal funding boost will provide additional investment opportunities to ensure, and even accelerate, an economic recovery that is inclusive of all Californians.

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, unveiled his 2021-22 Revised Budget Blueprint, Preserve | Respond | Protect | Recover, calling for the restoration of state services and greater investment in priority areas, while also developing ways to stimulate the economy.

With early budget action, the state has already followed through on promises made in key areas, such as school reopening, stimulus aid to individuals and small businesses, wildfire protection and eviction prevention. California is in a position to do much more - poised to not only reverse budget cuts made last year, but also expand critical health and human services programs in support of those still struggling.

“While the COVID-19 numbers and economic indicators are encouraging, many Californians still need their government to assist them during this recovery. The White House has stepped up, giving states the ability to keep helping families and small businesses and ensure economic recovery touches all communities. New federal funding also presents us a rare opportunity to take meaningful steps toward equity,” said Ting.

Highlights of the revised Preserve | Respond | Protect | Recover plan include:

Stabilization and expansion of some critical programs and services: Repay school/community college deferrals; restore cuts to UC, CSU, courts, housing, child support, health and human services; bolster access to Medi-Cal and Covered California; retain healthy reserves

Maintain COVID-19 response: Continue investing in public health infrastructure; safely reopen schools for the fall; protect vulnerable populations in nursing homes and prisons; ensure workplace safety enforcement; greater transparency & oversight of all disaster-related funding

Support for working families: Ongoing funding to head off homelessness; more Golden State Stimulus payments; implementation of TK-For-All and expansion of Early Care & Education (ECE); increase college financial aid and refund amounts for California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) filers; safeguard communities from wildfires

Reopening/economic ecovery: Add retraining programs for laid off workers; debt-free college; establish a Climate Crisis investment plan and infrastructure strategy to stimulate green jobs while benefiting low-income communities; empower communities & celebrating diversity to combat racism; modernization of the Employment Development Department (EDD)

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CA State Assembly Approves Restrictions on Use of “Forever Chemicals” To Reduce Food & Environmental Contamination

The California State Assembly marked Earth Day with the approval of AB 1200 by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), legislation prohibiting the use of “forever chemicals,” known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in food packaging. The bill aims to reduce food and environmental contamination.

“Federal regulations on PFAS allow companies to self-certify that a chemical used in their food packaging is safe,” said Ting. “That’s not good enough for me – not when our health and environment suffer the consequences. Manufacturers should use safer alternatives so that our families aren’t ingesting harmful chemicals.”

PFAS, a class of roughly 9,000 man-made chemicals, have been linked to health problems, including cancer, hormone disruption, thyroid disease and vaccine interference. They are commonly added to food wrappers and containers to prevent grease and other liquids from leaking through. The term “forever chemicals” refers to their resistance to breaking down, making them persistent in the environment and human body. We’re eating PFAS with our meals when they come in food containers coated with these harmful substances. McDonalds, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are already phasing out PFAS-laced wrappers, boxes and the like, or have pledged to do so. 

CA State Assembly Approves Restrictions on Use of “Forever Chemicals” To Reduce Food & Environmental Contamination

“The California Assembly has swiftly voted to protect its residents from toxic PFAS,” said Susan Little of Environmental Working Group, a co-sponsor of AB 1200. “Because of a broken federal chemical regulatory system, states are stepping up to protect the health of its citizens from hazardous chemicals added to food packaging. This law will protect Californians by reducing their exposure to PFAS in food.”

In addition, when those containers are composted, the environmental impacts are far-reaching with PFAS entering the food chain when the compost is applied to agricultural soil used to grow crops. Those hazardous chemicals also end up in drinking water and in our air. New York, Washington and Maine have enacted a similar law prohibiting the use of PFAS in food packaging.

AB 1200 also requires cookware manufacturers to disclose the use of PFAS and other hazardous chemicals in their products. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

‘Some Of The Most Devastated Workers’: New California Bill Seeks To Get Laid-Off Hospitality Employees Back To Work

Publication: KCBS/KCAL - Los Angeles

Hotels in the Southland and across the state were among the hardest hit during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Now, state legislators say they are trying to help the throngs of laid-off workers in the hospitality industry by passing a new law that says larger hotels and resorts have to rehire their former staff first before hiring new employees.

“What we really want to do is make sure that as hotels are opening back up, that these workers who have been on unemployment, unable to work for almost a year now, have the first right of refusal to return to work if they were laid off during the pandemic,” San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, who authored the bill, said.

Ting says legislators are only targeting larger organizations, such as hotel chains.

“This only affects large hotels,” he said. “So the mom and pop hotels, if you have a 10-room inn or a bed and breakfast or something that’s only a few rooms, you are not impacted. This is really geared toward the larger hotel chains.”

Lawmakers Push Reforms at State Unemployment Agency As The Jobless Face New Delays

Publication: Los Angeles Times

California legislators on Thursday pushed ahead with reforms targeting the state’s troubled unemployment agency as lawmakers condemned it for yet another significant error that has interrupted benefit payments to thousands of jobless residents.

Agency officials apologized for a new computer glitch that has prevented many people from filing new claims online, but lawmakers note it is just the latest in a string of technological problems that have plagued the state Employment Development Department since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

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Meanwhile, federal regulators have begun looking at how Bank of America, which contracts with the EDD to issue debit cards to deliver benefits, has handled a flood of fraudulent unemployment claims with actions that included freezing accounts, affecting some people who are legitimately in need of financial aid.

“Californians relying on unemployment benefits during the pandemic have been let down time and time again,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. “Whether they’re trying to resolve fraudulent charges, access their money or simply want to talk to a real person on the phone, significant delays in solving problems have caused needless suffering.”

California Is Looking at Closing More Prisons. Here Are Some That Might Be On the List

Publication: Sacramento Bee

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has plans to shut down two prisons, but more closures could soon be on the way because of the state’s rapidly shrinking inmate population.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state could close a total of five prisons by 2025, which in turn could save an estimated $1.5 billion in annual spending. The corrections department, which has a budget of $16 billion, oversees 34 prisons and more than 50,000 employees.

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Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has been an outspoken supporter of cutting prison expenses, and he commended the state’s Tuesday decision to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville.

“We spend almost as much on our corrections system as we do for our higher education system, and most Californians would say that’s not the best use of taxpayer funds,” Ting said in an interview.

Ting called the closure announcement a good first step, but said that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation needs to do a better job of identifying potential prison closures, and also of working with communities to mitigate the impact of shutdowns.

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Gun Violence Researchers Need Data To Find Solutions

Publication: CalMatters Editorial by Assemblymember Phil Ting & State Senator Josh Becker

Gun violence is America’s other epidemic. While the deadly coronavirus has our full attention, gun violence still rages on, claiming nearly 40,000 American lives a year – nearly 3,000 here in California. 

Just as science and research are helping us fight COVID-19 with new vaccines and therapies, evidence-based approaches are essential to end widespread gun violence. Unfortunately, bureaucrats at the state Attorney General’s office are blocking access to key data that gun violence researchers need to do their important work. California needs the red tape removed, and we’ve introduced new legislation, Assembly Bill 1237, to accomplish that.