State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, provided a glimpse of the state’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during the Valley Industry Association’s third State of the State.
During the virtual event, the legislators discussed unemployment, safety enforcement and resources for their constituents as it relates to the coronavirus crisis.
Even with portions of the economy reopening after a statewide, monthslong stay-at-home directive, one in six Californians remain unemployed and about 6.7 million unemployment benefits requests have been filed with the Employment Development Department since March, according to state data.
The unemployment rate reached 16.3% statewide and 20% in Santa Clarita to date.
How will the state keep up financially and what are legislators doing in response to delays in Californians receiving their unemployment benefits?
“I think it’s critically important to recognize that no state ever really plans for the level of double-digit unemployment that we have begun to see that we might, unfortunately, continue to see as a result of this crisis,” said Smith, adding that California is in urgent need of a second round of federal funds “especially as we approach the end of this month” so that those who applied for unemployment insurance and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program continue to be covered.
In preparing the state budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom has also highlighted the need for the federal government to help fill the gap of California’s $54 billion budget deficit, a large shortfall brought forth by the pandemic.
Wilk said delays in unemployment benefits are largely due to the “ineffective and inefficient” platform used by the state government.
He and several state lawmakers, including Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, have called for an audit of the state EDD to address issues such as delays in allotting benefits, dropped calls and busy lines. The audit request earlier this month questions statistics on pending vs. closed cases, length of time cases have been open and the status of a $30-million technology upgrade.
Smith said constituents dealing with these issues can call their representative’s district offices. “We’ve got case workers ready to help you,” she said.
Safety measures at the local or state level?
When considering the issuance of orders related to face coverings and workplace safety measures, should that fall in the hands of the local or state government?
“I think it should be done at the local level and the local level is really you as a person and being responsible,” said Wilk, highlighting earlier efforts by Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale to move at an expedited reopening pace versus that of L.A. County’s phases due to their differences in case counts.
Smith said it’s more about everyone’s participation for a safe but certain reopening.
“That’s ultimately what’s on the other side of this, is our inability to fully get back to any kind of normal to have an economy that will continue to operate even at some reduced level now. It takes all of us participating in that effort,” she said.