Wilk, Smith weigh in on issues affecting California workers

State Senator Scott Wilk , left, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith. Signal file photo

While uncertainty still lies ahead for offices across California amid everchanging developments with the coronavirus pandemic, local elected officials shared Tuesday some of what lawmakers are working on in terms of a legislative response. 

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, shared updates on their work behind unemployment benefits, Paycheck Protection Program loan extensions and pending bills around independent contractors and family leave. 

Unemployment benefits

The Employment Development Department has received about 6.7 million unemployment benefits requests since March, but not everyone has received funds. Both Wilk and Smith have tended to myriad constituents who have experienced delays. 

Wilk said his efforts, which have included calling for an audit of EDD and, most recently, urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to expand their operations to 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the backlog in claims is processed. 

“When you file in March and you’re in July with no response, it’s scary and frustrating. I just want it fixed,” said Wilk, who has previously stated that delays are largely due to the “ineffective and inefficient” platform used by the state.  

On Tuesday, the senator was set to meet with a vendor who manages EDD’s computer system to discuss possible improvements to what he called “an old computer system” that is “five weeks behind in terms of processing claims.” 

PPP loans 

Efforts to support small businesses is also on the table as they are “the backbone of our local economies,” said Smith. 

In May, she and other Assembly members called on the California Congressional delegation to act on the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan extension, which sat strictly at eight weeks. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an extension of the loan into law, allowing the program to remain open to applications through Aug. 8. 

With millions tapping into the program, Smith said, “we’re hoping for a much more significant investment in a new round of PPP support loans for businesses.” 

Pending bills lawmakers are looking into

  • Assembly Bill 3216: This bill would require California employers to offer unpaid leave for purposes of a “state of emergency,” such as for child care due to school closures, a mandated COVID-19 lockdown or for experiencing and seeking a diagnosis. The proposal looks to bring an additional seven days or 56 hours of paid leave for the similar aforementioned reasons. 
  • AB 196: The law would create a “conclusive presumption” that a COVID-19 diagnosis or related injury resulted from the workplace for all essential employees. 
  • AB 5 exemptions: As a result of AB 5, which tells businesses who to classify as employees and independent contractors, two new bills have been proposed. AB 1850 aims to exempt certain sectors, such as referral agencies and journalists, and AB 2257 would exempt musicians or certain musical groups. 

Before concluding the legislative year, lawmakers will have until Aug. 31 to send bills to Newsom, who then has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto bills.

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