In describing how their offices operated this state legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local lawmakers would undoubtedly say it was all hands on deck.
From helping constituents navigate through resources for rent relief and small-business aid to pushing for solutions over an unemployment claims backlog, 2020 has been far from uneventful for legislators like state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita.
To summarize: “It was a busy year,” said Wilk. “My focus was completely on helping my constituents. There was a lot going on for people, and my office had all hands on deck to help solve problems.”
After the stay-at-home order that kept workers and employers stagnant for months, unemployment claims skyrocketed north of 6 million claims since March, but many who filed didn’t receive their benefits for months. Wilk and Smith said they tended to hundreds of constituents who had experienced delays, dropped calls and busy lines with the state’s Employment Development Department.
Along with other lawmakers, Wilk first wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom in April to improve the jobless-claims process, following a call in July for an audit of the EDD to clarify the delays their constituents had had to endure for months.
“My staff has been working round the clock to help constituents navigate a completely broken system. These delays are jeopardizing millions of Californians’ ability to put food on the table and a roof over their heads,” Wilk said at the time.
The work continued after the session’s end last week when the Legislature approved an emergency audit of EDD amid a 13.3% statewide unemployment rate, calling for a deeper dive into the agency’s backlog and efforts to improve call center operations, according to a Sept. 3 letter signed by a bipartisan group of nearly 40 legislators.
Smith, who is now focusing efforts on running for the 25th Congressional District, centered her work mainly in the spaces of emergency management and small business relief. Among the bills that passed through the Legislature include Assembly Bill 3267, which requires emergency planning to include coordination with access and functional needs population; and SB 1447, a bill she co-authored that will create a small business tax credit for COVID-19 recovery.
“I am proud of my work during this term that includes creating greater equity in education, supporting our local COVID response with everything from informational town halls, to casework, nonprofit and small business support and direct delivery of PPE for emergency and essential workers, and providing much-needed relief to small businesses,” said Smith in a statement. “I thank my constituents for the opportunity to have served over these past two years.”
Besides working on legislation to clarify Assembly Bill 5, improve DMV operations and the controversial public safety power shutoffs, lawmakers also held tele-town halls throughout the pandemic and joined in on virtual conversations about COVID-19 aid for workers and employers alike, mental health resources for families, and updates on the everchanging health and safety protocols.