As unemployment and financial need rises, officials unveil programs to help
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed emergency legislation Tuesday to provide up to $1.1 billion in funding to fight COVID-19 in the state. Image courtesy of the California Office of the Governor

Californians are losing their incomes at record rates as residents stay inside and businesses close their doors due to a statewide stay at home order to stop the fast-spreading coronavirus that has infected 9,191 and killed 203 people across the state.

But Santa Clara County and state government officials on Thursday announced new programs aimed to ease residents’ and businesses’ financial hardship as the health order remains in place indefinitely to slow the spread of the virus.

About 111,000 Californians filed unemployment claims on an average day last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday during a news conference on the state’s coronavirus response. Since March 12, 1.9 million people in the state have filed for unemployment.

“The economic consequences are profound,” Newsom said.

In Santa Clara County, the coronavirus, which causes a deadly respiratory illness known as COVID-19, has killed 36 and 1,019 have tested positive in the county.

Santa Clara County’s dashboard tracks the coronavirus spread in the county. Image courtesy of Santa Clara County

The state on Thursday unveiled www.onwardCA.org, a website aimed at connecting Californians with services, including money, food and shelter, as well as matching them with new job and training opportunities.

Currently 70,000 openings are listed on the website, which was founded by Fresno-based Bitwise in partnership with Salesforce and LinkedIn.

Food in Santa Clara County

For those in Santa Clara County who are looking for near-term help, local officials, nonprofits and schools unveiled a new interactive map showing all the locations where residents can pick up food in the region.

The new tool comes after students and parents found out Wednesday they won’t return to physical classrooms before summer, though many children rely on school-provided lunches. That need has only intensified during the mandatory order that residents stay inside except for essential tasks, said Leslie Bacho, chief operating officer for Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley.

“I was doing this work in 2008 when the bubble burst and then we saw a really steady and dramatic increase in need, but it was a slow build,” Bacho said Thursday in front of San Jose Unified, where volunteers handed out bags filled with meals.  “This is really an unprecedented moment when so many people are suddenly finding themselves in need of help.”

Schools across the county, which typically serve about 100,000 daily meals to students during the school year, have stepped up efforts to provide meals to students, their families and everyone in the community, said Santa Clara County superintendent Mary Ann Dewan.

“Many schools have spring breaks coming up next week or the week after, and part of our message today is we want to assure our families that even with spring breaks, we will have meals available for our families throughout the county,” she said.

Small business help

Small businesses eager to bring back employees after the COVID-19 outbreak got some good news Thursday when Newsom unveiled new programs aimed at helping businesses trying to stay afloat.

Companies with less than $5 million in taxable assets, for instance, can now defer up to $50,000 in sales and use tax payments interest free for a year — a program Newsom called a “de-facto loan,” by the state.

Businesses can also qualify for up to $10 million in loans if they continue to pay their employees during the coronavirus outbreak, he said.

Newsom urged employers to “get prepared, because if you are a small business person, let’s make sure you get that paperwork done and get those applications in as quickly as possible.”

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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