Coronavirus: Unemployment claims skyrocket in California, local schools remain closed

Unemployment claims have skyrocketed in California as state leaders anxiously watch for what has become a contentious coronavirus stimulus bill to pass through Congress.

More than 1 million unemployment claims have been filed since March 13, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. By comparison, before the respiratory disease caused state leaders to issue a wide-reaching “stay at home” order, about 2,500 claims were being filed daily.

“The magnitude of what happened in 2008 is still manifesting for millions of Californians. We still have people that are struggling to get back to where they were before the great recession,” Newsom said. “People are older and still struggling, so these are individuals that once again are disproportionately impacted by this moment.”

The governor praised congressional leaders for progress on a coronavirus stimulus package that as of Wednesday included a provision that would offer those unemployed $600 in unemployment benefits weekly, on top of what the state typically pays out. In California, unemployment payments can range between $40 and $450 weekly.

The bill is expected to bring about $10 billion in grants to California, including about $5.5 billion to the state and the rest to cities and counties. But as Newsom celebrated the progress made on the coronavirus stimulus bill, the governor said it would likely not be enough.

The situation in a week or two may “necessitate further moments of support” to individuals, he said, not just states, businesses and industries.

Mortgage relief

Also Wednesday, Newsom offered good news to homeowners: More than 200 small and large banks and credit unions have agreed to offer a 90-day grace period on foreclosures and payments for people whose finances have been upended by the fast-spreading and deadly coronavirus.

“It is significant that we have some consistency, it is significant that we don’t have a patchwork, one bank to another,” Newsom said. “That is what happened in 2008… so we wanted to engage our nation’s largest banks and see if we could create some continuity, some consistency among their ranks.”

Newsom applauded four out of five of the largest banks in America for agreeing to the 90-day grace period on payments. Among them: Wells Fargo, Citibank, JP Morgan and US Bank. The Bank of America has committed to a 30-day grace period for its customers, the governor said.

“I hope (Bank of America) will reconsider and join those other banks in doing the right thing, at least extending that commitment to their customers for 90 days,” Newsom said.

Meanwhile, a group of state leaders, including Sens. Jim Beall, Scott Wiener and Assemblymen Ash Kalra and Kansen Chu, sent the governor a letter Wednesday asking him to implement a statewide ban on evictions for renters.

Newsom issued an executive order last week allowing cities to implement such evictions moratoriums for renters who lose their income because of the novel coronavirus. He’s encouraged cities to utilize the order, but hasn’t instituted a statewide policy.

Some cities, like San Jose and Santa Clara have passed their own temporary moratoriums on evictions.

“During this emergency, our state needs one clear order that covers all all tenants and does not require proof of a COVID-related loss of income that may be difficult to document,” the letter states. “With many renters suddenly out of work and the rent due the first week of April, it’s critical that the state act now to assure tenants that they will not be evicted.”

 

Schools to remain closed

Meanwhile, Bay Area school closures have been extended for another two months.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education, along with five other Bay Area counties, extended closures to May 1 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The county education office’s decision impacts 31 school districts in Santa Clara County, which together serve more than 260,000 students who are now having to transition to online or other flexible learning options.

“The well-being of our students, families and communities is our primary concern,” said Mary Ann Dewan, the Santa Clara County superintendent of schools, in a statement Wednesday. “We will continue to take all necessary steps to prepare schools for reopening.”

The decision to extend closures into May usurps the county education office’s initial March 13 announcement to suspend in-class learning until April 3, coinciding with many school closures across California.

Cases, deaths jump

On Wednesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide jumped 17% in one day, landing at 2,535 people confirmed to have the virus and 53 deaths.

Santa Clara County, which accounts for about 18 percent of the state’s confirmed cases, has been hit particularly hard. As of Wednesday, 459 people in the county tested positive for the virus, though officials say the number of people infected is likely in the thousands. Seventeen people have died from the virus.

Among those infected are five Santa Clara County deputies, the Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday. Four of the cases include officers who work on the same team in the county’s “Custody Bureau.”

Testing gets more transparent

County and state officials are ramping up testing for the virus and more information is flowing into the government from private labs that previously weren’t required to report their testing unless they got a positive result for the virus.

Newsom announced Wednesday that 66,800 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted across California.

That number is up by 39,200 tests from what the governor said had been conducted as of Tuesday, before the state had gathered the data from private labs. Still, Newsom said the testing that is happening is not enough.

“It is one thing to do the diagnostics, it is another to get word back,” he said, noting that tens of thousands of tests that had been conducted have still not come back.

Bay Area counties on Tuesday ordered local private labs to share their testing data, including the negative results, which they’re required to do as of Wednesday.

County officials did not immediately respond to a request for data on updated testing numbers Wednesday.

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

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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