Dear Governor Newsom:
First, we would like to thank you and your administration for continuing to provide updates regarding COVID-19 (commonly referred to as “coronavirus”) to the public. These updates have been helpful to a public eager to hear of the government’s overall preparedness and what actions the state is taking. We recognize that state and local health agency employees are working hard to communicate information to the public, treat infected persons, and minimize the spread of COVID-19.
In addition, we applaud the actions the state has taken to reduce economic hardships that workers and employers are facing because of COVID-19. State support, so far, includes the ability for workers to access services such as disability insurance, paid family leave, and an unemployment insurance work sharing program. The state is also offering tax assistance to employers by allowing them to delay the filing of their state payroll reports and deposit their state payroll taxes by 60 days without penalties or interest.
These are important first steps. As elected officials representing millions of Californians, the Assembly Republican Caucus suggests the following additional solutions to continue to ease the economic burdens felt by those affected by COVID-19.
- Backfill schools for lost Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding. As you are aware, the Elk Grove Unified School District decided to close its schools for one week, after a student tested positive for COVID-19. While the merits of that decision can be debated, the state must ensure that the health and safety of students and personnel are the most important factors for a school district when it faces a decision to close its campus during this declared state of emergency. The threat of losing funding must not be a factor.
- Create a fund for freelancers and other workers who aren’t paid if they miss work. Many workers don’t have sick time or vacation time available if they can’t work due to being quarantined or caring for family members who are quarantined, or caring for children who have to miss school due to closures. The state should borrow $2 billion from surplus tax revenues from High Speed Rail to backfill lost income for those who miss work for COVID-19-related reasons, and who do not have sick leave or other types of leave to fall back on.
- Temporarily expand Paid Family Leave. Paid Family Leave (PFL) provides benefits to individuals who need to take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member and to parents who need time to bond with a new child. PFL is also available to those who are in quarantine or who are caring for someone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. However, these monetary benefits are not available to those who need to stay home to care for a child whose school or daycare has closed due to COVID-19. The state should temporarily expand PFL for 2020 only to cover these instances.
- Reimburse for cost of the test. All commercial and Medi-Cal health plans, as well as insurers, have been directed to reduce cost-sharing to zero for all medically necessary screening and testing of COVID-19. However, this could still leave many Californians finding themselves having to cover this cost out-of-pocket. As test kits become more available, cost should not be a barrier for anyone who needs to be tested.
- Increase reserves. Your 2020-21 budget proposal introduced in January includes $21 billion in total reserves. However, it is apparent COVID-19 will have a negative economic impact on the state, and in turn next year’s budget, that was not contemplated when the Governor’s 2020-21 Budget was proposed. Personal income taxes, sales and use taxes, and corporate taxes will very likely decrease due to the effects COVID-19 will have on California’s economy. The state should be proactive in addressing likely shortfalls in the 2020-21 budget by adding to the reserves now.
- Tax credits for supplies and services used by businesses to protect its employees and the public from exposure. In addition to developing a plan to safeguard against the virus, many businesses will incur costs for protective equipment and extra cleaning supplies and services in order to reduce the risk of exposure. In order to encourage employers to provide added protection to their employees and customers, businesses should receive a tax credit for such expenses.
- Sales and use tax holiday. Retail establishments, restaurants, and other businesses are taking a financial hit during these times, as are employees who have to miss work without pay. In order to alleviate these financial burdens, if only a little, the state should commit to a sales and use tax holiday once the state of emergency has been lifted.
In addition, we strongly suggest that you take the following steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Suspend AB 5 (Ch. 296, Stats. of 2019) for respiratory therapists and all other non-exempted medical personnel and facilities during the state of emergency. With COVID-19 upon us, now is not the time to limit medical resources. A moratorium must be imposed on any law that restricts a person’s ability to receive treatment.
- Request access to the Strategic National Stockpile of protective equipment. Hospitals are working with the state’s emergency management system, as they always do, to secure necessary protective equipment for patients and health care workers. But many are running dangerously low. The state has made expired N95 respirator masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deemed appropriate to use, available from its emergency cache. However, surgical gowns, surgical masks, face shields, and other supplies remain at dangerously low levels.
- Authorize state employees to work from home. One way to contain the spread of COVID-19 is to reduce potential exposure. We call on you to issue an Executive Order authorizing the heads of each state agency to allow employees to work from home unless their job duties require them to be at a worksite.
Again, the Assembly Republican Caucus appreciates the steps being taken to address economic hardships that workers, consumers, and employers are currently facing due to COVID-19 having arrived in California. We hope you will consider these additional solutions. We look forward to working with you to implement the proposals listed above.
Marie Waldron, 75th District
Assembly Republican Leader