Business / Economy

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Unemployment Claims hit Record Levels with COVID-19 Shelter Orders (Video)

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2020 at 12:39 PM

The number of Californians filing for unemployment benefits eclipsed the state’s highest number on record, dating back to the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Experts fear that the worst is yet to come, especially for sectors of the economy still reeling from the state-ordered closure of non-essential businesses to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic


The California Employment Development Department announced Thursday that unemployment claims reached 186,809 for the week ending March 21. The week before, it was more than 58,000 claims. For context, in all of March 2019, there were 40,000 new unemployment claims in the state. The prior weekly record of 115,462 was set in January 2010 at the height of the Great Recession.

“It is all hands on deck to deal with this historic claim load,” EDD deputy director Loree Levy told CalMatters in a live broadcast on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a day before the EDD released the number of claims for California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said 1 million Californians had filed claims since the pandemic.

The EDD counts processed claims, while Levy described Newsom’s number as “an estimate” of all claims submitted, whether they had been processed yet or not.

Levy said her department expects the numbers to continue to break records.

“We can’t make predictions,” Levy said. “We continue to receive historic levels of claims on an ongoing basis. We’re looking at all kinds of strategies [to process claims] on a daily basis.”

Locally, the Times-Standard reported Thursday that an economic damage assessment conducted by the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services found that local businesses had lost an estimated $2.7 million in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 disease and the associated shelter-inlace order, leading to the loss of more than 700 local jobs. Eight local businesses have also been forced to close, the paper reported.

The California Bureau of Labor Statistics had to recompose its weekly jobless claims graph because Thursday’s numbers dwarfed previous jobless numbers.

A Washington Post-ABC News nationwide poll found that about a third of people have been laid off or had an immediate family member laid off. Another half reported a cut in work hours or pay for someone in their family.

On March 15, Newsom ordered all bars in the state to close, creating the first ripple in a tidal wave of state-ordered closures of all non-essential businesses. Employees from a variety of industries found themselves out of work or having their hours significantly reduced.

Now unemployed people are worried about making their April rent. Levy said that claims are usually processed within three weeks, but she could not guarantee that the same timeframe will hold true during the pandemic.

“I don’t think any state has ever been prepared for an economy to come to a standstill like it has,” Levy said. “We know these payments got to get out to people as soon as possible.”

The state has taken steps to ease the financial burden on the unemployed, chiefly by waiving the one-week waiting period to collect benefits. For those who qualify, their first payment should be for two weeks instead of the typical one week.

Unemployment insurance is paid by employers, so the pot of money from which recipients collect does not come from the state directly. If the claims exceed the unemployment insurance fund and the state becomes insolvent — as it did during the Great Recession — the state will likely take a loan from the federal government.

“As long as someone is [entitled to benefits], they’ll receive them,” Levy said. “It’s just a matter of what it will cost the state in the long run” to pay back a federal loan.

The Associated Press reports that the number of jobless people in the U.S. has already exceeded the height of the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, although the economic impacts hit California the hardest in 2010.

According to Labor Department records — which date back to 1967 — the largest seasonally-adjusted one-week number of new unemployment claims was 695,000 in October, 1982. Back then, the unemployment rate was about 10 percent.

New unemployment claims in California reached more than 375,000 in January 2010, the highest monthly total on record. Three of the top-five highest months came during the Great Recession. The other two months with the most claims came during the recession of the early 1990s.

Before the onset of the pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, a 50-year low. The current rate has not been calculated.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.
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Monday, March 23, 2020

With COVID-19, California's Economy is in Uncharted Territory

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 6:47 AM

A sign on the door at Parkway Lounge in Oakland, California. - ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • A sign on the door at Parkway Lounge in Oakland, California.
Social distancing may be good for public health these days, but it isn’t good for the California economy. As the coronavirus pandemic forces millions of residents to cancel dates and travel plans, retreat from social life to shelter in place, key cogs of the state’s economic engine are grinding to a halt. That’s an unprecedented shock for a modern economy, experts say — one that will test the resilience of California’s decade-long boom and the adequacy of its $18 billion cash reserve.

What we know so far: The coronavirus is almost certainly causing the first pandemic-induced recession of the postwar era. For millions of Californians and their families, that may mean less work, lower income and more financial stress, particularly for those least able to weather the shock: Californians living at or below the poverty line, those without savings or outside financial support and people living on the street.

What we still don’t know: how bad this will get. Never before in the state has so much business activity come to such an immediate and widespread stop at once, the experts say. Policymakers, businesses and regular Califorians are just beginning to grapple with what this all might look like.

“It’s so much larger than anything we’ve encountered before,” said Jesse Rothstein, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. “I think this is going to be larger than the Great Recession. I hope it doesn’t last as long, but the magnitude of the shock is bigger.”

The state’s enormous, diversified economy — fifth largest in the world — isn’t reliant on any one industry. But sunny California’s tourism, hospitality and retail sectors — together providing about one in five jobs, according to state statistics — are proportionately larger here. So are transportation, warehousing and other trade-related industries. All are taking the most immediate financial hit.

And while the tech sector that has driven so much of the state’s economic growth may very well be better equipped to handle — even prosper from — the new housebound economic order, such a dramatic slowdown is likely to leave few sectors unscathed.

“A month ago California was in a situation where we still had one of the strongest economies we’ve ever had,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, which represents major employers in the state. “Now, the underlying analysis on all of this is uncertainty. Nobody knows. We’re in uncharted territory.”

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Newsom, PG&E Strike Deal to End Company's Bankruptcy

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 6:16 AM

PG&E employees work to replace a nearly 100-year-old utility pole in Berkeley last year. - ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • PG&E employees work to replace a nearly 100-year-old utility pole in Berkeley last year.
In the middle of a pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on Pacific Gas and Electric Corp.’s $57.65 billion bankruptcy reorganization plan Friday, after winning shareholder concessions and governance changes that he declared would be “the end of business as usual” for the state’s largest utility.

The company agreed to a number of changes, notably no shareholder dividends for three years and new oversight and enforcement mechanisms to redirect PG&E if it isn’t reaching safety or climate change goals. The utility could be sold if the reorganized company is unable to succeed or has its license revoked by state regulators for failing to meet safety improvements. The deal marks the end of a yearlong battle with a governor who had threatened a public takeover unless executives changed the corporate culture and investors agreed to take a financial haircut.

PG&E chief executive and president Bill Johnson said the company now hopes to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a timely manner. Under state law, PG&E needs to do so by June 30 to access a $21 billion state fund for compensating victims of wildfires, which is a key component of its financing plan.

“We now look to the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the plan through its established regulatory process, so that we can exit Chapter 11, pay wildfire victims fairly and as soon as possible, and participate in the state’s wildfire fund,” Johnson said in a written statement.


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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Committee Formed to Help Local Businesses Navigate COVID-19 Impacts

Posted By on Sun, Mar 22, 2020 at 8:50 AM

A handful of local organizations have banded together to form the COVID Economic Resilience Committee, which will focus on supporting local businesses through the pandemic.
FILE
  • FILE
More specifically, the committee is aimed to coordinate the delivery of "critical information, resources and services to local businesses experiencing economic injury" and is comprised of representatives from the North Coast Small Businesses Development Center, Humboldt County Office of Economic Development, Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, Arcata Economic Development Corporation, Humboldt Made, local chambers of commerce, various government agencies and others.

The committee has already set up a webpage with information and links to various resources. The Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services has also created an economic development branch tasked with collecting and disseminating information to partner agencies and business, as well as documenting COVID-19's local impact.

Find more information in the committee's release copied below:


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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Access Humboldt Scores (Temporary) Free Internet for Students in Disconnected Households

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2020 at 10:58 AM

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With schools throughout Humboldt County having been shuttered to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Access Humboldt is trying to bridge the digital divide. At least temporarily.

The nonprofit reached out to Altice-Suddenlink, which agreed to offer households with students in its service area that don’t currently have internet access free broadband for 60 days. At the end of the 60-day period, customers could elect to continue for $14.99 a month or disconnect.

Interested households can call (888) 633-0030.

And for those already connected, we’ll take this opportunity to remind you that Access Humboldt, a local nonprofit working to connect communities digitally in all kinds of ways, has lots of interesting local content on its website, which is worth checking out and can be found here.

See the full press release copied below:

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID-19 Roundup: Organizations Announce Closures, Senior Shopping Hours

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2020 at 10:11 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
There’s a lot going on and it can be tough to keep up with, so here’s a quick list of COVID-19 announcements you may have missed yesterday.

The Trinidad Rancheria announced it will close Cher-Ae Heights Casino, Sunset Restaurant, Sunrise Grill and the Firewater Lounge, with all closures in full effect by 2 a.m. Thursday. (Bear River and Blue Lake casinos announced closures earlier this week.) The Seascape Restaurant, meanwhile, will remain open for take-out only and directs customers to its Facebook page for information about how to order and pick up. The Rancheria will re-evaluate the closures in a week.

The Humboldt County Library announced that due to health concerns posed by COVID-19, all library locations and the Bookmobile will be closed through March 31. “This decision is based on information from the California Department of Public Health and is designed to protect the healthy of our community and staff,” a press release states, adding that volunteers will be contacted and asked not to report until further notice. The library will also be “waiving fines that accrue during this crisis,” even though its automated system may still notify folks of fines and overdue books. But rest assured, no need to leave the house to return that overdue book.

The North Coast Co-op announced that it is temporary changing store hours and offering a senior-only shopping hour every morning to help Humboldt’s older demographic shop for essentials while limiting exposure to the virus that is disproportionately dangerous to their age group. The stores will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the 7 to 8 a.m. hour reserved solely for senior shoppers.

Coming Attracts Theatres announced yesterday that it is closing Broadway and Mill Creek Cinemas effective today but hopes to re-open them “in the very near future.” The Minor and the Miniplex, meanwhile, have already closed.
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Monday, March 16, 2020

UPDATE: Blue Lake, Bear River Casinos to Close

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 12:33 PM

bluelakerancheria.jpg
UPDATE:
The Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria has decided to suspend operations at its Bear River Casino and Hotel, Thirsty Bear Lounge, River’s Edge Restaurant, Express Café, Tish Non Community Center, Bear River Recreation Center and Family Fun Center in the face of the COVID-19 health emergency.

The suspensions in operations begin at various points but all will be shuttered by tomorrow morning, according to a press release from the tribe, which also notes the Pump and Play Gas Station and Convenience Store will remain open.

“The tribe is concerned, first and foremost, for the health and safety of its casino employees, casino guests and tribal members,” the press release states.

See the full press releases announcing the closures copied below our initial post.


PREVIOUSLY:
In response to COVID-19 concerns and Gov. Gavin Newsom's urging that bars close and restaurants and other venues follow social distancing measures, the Blue Lake Rancheria has announced it will close its casino at 2 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18 and remain shut down at least through the end of March. This includes Alice's Restaurant, Sushi Blue, the Wave Lounge and Lily Pad Café.

According to a press release sent out today, while the hotel remains open, guests will be asked about contact with individuals who've tested positive for the virus before check-in. Play Station 777 Gas Station and Convenience Store will also remain open, though the tribe says it may reassess and limit access.

"The tribe is choosing to act out of an abundance of caution and is honoring Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request," the release reads, "as well as strictly following recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, and other trusted sources of information."

Tribal government and services, such as meal delivery, will continue uninterrupted.

Read the full press release below:

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PG&E Suspends Shutoffs for People Who Can't Pay Bills Amid COVID-19 Fallout

Posted By and on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 10:47 AM

Six utilities serving more than 21 million Californians have announced that they will not shut off customers’ power for non-payment as the coronavirus continues to disrupt daily life.

Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Power are taking the step until further notice. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is the nation’s largest municipal utility, will not shut off power or water for non-paying customers until at least the end of March, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District made the same announcement for its power customers.

High voltage electricity towers and power lines at a substation in Central California. - ANDREI STANESCU/ISTOCK
  • Andrei Stanescu/iStock
  • High voltage electricity towers and power lines at a substation in Central California.

Utilities usually protect customers who are struggling to pay bills only during major natural disasters.

“We’re trying to reduce the burdens people have,” said Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt, whose company serves customers in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. “We do a similar thing during a big ice storm.”

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How California is Responding to the Coronavirus (Video)

Posted By and on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 9:40 AM

As more Californians test positive for the novel coronavirus, state health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom are trying to control the outbreak. 


The U. S. response to the problem got off to a rocky start. Faulty tests and a shortage of test kits kept many people from being diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested only recent international travelers and people who had knowingly been in contact with someone who was infected. Consequently, some who may have contracted the virus went untested.

The national delays trickled down to the states. California reported a shortage of test kits and face masks for health care workers. Now, weeks after the first person in the U.S. was diagnosed, more Californians are being tested. Experts say Californians should plan for more people to be infected or diagnosed with the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19.

“We’re not testing enough people to really know how prevalent the disease is or the infection is,” said John Swartzberg, professor emeritus at the University of California’s School of Public Health. “I think it’s reasonable to assume that there must be an awful lot of people who are walking around infected and don’t know it.”

Watch the above CalMatters video to learn more about California’s response to the novel coronavirus.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Trinidad Rancheria: Hotel Could Open Next Summer

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 3:46 PM

An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad. - SUBMITTED
  • SUBMITTED
  • An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad.
If all goes as it hopes, the Trinidad Rancheria could have its hotel overlooking Trinidad Bay open in the summer of 2021, says Executive Director Jacque Hostler-Carmesin.

The Rancheria’s controversial proposal to build a five-story hotel on its property off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad took a major step forward recently when the Bureau of Indian Affairs found the 100-room hotel would have no significant impact on the surrounding environment — a crucial finding that seems to clear the way for the agency to move forward with the lease and loan guarantees needed for the project. Hostler-Carmesin says the Rancheria’s reasonable best hope is that the project breaks ground in a couple of months, with construction expected to span approximately a year.

Despite the BIA’s finding, some questions continue to surround the project, most notably among them exactly how it will source the approximately 14,000 gallons of potable water it needs per day. There also seems to be a lot of confusion.

Back in August, the California Coastal Commission went against the recommendation of its staff and voted to give the project a “conditional concurrence,” saying that if it met certain conditions — namely securing a water source — the commission found it to be in line with the California Coastal Act. Some in the public mistook that vote to mean the Rancheria would need to return to the commission at some future date to seek its approval. But that’s not how the process works.

Because it is a federally recognized tribe, the Trinidad Rancheria has the legal status of a sovereign nation and is not subject to state or local authority, including that of the Coastal Commission. Instead, the project is under the jurisdiction of the BIA, which, as a part of its process, must affirm that it will not conflict with any state laws, which triggered the need for the Coastal Commission’s concurrence. And the BIA’s final assessment found that the Rancheria has “identified additional sources of water to meet” the conditions of the Coastal Commission’s “conditional approval.”

According to Coastal Commission spokesperson Noaki Schwartz, BIA made the determination without consulting further with the commission or its staff.

The BIA’s Finding of No Significant Impact is open to public review and comments can be submitted on it up until March 20, after which it will be signed off as complete, triggering a 30-day appeal period. The BIA did not respond to multiple Journal inquiries to multiple people seeking to clarify the process moving forward.

While the BIA indicates it is assured the Rancheria will find enough potable water to service the 100-room hotel, it remains to be seen where that water will come from. Hostler-Carmesin says the hope is still that it will be purchased from the city of Trinidad, though the city has yet to commit.

Trinidad City Manager Eli Naffah says the city has completed five studies collectively aimed at determining its current capacity and needs, as well as how those may change in the future. But the city is taking a holistic approach to the issue and is working on formulating a comprehensive water policy that will not only decide whether the city can service the Rancheria’s hotel but also how such requests will be vetted and decided in the future.

Naffah says the city’s planning commission is currently working on the policy and he hopes it will sign off on a recommendation to the city council later this month or in April.

One of the studies commissioned by the city seems to indicate the city won’t have the capacity in its supply — which is pulled from Luffenholtz Creek — to accommodate the Rancheria’s request, saying it is sufficient to meet current demands but with minimal reserves for droughts or emergencies, while also pointing toward the unknown impacts of climate change as a looming concern.


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