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Coronavirus Update: Gov. Newsom Boosts Financial Assistance For Self-Employed, Undocumented Workers

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday outlined the financial relief being provided to the state's most vulnerable residents losing work amid the coronavirus emergency, including undocumented residents, those who are self-employed and contract workers.

During his daily update on California's response to the COVID-19 crisis, Newsom said that a record 2.7 million residents had applied for unemployment in the past four weeks, overwhelming the resources of the state's Employment Development Department.

"Many Californians are one paycheck away from losing their homes or from being able to put food on their tables, and COVID-19 has only made these challenges worse," Newsom said. "California is focused on getting relief dollars and unemployment assistance in the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible."

To help the EDD with the processing of applications, Newsom said that on Wednesday, he signed executive order to extend the department's call center hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week to meet the increased volume of calls.

Newsom said 1,340 workers -- both within the EDD and from other state agencies -- have been redeployed to focus on processing unemployment claims. He also noted that 500 state employees refused to take time off on Easter, where able to process a couple of hundred thousand distributions just on that day.

"If you ever have any doubt about the value of public employees, I hope you'll consider that example," Newsom said. "Rather than stepping aside, they stepped in and took the time to consider other people first, not just themselves, when they deserved that time off...I just want to applaud all of those who did that heroic work."

Newsom also said that $600 debit cards from unemployment insurance covered by the federal stimulus package would also be getting to California residents soon.

With 1.5 million California residents falling into the category of self-employed, small business owners or independent contractors, Newsom said additional financial aid would be made available through the PUA or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as part of the federal CARES Act.

"Instead of just putting out applications and having people wait weeks and weeks and weeks for eligibility and for notification on the distribution of payments, we are organizing a deliberative process in real time to set up our PUA system in a way where we can turn around checks in 24 to 48 hours."

The PUA application system will be launched on April 28. Payments provided by the PUA will be retroactive.

"It will apply to those who are self-employed, those who are independent contractors, also to employees whose wage data is not sufficient, their work history is not sufficient to qualify for unemployment insurance and to others who have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits," said Labor Secretary Julie Su. "So once you apply on April 28th, you will be able to certify the next day, and we are going to be turning around payments within 24 to 48 hours."

Newsom also mentioned that the most at-risk group in the state -- those who are undocumented -- make up 10 percent of California's workforce. Despite being undocumented, those individuals pay $2.5 billion in local and state taxes.

As those workers are specifically ineligible for both aid from the federal stimulus package and unemployment insurance, Newsom announced a new Direct Disaster Assistance program to help undocumented workers, many of whom are still providing essential needs for others during the pandemic.

"Many in mixed-status families are having a hard time taking care of their children and taking care of you and your loved ones in skilled nursing facilities, on the job site making sure your food is being procured and distributed, and making sure you have the ability to go to a grocery store and have something stocked there on the shelves," said Newsom.

The state will provide $75 million in partnership with philanthropic organizations providing an additional $50 million for a total of $125 million for the first-of-its kind program in the U.S.

Individual assistance of $500 and household assistance of $1,000 will be made available to undocumented workers though the program.

Applications are expected to open next month, according to Newsom.

"I'm not here to suggest that $125 million is enough, but I am here to suggest it's a good start and I'm very proud of starting here in the state of California," Newsom said.

On Wednesday, the state reported 63 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities from coronavirus in California to 821. Newsom said the state had a total number of 24,424 positive cases.

Of those cases, Newsom said that while the hospitalization rate went up 1.5 percent, the total of 1,175 people in ICU was slightly down .2 percent.

The Governor also addressed coronavirus testing in the state, saying that California's capabilities were on the upswing.

"We got new numbers back that 12,200 additional tests were conducted within the last 24 hours. That is within our prescribed framework of our announcement a week ago," said Newsom. "Our goal was to get to 10,000 by April 14th. The goal at the end of this month is to get to 25,000 tests [per day] and then to grow exponentially into May and June."


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