The Orange County Poverty Reduction Coalition recommends that Orange County establish a pandemic unemployment loan program. This program would provide Orange County residents with loans, at interest rates between zero and one percent, upon proof that they have submitted an application for viable unemployment to the Department of Economic Development (EDD) of the. State. The supervisory board could fund this program by allocating a portion of the county’s $ 554 million CARES federal grant.
Local working families need a bailout. Governor Newsom declared at a press conference on May 14, 2020 that 4.6 million Californians have applied to EDD for unemployment since March 12, 2020. Numerous reports show how EDD has struggled to process the unprecedented number of claims – in April : “Coronavirus unemployment: 3 weeks? Where is my money?“;”California Extends EDD Call Center Hours to Meet Growing Demand Amid Record Unemployment“;”Coronavirus Unemployment: Callers Overwhelm EDD Phone Banks“;”Coronavirus crisis: unemployed Californians express frustration with state unemployment agency“; and still in May:”California employment agency overwhelmed with requests. “For months, many Orange County residents left without paychecks, unemployment benefits and ignoring EDD’s automated and recorded occupancy message. This suffering is untenable.
How can residents eat? According to the May 14 Voice of OC article, “Orange County May See Great Depression Era Unemployment Due To Coronavirus Impact“Debra Bates, director of OC’s Social Services Agency, informed the supervisory board that her department has received” a 100% increase in demand for food aid programs. “Hunger has doubled in this crisis.
How can residents keep a roof over their heads? To delay a wave of evictions, the California Judicial Council ordered on April 6, 2020 that California homeowners cannot evict tenants up to 90 days after the lifting of the state of pandemic emergency by the governor. However, in the absence of any changes in state law, residents will owe past rents and thousands of people will likely be evicted for non-payment. Renters could also receive negative credit reports for missed payments. Homelessness can increase dramatically in Orange County.
None of this suffering is necessary. If the unemployed had timely access to EDD benefits, they could receive up to $ 450 per week from California based on past earnings, plus $ 600 per week that the federal CARES law has in addition to unemployment benefits. The CARES Act has also funded benefits for independent contractors who can apply to ESD for help in the event of an unemployment pandemic. Residents could eat and pay their rent if they received the maximum of $ 1,050 per week from EDD benefits; they would actually earn $ 26.25 an hour in a 40-hour workweek, or $ 9.73 more than the living wage of $ 16.52 for a single adult in Orange County.
The creation of a pandemic unemployment loan program and the ability for residents to borrow against future EDD benefits would effectively work as an extension of the existing general relief program. Like the Social Services Agency website Explain, “General Relief (GR) is a cash assistance program funded by Orange County. It provides temporary cash assistance to eligible indigent adult legal residents who do not have custody of minor children and are not eligible for federally or state funded cash assistance programs. GR is a loan. The county will require former beneficiaries to reimburse GR from a retroactive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) allowance. The county can ask former recipients to repay GR from other funds they have, but only after meeting the basic support needs of himself and his family. Likewise, a new loan program for the unemployed could provide temporary relief to residents until EDD processes their applications.
Orange County could do a lot of good with its $ 545 million in federal CARE funds, but it needs to put working families first. The watchdog must provide health care resources related to COVID-19, increase testing, support cities and fund programs that benefit the most vulnerable residents, including the homeless community. However, if the Council does not also bail out working families, Orange County will experience an accelerated increase in hunger and homelessness. We should aim to reach as many people as possible, and a loan program would help ensure that funds do not run out before reaching others in need.
Since March 2020, federal, state and local governments have asked the public to sacrifice many of their freedoms. In return, the public has every right to ask the government for adequate economic protection. Some are beginning to resist shelter-in-place orders; others fear that ending social distancing too soon will only prolong the pandemic; but no one can dispute the economic crisis which is falling on many households. The only reasonable way for the government to expect compliance with local housing ordinances is to honor the social contract and effectively assist working families.
Background to the $ 554 million CARES grant from Orange County
On May 12, 2020, the Orange County Board of Supervisors accepted $ 554,133,764.90 in federal Aid, Relief and Security Act (CARES) grants against coronaviruses. (Pub.L. No. 116–136 (March 19, 2020).) Section 601 (d) of the Social Security Act (42 USC § 301 et seq.), Added by Section 5001 (a) of the CARES Act, requires Orange County to use these funds to cover costs that:
(1) are the necessary expenses incurred due to the public health emergency regarding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19);
(2) have not been accounted for in the most recently approved budget as of the date of enactment of this section for the state or government; and
(3) were incurred during the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending December 30, 2020.
At the May 12, 2020 board meeting, a majority of supervisors rejected Supervisor Donald Wagner’s motion to allocate $ 75 million in grants to small businesses, which would be distributed by cities.
On May 14, 2020, Vice Chairman Andrew Do and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett announced their proposal “Economic support services Plan HEART»To allocate $ 101 million in CARES funds to:
Hhelp for small businesses that have remained closed
Espending to support communities affected by COVID-19
Aassistance to non-profit organizations providing direct services to residents of Orange County
Rreimbursement to cities in Orange County for direct expenses related to COVID-19 [and]
Ttemporary food aid for vulnerable and at-risk populations.
The county would distribute the $ 101 million equally among the five surveillance districts under this proposal.
According to the Agenda staff report, the county manager recommends that the county allocate the remaining $ 453 million of the $ 554 million to “basic services” during the ongoing pandemic. The basic function categories include: “medical expenses, public health expenses, pay for county emergency response, public health measures, [and] COVID-19 related expenses.
Orange County will review the HEART plan at the board meeting on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
Mohammed Aly is a lawyer and executive director of Orange County Poverty Reduction Coalition.
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