Key Policy & Budgetary Updates For California (3/30 – 4/5)
Updates from the California Legislature
New Executive Orders
This past week Governor Newsom issued 7 new executive orders:
Child Care: Will facilitate child care for children of essential critical infrastructure workers by allowing the California Department of Education and California Department of Social Services the flexibility to waive certain programmatic and administrative requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers will focus on current eligibility and enrollment priorities that prevent child care and afterschool programs from serving children of essential infrastructure workers. The waiver will allow eligibility for child care to prioritize essential workers, including health care professionals, emergency response personnel, law enforcement, and grocery workers.
Additionally, the order states that the Department of Education and the Department of Social Services shall jointly develop and issue guidance on how the essential worker prioritization will roll out, as well as guidance on how child care programs and providers can safely provide care. This guidance will be issued no later than April 7, 2020.
Priority for abused and neglected children will not be impacted.
The order also allows the state to take advantage of new federal flexibility to provide pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to children. Specifically, the California Department of Social Services and the California Department of Education will share data and information to identify students who may be eligible for the pandemic SNAP benefit, to reduce food insecurity and ensure children receive nutritious meals at low or no cost.
Telehealth Services: Will expand protections to medical providers as they amplify the use of video chats and similar applications to provide routine and non-emergency medical appointments in an effort to minimize patient exposure to COVID-19.
The order relaxes certain state privacy and security laws for medical providers, so they can provide telehealth services without the risk of being penalized. This action is similar to the federal HHS Office for Civil Rights waiver issued on March 17, 2020 regarding federal privacy and security laws.
“This order provides flexibility to our medical and health providers so that they are able to provide continuity of health services to people across the state, and will allow providers to assess a greater number of patients while limiting the risk of exposure and infection of other persons from in-person consultations,” said Governor Newsom.
Price Gouging: Expands consumer protection against price gouging as California continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order generally prohibits sellers of any kind from increasing prices on food, consumer goods, medical or emergency supplies, and certain other items by more than 10 percent. The order also gives additional tools to the California Department of Justice and Attorney General’s Office, among others, to take action against price gougers.
Water Shutoffs: Will restrict water shutoffs to homes and small businesses while the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order protects consumers who may not be able to pay for their water service from shutoffs. Already, over 100 public and private water systems across California have voluntarily suspended water shutoffs for non-payment as a result of COVID-19. Under the order, the State Water Resources Control Board will issue best practices and guidelines on support for the state’s water systems during this time.
Additionally, the executive order will restore water for occupied residences that may have had their water shut off as of March 4, 2020, which is when the Governor proclaimed a state of emergency due to COVID-19.
Covid-19 Resources: Allows for the immediate use of funds to support the state’s continuing efforts to protect public health and respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
The executive order facilitates expenditures from the state’s Disaster Response-Emergency Operations Account, a subaccount of the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties in the General Fund – the state’s traditional budget reserve – as well as from any other legally available fund to help with the COVID-19 response.
At the Governor’s direction, on March 25, 2020, the Department of Finance transferred $1.3 billion from the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties, the state’s traditional budget reserve, into the DREOA subaccount in preparation to pay for costs associated with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this transfer and the $99 million available balance, a total of $1.4 billion is now available in DREOA.
In addition, the Legislature enacted SB 89 prior to adjourning last month. This legislation signed by the Governor created an additional mechanism to provide up to $1 billion General Fund for expenditures related to the COVID-19 emergency.
Most of the state’s expenditures associated with the COVID-19 response are expected to be largely reimbursed by the federal government.
Relief for Small Businesses: Will provide tax, regulatory and licensing extensions for businesses.
The executive order allows the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) to offer a 90-day extension for tax returns and tax payments for all businesses filing a return for less than $1 million in taxes. That means small businesses will have until the end of July to file their first-quarter returns.
Additionally, the order extends the statute of limitations to file a claim for refund by 60 days to accommodate tax and fee payers.
The executive order also includes extensions that impact state government workers, as well as consumers. For instance, the Department of Motor Vehicles will limit in-person transactions for the next 60 days, allowing instead for mail-in renewals. Additionally, the Department of Consumer Affairs will waive continuing education requirements for several professions, also for the next 60 days.
Further, the order will extend the Office of Administrative Law’s deadlines to review regular department proposed regulations. The order also extends by 60 days the time period to complete investigation of public safety officers based on allegations of misconduct. Finally, deadlines for trainings, investigations, and adverse actions for state workers will also be extended.