Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to unveil his budget proposal for the fiscal year starting in July — but, in a sign that California is scrambling to keep up with the omicron variant, he wants state lawmakers to immediately approve $1.4 billion in emergency COVID funding.
The emergency request is part of a $2.7 billion coronavirus response packagethat Newsom’s administration previewed Saturday. It also calls for legislationto revive supplemental paid sick leave related to COVID-19, potentially modeled on a program that expired last year against the wishes of organized labor.
Here’s a closer look at the $2.7 billion proposal, which the administration expects to largely be reimbursed by the federal government:
- $1.2 billion to bolster testing, including expanding clinic hours and capacity and sending rapid tests to local health departments and schools. (However, as of Friday, 17 of 58 counties still had not received rapid tests that Newsom on Dec. 22 promised would be made availableto California’s 6 million public school students before they returned to campus from winter break.)
- $614 million to boost staffing at vaccination sites and health care facilities, which are so short on workers that the California Department of Public Health is evaluating whether to order hospitals to suspend elective surgeries in cases in which patients wouldn’t be immediately harmed, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.
- $583 million to continue vaccine education campaigns, including “combating misinformation” in partnership with 250 ethnic media outlets.
- $200 million to increase staffing and tech capacity at state emergency response and public health agencies.
- $110 million to expand contact tracing and offer vaccines, testing, and isolation and quarantine services to migrants at the Mexico border.
The package provides the latest glimpse into Newsom’s priorities for spending what analysts estimate could be a $31 billion surplus. The governor is also expected to propose spending billions of additional dollars on drought prevention, wildfire suppression and rural workforce development programs, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday night. And he’s hinted at plans to funnel money into stimulus checks, crime-fighting efforts, dyslexia screenings and early education, cleaning homeless encampments and infrastructure.
But three key actions his administration took on Friday and over the weekend suggest that COVID will likely dominate financial and political debates at the Capitol — even as Republican lawmakers begged Newsom to declare a special legislative session devoted to homelessness.
- Newsom deployed more than 200 members of the California National Guard to increase capacity at 50 state-funded COVID testing sites, with another deployment scheduled this week.
- He signed an executive order that generally prohibits sellers from raising prices on COVID at-home test kits by more than 10%. (Meanwhile, counties from San Francisco to San Diego are warning about a proliferation in fake COVID testing sites.)
- The state Department of Public Health issued controversial guidanceallowing asymptomatic COVID-positive or exposed workers at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to immediately return to work without isolation or additional testing — another indication of critically low staffing levels. Health care workers immediately decried the move.
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