COVID and Race in California

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies released a new poll showing how people of color in California are especially affected by the safety and economic impacts of COVID-19. Two journalists, Levi Sumagaysay and Pati Navalta, have started a new project, Race and Coronavirus, exploring the impact of the coronavirus on communities of color and immigrants. A study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that of all races/ethnicities, Native Americans are most likely to develop serious illness from the infection.


Even while parts of the state are starting to re-open businesses, the Yurok Tribe is staying closed in order to protect itself from COVID’s disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities, as is playing out in the Navajo Nation. The impact is compounded by the delay in $8 billion in Tribal federal stimulus funding. 


California Budget

The state is projecting a $54.3 billion budget deficit; the highest in state history, and greater unemployment numbers than the great depression. Several experts are questioning the projection, expecting a deficit smaller in scale. Others, including CDT-endorsed Senate Budget Committee Chair Senator Holly Mitchell and the Legislative Analyst’s Office, are questioning his approach to addressing the deficit, especially without engaging the legislature. The California Budget and Policy Center analyze Governor Newsom’s proposed May revision budget — which includes cuts to education, health programs and other critical safety net services — and strongly counter the governor’s austerity budget approach: “Californians need all of our leaders to do everything possible to inject funding, resources and energy into attacking these public health and economic crises. Doing what Californians need now will mean making some difficult choices so that the state can provide and maintain targeted assistance to the individuals, families and organizations most affected by the crisis. We are living in anything but usual times that require extraordinary responses.” 


Watch the California Budget and Policy Center’s seven-minute video on “how state policymakers can move California forward even in the face of an alarming budget shortfall. We share why our leaders must do everything possible – from pushing for more federal relief to using state reserves, from borrowing appropriately to raising additional revenue – not only for our 2020-21 budget agreement but to build an economy that is inclusive of all Californians.”


To avoid massive cuts, California needs federal funds by July 1 by way of the Heroes Act. Last week, national allies of CDT — Voices for Progress, the Patriotic Millionaires, WDN Action, Responsible Wealth, Way to Win and Public Wise — launched Donors Advocating for Real Economic Solutions (DARES), a direct legislative advocacy project focused on COVID-19 relief legislation, including passing the HEROES ACT, which was recently passed by the House. You can view a full list of policy priorities they will be advocating for HERE. Donors participating in the DARES project will personally lobby members of Congress based on their contribution history, legislative priorities, and our behind the scenes knowledge about the evolving negotiations. 


Please also consider signing on to a “philanthropy donors and leaders” letter in support of the federal Emergency Charity Stimulus. Their sign-on letter Is HERE. This would unleash an estimated $200 billion in additional charity funds over three years, already paid for by tax breaks taken by donors. They are calling on Congress to (1) mandate a doubling of private foundation payout from 5 percent to 10 percent for three years, and (2) establish a similar 10% payout for donor-advised funds (DAFs) that currently have no mandate.


Governor Newsom went public with his support of the Schools and Communities First ballot measure, saying that it’s “perhaps the most important of all the proposals’’ on the ballot. He stopped short of officially endorsing it. 


California Voters

Governor Newsom signed an executive order for all registered voters in CA to receive a mail-in ballot. The Republican National Committee issued a statement questioning the order, claiming potential voter fraud.


CDT joined several partner organizations, including Inland Empire United, California Environmental Justice Alliance Action and the California League of Conservation Voters, in rallying behind voter protection demands co-developed with Election Committee chairs Senator Tom Umberg and Assemblymember Marc Berman. The protections include mail ballots for all, safe in-person voting options that allow for physical distancing and investments in voter education. The special election in CD25 highlighted the importance of these protections, as there was conservative-driven “controversy” over the late-stage opening of a voting center in the city of Lancaster to accommodate in-person voting. Advocates argued the voting center was needed to make voting more accessible for people of color in that area.


CDT partners Michael Gomez Daly of Inland Empire United and Angelica Salas of Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA) co-wrote an op-ed about how Inland Empire leaders need to invest in expanding voting opportunities — especially in the majority-Latinx Riverside and San Bernardino Counties — via the Voters Choice Act. 


In some areas, people have been responding well to the Census because of shelter-in-place, but rural areas are still seeing lower response rates.


Immigrant Rights

The federal administration has been deporting migrant children, under the cover of COVID, instead of releasing them to their sponsors. While coronavirus has been spreading in immigrant detention centers — which have not been following proper COVID protections, in violation of legal requirements — it’s clear the administration is using it as an excuse to deport children who would be safer being released to sponsors. 


Hundreds of thousands of cases are being delayed in Immigration courts during COVID, underscoring another critical and deliberate failing of the federal administration that will deeply impact immigrants and the immigration system. 


The California Supreme Court rejected a conservative-backed lawsuit that challenged Governor Newsom’s program designating state funds to support undocumented workers affected by COVID. The fund, which provides $500 per individual or $1,000 per household, opened Monday, and already the system has been overwhelmed by requests. Immigrant rights advocates for fighting for more funding. Per the Sacramento Bee, CDT-endorsed Assemblymember Ash Kalra (AD27 – San Jose) is leading a group of 13 other legislators in asking Governor Newsom to create a temporary, partial income replacement program for unemployed, undocumented immigrants. The program would pay a flat $400 a week, for a maximum of eight weeks, between March 29 and July 25, to an estimated 216,499 individuals, and would supplement the existing fund. 


The LA Times profiles the unique hardship of undocumented restaurant workers. 


In Orange County, the Los Alamitos City Council voted to rescind its anti-sanctuary state ordinance that touched off a wave of similar policies in more conservatively-run cities and counties in California. The council reached an agreement with a community group that had sued the city over the ordinance, and after Huntington Beach lost a similar lawsuit. The former Los Alamitos Mayor who supported the ordinance was just confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Department of Homeland Security. 


CA Budget and Policy Center advocates for extending EITC to immigrant families, as part of ending racist and exclusionary policies. 


Criminal Justice Reform

Experts continue to warn that the lack of consistent testing in CA jails makes inmates particularly vulnerable to COVID outbreaks. Two youths — the first — tested positive for coronavirus in LA County juvenile halls, and five inmates have died of coronavirus complications in the California Institution for Men in San Bernardino (link to article about three inmates who died, with two additional deaths since the article’s publication). The California Budget and Policy Center looks at how California prisons are still severely overcrowded, even amidst concerns of heightened COVID risks, and advocates for accelerating safe releases and reforming state sentencing laws. Despite all of this, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is signaling that it plans on accepting new prisoners from county jails by the end of this month, ending a 30-day halt. Additionally, ICE is transferring detainees from state and local criminal custody into immigrant detention centers, exacerbating overcrowding in the detention centers, as well. 


The LA Times looks at the challenges facing people who were recently released. “The exodus is having a profound and still-evolving effect: Those leaving custody enter a vastly different world in which a collapsed economy, scant job opportunities and the closure of many government offices have compounded the challenges of getting lives back on track. Reentry programs are struggling to meet the deluge of incoming inmates as the disease has forced them to close shelters and serve fewer people.”


Civil rights activists are pressuring LA DA Jackie Lacey to charge a police officer who was caught on video assaulting a man they had already arrested. Lacey has declined to charge officers who have used excessive force in the past. 


Environmental Justice

Industries continue to pressure governing entities to postpone environmental regulations under the cover of the COVID crisis. While CDT-endorsed Assemblymember Eloise Reyes is leading the push to move forward on the regulations, the industries’ interests are being championed by Democratic Assemblymember Jim Frazier (AD11, East Contra Costa, Solano and Sacramento Counties), one of the most prominent and conservative of the moderate Democrats.



California Democrats have authored a bill that would use state funds to purchase outstanding rent from tenants and give tenants up to ten years to start repayment of debt, interest free.


The California Chamber of Commerce has released their “Job Killer” list: 10 bills they oppose because they support workers’ rights and environmental justice over corporate protections. Six of the bills are specific to worker protections under COVID. The CalChamber has generally been successful in lobbying to kill or gut bills on this list, which is why SEIU CA, CDT and our progressive partners started the Dream Alliance and fight back with our own list of priority bills that protect workers, fight for women’s and immigrant rights, combat climate change and steward environmental justice, and much more. 


Assemblymember Shirley Weber introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 3121, that would “authorize the creation of a task force to explore the possibility of awarding reparations for slavery.” While California was established as a “free state,” it actively supported enslavement of Black people. 



California Civic Engagement Project LA Voting webinar, May 21, 2-4:30pm PT

The California Civic Engagement Project is hosting an upcoming webinar, Voting in LA County’s November General Election: Preparing the Public, Thursday, May 21st, 2-4:30 PM. Join for this free webinar on the opportunities and challenges in ensuring voter safety and voting options during the 2020 Presidential Election. Learn how we can get connected to help our communities vote this November. This event is co-hosted by USC Price School’s California Civic Engagement Project and Future of California Elections, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Admission to this event is free with RSVP. Please RSVP by May 20th here.


Click here to Register!


Vote by Mail & Voters of Color: Research, Gaps, & Learning Opportunities Webinar, May 28, 12-1pm PT

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates’ and experts’ consensus has moved toward states needing to vastly expand their vote by mail programs to ensure people are able to exercise their right to vote and do so safely. As the laws and specific practices are debated, we need to know more about how increased emphasis on mail balloting will specifically impact communities of color. Democracy and Power Innovation Fund and Resilient Democracy Fund are co-hosting this webinar to examine the state of the existing and forthcoming research on this topic, what we are seeing happening already on the ground, and what further research or work we need to do to ensure an inclusive election. We hope that we can come away with an understanding of the useful data we have; research needs and how we might address them; as well as recommendations for how we can use what we know to inform programs that maximize easy and safe voting for people of color. Thursday, May 28, 2020, 12-1 PM PT. Discussants: Nick Chedli Carter, Resilient Democracy Fund; Kristen Clarke, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Quentin Mays, Analyst Institute; Charles Stewart, MIT; Tova Wang, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School. Register here