California sees suspicious surge in coronavirus unemployment claims for gig workers

By ADAM BEAM | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California is reporting a surge in coronavirus unemployment claims last week for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed — the category of benefits blamed for much of the state’s fraudulent payments.

The state last week received more than 110,800 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, an increase of more than 77,00 from the week before. It was so large it accounted for more than a quarter of all such claims nationally, according to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The claims fall under a program Congress approved last year to give unemployment benefits to people during the pandemic who are usually ineligible to receive them. The program has helped a lot of people who are self-employed weather economic shutdowns from the virus. But its broad eligibility requirements have made it a target of criminals seeking easy paydays.

State officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have repeatedly blamed the unemployment benefits program for the self employed as the source of much of the state’s fraud. Last year, the state acknowledged it paid $400 million in fraudulent benefits in the names of 20,000 prison inmates. An analysis of 345,000 frozen accounts last year by Bank of America estimated the state paid at least $2 billion in fraudulent claims.

And Blake Hall, founder and CEO of ID.me, told the Los Angeles Times last week that at least 10% of all claims submitted before the state put in new safeguards in October may have been fraudulent — which could result in nearly $10 billion in fraudulent payments.

The number of unemployment claims for contractors and gig workers fell significantly after the state imposed new safeguards, until Thursday when a massive increase was reported.

Loree Levy, deputy director of public affairs for the Employment Development Department, said state officials expected that increase after Congress approved an extension of benefits as part of a coronavirus relief package in December.

Levy said it took a few weeks for the state to implement the additional 11 weeks of benefits that Congress approved, causing a delay for some new claims during that period. Plus, she said another round of business restrictions in December because of a surge of coronavirus hospitalizations likely increased the number of people filing for new claims.

But Michael Bernick, a former EDD director who is now an attorney with the Duane Morris law firm, said the numbers “make no sense” because the increase the state reported was all for new claims, not existing claims.

Most independent contractors in California that have been impacted by the pandemic should already have filed their claims in the previous nine months, he said. Their benefits would be extended under the new congressional aid package, but those benefits should not have shown up as new claims.

“These numbers suggest that the identify-theft rings from throughout the world have not halted efforts, and fraud remains a main issue,” Bernick said.

The state has been overwhelmed with unemployment claims since March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order that shuttered many businesses. The state has processed more than 19 million claims and paid out more than $113 billion in benefits.

About 4 million of those claims claims and $43 billion of those payments payments fall under the program for independent contractors.

California was flooded with claims in the early days of the pandemic after Newsom imposed stay-at-home orders in mid-March that closed most businesses. The department managed to resolve most of a backlog that peaked last year at 1.6 million claims. But the pile has grown again and now stands at more than 800,000 people.

Newsom imposed a new stay-at-home order on much of the state in December after a surge in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Newsom extended those orders in many regions this month. But he lifted the order for the counties in and around the state capital.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a frequent critic of Newsom’s handling of the state’s unemployment claims, said he his office has been inundated with calls from constituents in recent weeks seeking help obtaining unemployment benefits, an indication that many have again lost their jobs because of the lingering restrictions on businesses.

Patterson said he suspects the increase in claims is likely a mix of fraudulent and legitimate claims, noting state officials have not been able to tell the difference. Last month, the state froze an additional 1.4 million claims because of fraud suspicions, prompting an outcry from people who say their legitimate benefits were halted.

“Legitimate people are being denied and we can’t really get a handle by how much fraud is still out there,” he said. “The fraudsters are still attacking the system and getting paid and those who should be getting paid are finding it more and more difficult.”

The safeguards the department has put in place have made it much harder for people to file fraudulent claims, said El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson, president of the California District Attorneys Association and one of many prosecutors investigating fraudulent unemployment claims statewide.

Pierson said he believes the spike in claims is likely related to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and accompanying business restrictions that have hurt the economy.

But no system is foolproof, he said.

“Criminals are still trying to defeat the system,” Pierson said. “It can be defeated.”

The state has not said how many fraudulent claims it has paid. State Auditor Elaine Howle is scheduled to release two audits of the department next week.

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Coronavirus: California passed 3 million cases, 34,000 deaths on Jan. 19

California’s case count has hit the 3 million milestone.

According to data gleaned from local public health departments across the state, there were 57,307 new cases and 700 new deaths reported from Tuesday, Jan. 19.

And, of the 3.2 million vaccinations distributed throughout the state, 1.39 million have been administered, tracking showed.

 

California regions and ICU capacity for Jan. 19

As ICU capacity dwindles in Southern California the percentages in this graphic have been adjusted by state public health officials to represent the high levels of COVID-19 patients among all ICU patients. More actual beds may be available.

Vaccines administered as of Jan. 17

The California Department of Public Health site shows a total of 3,226,775 vaccine doses, which includes the first and second dose, have been shipped to local health departments and health care systems as of Jan. 17.

The totals of vaccines administered across six different regions are in the maps below. As of Jan. 17, a total of 1,393,224 vaccine doses have been administered statewide.That’s up 609,748 from the Jan. 11 report. The state cautions that the numbers do not represent true day-to-day change as reporting may be delayed.

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Indian village cheers for Kamal Harris before swearing-in as US Vice President

By RISHI LEKHI and AIJAZ RAHI | The Associated Press

THULASENDRAPURAM, India — People in a tiny Indian village surrounded by rice paddies flocked to a Hindu temple, burst crackers and uttered prayers Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office to become the U.S. vice president.

Groups of women in bright saris and men wearing white dhotis thronged the temple with sweets and flowers, offering special prayers for Harris’ success.

“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.

The ceremony in Thulasendrapuram, where Harris’ maternal grandfather was born about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, saw the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest. Shortly after, the village reverberated with a boom of firecrackers as people held up posters of Harris and clapped their hands.

Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency. What makes her achievement special in this village is her Indian heritage.

Harris’ grandfather was born in Thulasendrapuram more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the U.S. to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”

In several speeches, Harris has often spoken about her roots and how she was guided by the values of her Indian-born grandfather and mother.

So when Joe Biden and Harris triumphed in the U.S. election last November, Thulasendrapuram became the center of attention in entire India. Local politicians flocked to the village and young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran along the dusty roads.

Then and now, villagers set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Posters and banners of Harris from November still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.

“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.

On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.

In the capital New Delhi, there has been both excitement — and some concern — over Harris’ ascend to the vice presidency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invested in President Donald Trump, who visited India in February last year. Modi’s many Hindu nationalist supporters also were upset with Harris when she expressed concern about Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority region whose statehood India’s government revoked last year.

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‘I’m all for it’: Governor Newsom, state Assembly support removing Trump

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California Gov. Gavin Newsom added his support Monday for removing President Donald Trump from office through impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

“I’m all for it,” the Democratic governor said in response to a question about his stance on both options, before quickly changing the subject.

“That’s not my focus right now. My focus, candidly, is on you and your family, as it relates to issues associated with getting us through this very challenging wave in this pandemic,” he said, referencing the effort to vaccinate California’s nearly 40 million residents against the coronavirus.

Newsom’s approval of removing Trump put him in line with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. The House will begin debate Wednesday on an impeachment resolution charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”

While California has been at odds with the Trump administration since the Republican took office in 2017, Newsom has carefully chosen his words during the pandemic to avoid Trump’s ire, often praising his administration for providing resources. He originally declined to answer a question about removing Trump when asked last week.

Meanwhile, the California Assembly passed a resolution calling for Trump’s resignation or removal. Assemblyman Chad Mayes, a former Republican leader who left the party in 2019 to become an independent, introduced the resolution.

“This American carnage lays at the feet of only one person,” he said. Mayes said reconciliation and healing must come after “accountability and repentance.”

The Democratic-led chamber approved the measure by a vote of 51-6. All six people voting against it were Republicans. But the majority of Republicans, including Republican Leader Marie Waldron, did not vote.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis, a Republican who voted against the measure, said “the 25th Amendment timeline simply is not there.” He criticized his colleagues for focusing on Trump and said their attention should be on the pandemic and other state issues.

“The first thing we do on the floor in California is throw a political punch at a lame duck. I think that’s lame,” he said.

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Coronavirus state tracker: Hospitalizations down 17% in last 14 days in California on August 24

According to the California COVID-19 dashboard there are 5,618 patients hospitalized in California on Monday, Aug. 24. This is a decrease of 1,152 patients (17%) over the last 14 days.

The state is reporting that 31% of its ICU beds are available, 65% of its ventilators are available and ICUs occupancy has declined by 17.6% in the last 14 days.

The state had conducted 1,654,133 tests in the last 14 days with a 6.5% test positivity rate. There have been more than 10.65 million tests in the state since March.

Orange County and San Diego County were dropped from the state’s monitoring list as of Sunday. They are the only two counties in Southern California to attain that status.

All data on the state tracker is preliminary and subject to change.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization, the California Department of Public Health, The Associated Press, reporting counties and news sources

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Earthquake felt strongly in the San Fernando Valley

A magnitude-4.2 earthquake struck 1.2 miles north of Pacoima at 4:29 a.m. Thursday, July 30, according to the US Geological Survey.

The jolt, which appeared to last about 10 seconds, violently shook the San Fernando Valley.

The quake was initially registered as a magnitude 4.3 quake but downgraded about 10 minutes later by the U.S.G.S.

People in the San Fernando Valley, La Crescenta, Downtown Los Angeles, the Miracle Mile area, Hollywood and Pasadena reported feeling the quake.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

A magnitude-3.3 aftershock hit at 4:38 a.m.

City News Service contributed to this report.

More to come.

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Coronavirus: Here are some case trends in the U.S., California and its counties

Experts are looking at trends and averages to know when it’s safe to open up the nation, state and counties. There are some good trends and some not so good trends to consider.

California and U.S.

Data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center shows that California’s three-day moving average of new cases is steadily increasing. You can follow the trends of every state and country on the Coronavirus Resource Center website.

California’s test positivity rate for a 14-day period ending Friday was 4.4% (out of 53,473 tests). You can find the daily trend for the state and county here at the California Department of Public Health’s dashboard.

Here’s a list of criteria the state has for reopening. You can see how all the counties are doing at this link to the California Department of Health’s data table.

Trends by county

Here’s a look at some of the hardest-hit counties, how they are measuring up to the state’s reopening criteria and each one’s seven-day case rates.

You can follow Southern California county totals at this SCNG website.

Maps show daily count of coronavirus cases, deaths in Southern California by county

You can follow Bay Area county totals at this BANG website.

The national picture:

Sources: County health departments, John’s Hopkins University, COVID-19 Tracking Project, California Department of Health, Our World in Data

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Here are disinfectants for use against the coronavirus

Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve never had to wash our hands more and spring cleaning is even more important.

It’s not easy being clean

The COVID-19 virus is about 10,000 times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. How long it can linger on surfaces is not certain.

A new analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can remain viable in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 72 hours.

A report by Johns Hopkins University found coronavirus molecules remain very stable in external cold, or artificial as air conditioners in houses and cars.

The virus also needs moisture to stay stable, and especially darkness. Therefore, dehumidified, dry, warm and bright environments will degrade it faster.

UV light on any object that may contain it breaks down the virus protein.

The virus cannot go through healthy skin.

Meaning of clean

Clean or disinfected? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gets technical about the difference.

Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs.

Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

The coronavirus is a protein molecule, it is not killed, but decays on its own. The disintegration time depends on the temperature, humidity and type of material where it lies.

The CDC urges people to wash their hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Hard surfaces

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

Hard surfaces should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. The EPA lists more than 350 disinfectants to help fight the virus.

Prepare a bleach solution by mixing: 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens are expected to be effective against COVID-19.

Do not mix list

Bleach and vinegarBleach and ammoniaBleach and rubbing alcoholHydrogen peroxide and vinegar

Soft (porous) surfaces

For carpeted floor, rugs and drapes, remove visible contamination if present and clean with appropriate cleaners indicated for use on these surfaces.

After cleaning, launder items and if possible, use the warmest appropriate water setting then dry items completely.

The virus is not a living organism like bacteria; antibodies cannot kill what is not alive.

Do not shake used or unused clothing, sheets or cloth. While the virus is glued to a porous surface, it is very inert and disintegrates only between 3 hours on fabric.

If someone is sick

Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas.

In the bedroom/bathroom dedicated for an ill person, consider reducing cleaning frequency to as-needed.

As much as possible, an ill person should stay in a specific room.

The caregiver can provide personal cleaning supplies for an ill person’s room and bathroom. These supplies include tissues, paper towels, cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants.

Bathrooms should be cleaned and disinfected after each use by an ill person. If this is not possible, the caregiver should wait as long as practical after use by an ill person to clean and disinfect the high-touch surfaces.

Household members should follow home care guidance when interacting with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 cases. More info: coronavirus.org

Wash hands regularly

Hand-washing study

These are some of the results of a 2013 study by Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business that was published in the Journal of Environment Health. When asked, 95% of people claimed to wash their hands after using public restrooms, but the observational study found the following:

The study also found that:

People are more likely to wash their hands in the morning than in the afternoon or evening.

More women than men wash their hands with soap.

Health care and hand-washing

In the history of hand-washing, it’s helped the most in hospitals.

In the 1850s, Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing, insisted people wash their hands in war hospitals during the Crimean War. This resulted in greatly reduced infection rates among wounded soldiers.

In today’s hospitals, the most commonly used method to track hand hygiene compliance is direct observation, or someone watching health-care workers.

Germs in the house

The invisible enemy isn’t alone. Here’s a look at germs around the house compiled by British company SCS Cleaning. The information comes from the British National Health Service and the BBC.

According to Authority Dental, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide effectively reduces human coronaviruses on a toothbrush. You can mix hydrogen peroxide with water (1 teaspoon of HP, 1 cup of water) to dilute it. Soak a brush for 1 minute then rinse it under running water.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SCS Cleaning, BBC, Michigan State University

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California’s economic power may surprise you

California’s economy is bullish. In fact, it’s huge on a global scale. But its parts, the county-by-county economies that make up the Golden State’s business muscle, are quite large, too. Fresh federal stats for 2018 give a glimpse of this heft: California is home to 14 of the nation’s 100 largest county economies, when measured by a key business output metric — gross domestic product.

California’s total output

$2.72 trillion

Output ranking

Here’s a comparative look at the output ranking of each county, its top growing sector, growth rank among 100 largest U.S. counties, and its equivalent to other countries.

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California’s minimum wage just went up and will continue to rise

California’s minimum wage is gradually going to become the highest in the nation and could affect nearly 5 million workers.

A 2018 study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center defines low-wage workers as those earning less than two-thirds of the median full-time wage in California.

About 32% of California’s workers, some 4.9 million, earned less than $14.35 an hour in 2017.

The chart below shows California’s minimum wage increases since 1964 and projections for the next several years.

Wages by state

California has one of the highest minimum wage rates ($12) in the nation.

Seattle has the highest minimum wage rate at $16 for large employers and $15 for small employers.

New York City’s minimum wage is $15 for all employers.

Worker profile

Figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

 

Low wages, by industry

Those with the highest share of workers earning low wages, 2016

Agriculture, forestry and fishing: 71%

Restaurants and other food services: 66%

Grocery stores: 54%

Community, family and child care services: 51%

Administrative and business services: 49%

Where the low-wage workers are

 

 

Source: UC Berkeley Labor Center, California Department of Industrial Relations, U.S. Department of Labor

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