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California Slashes Budget Because Of Pandemic, Miscommunications Lead To Confusion For Day Care Providers And County Vows To Fight Plans To Reopen Casinos

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will have to slash its budget by $6.1 billion because of revenue shortfall from the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, day care centers can now accept children whose parents are nonessential workers. But because of miscommunications by county officials, providers are just now getting the message. And, some area casinos say they're ready to resume business but San Diego County health officials are vowing to fight the plan.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Governor Gavin Newsome proposes a grim, revised budget, some confusion about rules regarding childcare facilities. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Mark Sauer. This is KPBS mid day edition.

Speaker 2: 00:23 It's Thursday, May 14th

Speaker 3: 00:27 governor Gavin Newsome today outlined the grim reality of California's plummeting tax revenues. Amid the Corona virus pandemic, the state faces a budget shortfall of 53 point $4 billion this fiscal year into the next Newsome said, Oh, by law, the state must balance its budget. Each year. Newsome said it will take several years to dig out of this sudden fiscal hole.

Speaker 4: 00:49 We are at a time that's simply unprecedented and when I mean unprecedented, we talk in terms of that great recession, that great recession. We had unemployment that peaked at 12.3% in the third quarter. In 2010 some 2.2 million people were out of work. I'll go back to what I just said. 4.6 million Californians just since March 12th have filed for unemployment insurance claims or assistance under our PUA program.

Speaker 3: 01:23 The governor today outlined his may revise of the upcoming fiscal year budget. He said, cutbacks and state spending coupled with reserve funds and help from the federal government will make the difference in greatly diminished tax revenue. Newsome said that though we must balance the budget, we must also balance our principles and values. He said his budget will protect public education, public health, and public safety, especially for those hit hardest by COBIT 19 the governor's budget now goes to the state legislature for debate and approval. By next month.

Speaker 5: 02:00 [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 02:03 childcare centers are critical in the effort to ease, stay home restrictions and reopen the economy. But a significant announcement by County officials last week to open daycares for children of nonessential workers caused widespread confusion. Joining me to sort it out is KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traeger. Sir Claire, welcome. Thank you. Start with what the situation was for childcare centers after the governor issued the statewide stay home order.

Speaker 2: 02:29 Right. So I mean, as we remember, I remember a few months ago when schools closed school districts closed. They didn't make the same, you know, across the board determination that childcare centers need to close. Instead they had new rules for them. They said that the class sizes had to be 10 or fewer kids and it had to be a staple group, meaning no interchanging of kids among different groups swapping kids out. And then it was also that only essential workers were supposed to be sending their kids to childcare. So, you know, doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery store workers, uh, people like that they could continue to send their, their kids to daycare, but no one else was supposed to be.

Speaker 3: 03:14 Okay. And they're using those restrictions. And we'll talk about that in a moment, but most childcare centers are licensed by the state. But does the state or County decide on the rules for how they operate during this pandemic?

Speaker 2: 03:25 Well, so the County in, in their public health order has, um, determined the rules, but they're trying to keep in line with what the S what the state has decided.

Speaker 3: 03:37 Okay. And the County recently made an announcement that will change how these childcares operate. Walk me through what happened there.

Speaker 2: 03:44 Well, yeah, it's been, it's been sort of confusing for a lot of people, I think, including daycare owners. So last week the County said that now daycares could expand their groups to 12 kids instead of 10 kids. And then they ease some health restrictions. Like they said that daycare providers don't have to be wearing masks the entire time that they are teaching and interacting with kids. And that multiple groups could use the same bathroom as long as they clean the bathroom in between. But what was strange was in that announcement there was also something that changed, which is that now nonessential workers could start sending their kids to daycare. But they didn't say that. They just said, you know, we're in increasing group sizes. And that to me was like the most important piece of information because that means that far more kids are now eligible for going to daycare. And they didn't say that. So then, you know, I called into the press conference the next day and followed up and said, do you mean also not in the central worker's kids? And they said yes, but then you know, talking to daycare owners, they didn't really seem to be aware of that until maybe this week or as I'm telling them that those rules had changed.

Speaker 3: 04:55 And what are the childcare operators saying about all this now?

Speaker 2: 04:59 Well, the other thing is that it turns out that the announcement that they could increase class sizes to 12 was actually mostly wrong. It's only for a very small segment of childcare operators. And so I guess a lot of the daycare owners had this big conference call with supervisor Nathan Fletcher this week where he said, you know I'm wrong, I'm sorry it was, it's actually the groups need to stay at 10. And so people are pretty concerned because they feel like it's not feasible for their business because they basically then need to hire twice as many teachers to have these smaller class sizes of 10 and here's, I talked to Holly Weber who's the owner of magic hours, preschool and Mira Mesa. And here's a, here's a little of what she said about that.

Speaker 4: 05:44 They're unsustainable demands, um, are going to to cause the childcare sector to decline. If not completely diminished within weeks, not months, not years. Now in your story,

Speaker 3: 05:58 you site supervisor Fletcher as being the one to communicate with the daycares. Why is that?

Speaker 2: 06:03 I'm not entirely sure. He hasn't been willing to do an interview with me. I've been asking a bunch of times for that. I would imagine that he's, you know, he's taken a big role in the County on, on making these decisions and so he's probably just assumed the role of, of communicating with daycares, but he's not the one making the rules. He's just the one, uh, communicating with them. Um, the County in its public health order is the one that's, you know, making the actual rules that dictate what the daycares can be doing. But it's interesting because a few weeks ago I did a story about how no one was really checking to make sure that the daycares were only accepting kids of essential workers. This is back when that was the rule. Now it's changed. But at the time the County said, well it should be up to law enforcement to be regulating this. Like saying that, you know, Sheriff's deputies should be going around to daycares and making sure all the kids who were there had parents who were essential workers or something. It didn't really make sense.

Speaker 3: 07:05 Now, uh, is it clear to daycares now what the new rules are and the ones you've spoken with that they reopened?

Speaker 2: 07:12 I don't think that it, that it is still, um, you know, it seems like information is getting out there slowly, but there hasn't been some like big, you know, lesson or announcement saying now you can do this. Um, it seems like as I've been talking to owners, they're starting to think about reopening. There's putting out surveys to parents saying, you know, would you send your kid right now if we open. So they're trying to figure out class sizes and things like that. But I don't feel like it's necessarily clear exactly what, what they can be doing.

Speaker 3: 07:46 Can we expect some clarification from the County on all this going forward?

Speaker 2: 07:49 Well, I will try to make sure that there is, because I'm going to keep, keep following the story so, so hopefully, yes.

Speaker 3: 07:56 Yeah. If any story needed a follow up. This one certainly seems to, well, I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Claire TriCaster. Thanks Claire.

Speaker 2: 08:04 Thank you.

Speaker 1: 08:05 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Mark Sauer. Well, schools and government offices grapple over how to safely reopen as the Corona virus. Pandemic shows no sign of abating. Some area casinos say they're ready to resume business, but KPBS is Amica Sharma says San Diego County health officials are vowing to fight the plan. County public health officer, dr Wilma Wooten said this week she wants to stop plans by San Diego's largest casinos to reopen next week. And we want to make it perfectly clear that we do not agree with the reopening of casinos on May 18th. Uh, we are, um, feel that the health officer's order does extend, uh, to our tribal nations in this particular situation. And we are working with the centers for disease control and prevention to try to address this issue further.

Speaker 6: 09:03 Casinos are owned by native American tribes that are considered sovereign nations and are not subject to state and County laws. Sequin casinos says it's May 20th reopening will be staggered in phase one. Every other slot machine will be turned off for physical distancing and no more than three players on black Jack and other table games. Also sequences all of its surfaces now have special coding that fights germs and it is installed. Plexiglass shields and thermal cameras to spot fevers in a statement, say Quan band chairman Cody Martinez said quote, we are excited to welcome back our guests and start bringing back the hospitality, gaming and fun that Sekwan casino resort is known for VA Haas casino and resort is reopening May 18th the casino says it has recently invested in what it calls UV germicidal technology and it will require face masks and social distancing Valley view is also reopening next week, but even with these added measures, physician Carl Steinberg likened casinos two Petri dishes while the Corona virus remains active and called reopening then quote an exceptionally bad idea.

Speaker 7: 10:22 It just seems that they are at extremely high risk for bad outcomes. If they catch COBIT and whatever casino might try to do to prevent it, there's going to be no way to prevent because people can be shedding this virus even though they're not running a fever and there's really no way to do social distancing in a casino.

Speaker 6: 10:42 Steinberg says he has many elderly patients who like to visit casinos while he sympathizes with them for having to stay away since March. His warning is blunt.

Speaker 7: 10:52 I would advise anybody who is in the older age category 65 and up or anybody that has any significant chronic illnesses to stay the heck out of casinos.

Speaker 6: 11:03 Meanwhile, Verona and palette casino operators say they've not made a decision yet on when to reopen. I'm Etha Sharma KPBS news.

Speaker 1: 11:20 Governor Gavin Newsome announced a $203 billion budget proposal today, which has been revised from a proposal which projected a five point $6 billion surplus just last January to a more than $54 billion deficit over the next fiscal year due to the Corona virus pandemic. Much of the deficit he says can be covered by reserve funds and already allocated federal funds. But the governor is announcing cuts to state programs that he says could be eliminated with help from the federal government.

Speaker 6: 11:52 Nothing my heart more

Speaker 4: 11:54 than making budget cuts. Uh, we have been making historic investments in the last many years in the state of California. Uh, and now being forced back into this position, uh, where we are having to make cuts breaks my heart because one thing I know about cuts, there's a human being behind every single number.

Speaker 1: 12:15 Joining us is Senate president pro tem Tony Atkins of San Diego and she joins us now as Senator Atkins. Welcome to the program.

Speaker 8: 12:24 Thank you so much. It's good to talk to you, Maureen.

Speaker 1: 12:27 So first the governor has announced a 54 point $3 billion deficit, some of which can be covered by reserve funds, but he's still proposing $6 billion in cuts. What is your take on this plan to cover that shortfall?

Speaker 8: 12:41 Well, I think, uh, it's gonna require a conversation with the governor and also with the assembly. The budget revision shows some real challenges that we have ahead. And I do believe the budget proposal aligns well with our budget approach, especially our efforts to avoid damaging cuts, middle-class tax increases that will actually make the economy worse. But I do think, you know, as he stated, also thanks to decades of responsible budgeting and a sound system management by governor Brown Newsome and the legislature were better prepared for this emergency and should our federal partners step forward as they already have. I mean, California's received more than $20 billion today, but we are going to need them to step up and help more, not just for the state, but for our local communities and local government.

Speaker 1: 13:36 The governor is banking on help from the federal government, from the heroes act, as you say, to help California offset some of the proposed cuts, but GOP senators have signaled that the pro proposal would be dead on arrival. Now, how do you get around that?

Speaker 8: 13:53 Well, I think we are all responsible to our constituents, whether we live wherever we live in the country. And I think there's always a natural tension that exists between the various branches of government to put forward the most reasonable plan. I think they will continue to work because they all represent people in this country that are hurting, uh, small businesses, individuals. And so, um, I think we all make statements. We feel that we need to make it in the moment. But at the end of the day, our responsibility is to, um, support our communities that we represent. And that includes, uh, helping during, during a pandemic like this. This is unprecedented in modern times and we haven't faced anything like this. Uh, and I do see a willingness, um, at the end of the day for all of us to come together and try to figure out how we're going to retool our economy, which is what we have to focus on, helping vulnerable, hurting people and focus on our economy.

Speaker 1: 15:01 Now, earlier this week, Senator Atkins, you and other Senate democratic leaders laid out your own approach to the state budget and pledged to avoid major ongoing program cuts and middle class tax increases. How does your vision of this mesh with the governor's proposals?

Speaker 8: 15:21 Well, I think we have the same, uh, goals in mind, which is, you know, he, he appointed, uh, an economic recovery task force, which I am part of. He asked me to serve on that as well. And it's, it's a matter of really trying to figure out how we use the benefit of the tools and the solutions that California's put in place for the last decade. And we consider a multi-year approach, um, to solve for multi-year challenges. And so, uh, it's going to take a combination of all of those, uh, potential solutions clearly. Um, we're not moving forward with proposals that we thought we would be able to, uh, in the January budget. So those have been pulled back. But what we want to avoid is serious cuts to programs that really help people every day on the ground. And so we're going to look at tools, resources we've been, uh, putting into place for the last decade to help solve today's crisis and challenge. And there will be, there will be some cuts, but I think we have to think strategically, um, focus with precision about what those cuts are so that they don't lead to longterm additional challenges we have to deal with and aligned solutions with the reality that people are facing today.

Speaker 1: 16:43 Now you and other Senate leaders put forth some innovative proposals this week that add includes a $25 billion economic recovery fund by giving Californians a tax incentive to pay taxes in advance. How would that work?

Speaker 8: 16:59 Well, it's, um, basically that for those who actually do have resources and money, uh, and there are those who aren't hurting as much as others, they can prepay, um, and they will get, um, a benefit for prepaying. And we would use that as an economic revitalization fund to focus on the economy, creation of jobs, healthcare, uh, making sure that we don't start yet again down that track of cutting education, uh, which we had to do in the last decade. So it is a, a fund that we would be able to use the resources to actually help support and create jobs and focus on the economy. The other proposal is a tenant landlord stabilization proposal, which would provide rent relief with no costs to the state over the next four years by having a three party agreement with the tenant who's facing financial struggles, the landlord who in many cases can be a smaller property owner who has to pay a mortgage. And of course the state and uh, both the tenant would be able to pay that back over a 10 year period. And the property owner or the landlord would be able to take that tax credit later or sell it on the open market now to get money now. So we're trying to think outside the box. We're trying to think big. Um, and at the same time give people the relief that they need right now.

Speaker 1: 18:35 You know, the governor said quite a number of times during his budget proposal today that he's making a plea to Washington again, saying that the government, we need the federal government. If that money from the heroes act doesn't come through, what happens to the state?

Speaker 8: 18:54 Well, we, we continue to focus and work our way through an economic downturn. We have been there before. Um, I serve with quite a number of senators who were there were here in 2008, 2009 for a $60 billion deficit, a $40 billion deficit. It was 27 billion when I got elected in 2010. And, uh, it was, it was hard and it took a real effort over the last decade to turn that around. So I do think we have the experience. We have, uh, uh, an approach, uh, using tools that we've always had, um, without borrowing money, without doing bonds, without creating debt, uh, that we had to pay down over the last decade. Look, it's not going to be easy, Maureen. Uh, it is by no means going to be easy, but I do think that we are better prepared today than we've ever been. Of course, the challenge is great.

Speaker 8: 19:52 I do think we will, uh, optimistically I'm thinking we will see support from the federal government. Will it be as much as we need or want? I don't know, but I certainly hope so because I'm focused on the state and the resources that we have to provide communities on education, healthcare, a number of issues. But I'm also thinking about the city of San Diego. I used to be a city council member and I know that the 18 cities and the County of San Diego all are going to have budgets struggle. And so whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or anything on the scale in between in terms of your political outlook, we have got to be working with our federal partners to make sure we can bring resources home to our communities. And ultimately at the end of the day, it's to help our economy recover and to help vulnerable residents who are struggling right now. And that has to be our focus.

Speaker 1: 20:52 And your deadline for this budget is July 1st a balanced budget.

Speaker 8: 20:58 Uh, yes. We constitutionally by June 15th, we have to pass a budget. And you know, in the last decade, uh, since we have turned the corner and started to recover, we have had a balanced budget in California.

Speaker 1: 21:12 Yeah, right. A lot of that is thanks to the voters and a majority vote, but I'd have to wrap up right now, Senator Atkins. I so appreciate your time and good luck, Maureen. Thank you. Thank you. You've been listening to midday edition on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Mark Sauer, and thank you for listening.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.