Gov. Newsom announces expansion of California's unemployment benefits, $125M for undocumented immigrants

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A day after announcing his plan to eventually reopen California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new initiatives to help unemployed Californians during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Newsom said 2.7 million Californians have applied for unemployment insurance so far. To meet increased demand for support, the Employment Development Department, or EDD, would be extending call center hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The governor also signed an executive order Wednesday creating the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which will give more unemployed workers access to unemployment insurance payments. PUA benefits will apply to self-employed workers, independent contractors, those whose wage history isn't long enough to qualify for unemployment, and those who have exhausted unemployment benefits.

Labor Secretary Julie Su said the state was targeting an April 28 launch date for receiving applications, and the first payments would go out within 24 to 48 hours. Once payments begin, Newsom emphasized they would be retroactive, so those who have been waiting to receive payments for several weeks would be compensated for that time.

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Newsom added he'd like to expand California's Work Sharing Program, which helps employers avoid layoffs.

The executive order also establishes a $125 million fund to provide relief to undocumented Californians affected by COVID-19 and are typically ineligible for unemployment benefits. The funds will be distributed as one-time $500 payments to undocumented adults, with a $1,000 cap per household, according to the governor's office. Applications will be accepted starting next month.

The $125 million fund is a public-private partnership; $75 million will come from the state and an additional $50 million will come from partner donors.

Newsom opened his press conference by announcing 63 new deaths caused by COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 821. The total number of positive cases is up to 24,424. Hospitalization rates only climbed by 1.5% over the past 24 hours, said Newsom, and the number of ICU hospitalizations declined by 0.2%.

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"By no stretch of the imagination are we out of the woods, despite the fact that we put forward a framework yesterday to consider the prospects of reopening certain sectors of our economy," said Newsom. "I want folks to know we need to maintain our vigilance and maintain the path we are on, a path that is producing results."

On Tuesday, Newsom detailed a plan for the state to eventually ease social distancing guidelines and lift stay-at-home orders.

Newsom said the ability to fully reopen the state was predicated on six criteria:

  • Expand testing and doing contact tracing for those who test positive

  • Being able to protect California's most vulnerable populations, including seniors, homeless individuals and those with compromised immunity

  • Ensuring medical facilities are equipped to handle potential surges

  • Working with research hospitals and other research partners to pursue therapies for the virus

  • Making sure businesses, schools, and other public spaces can continue physical distancing

  • Being able to return to more strict measures, as needed


RELATED: Newsom unveils plan to reopen California, ease stay-at-home restrictions amid coronavirus pandemic

"Because you have practiced physical distancing ... you have bent the curve in the state of California," said Gov. Newsom. "The models have changed because of your behavior."

Newsom declined to give an exact date when stay-at-home orders might be lifted, but said he would re-evaulate progress on the six outlined criteria in two weeks and address the issue of timing then.

"We talk about what the new normal will look like. As I said, normal it will not be. At least until we have herd immunity and a vaccine."

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