Bay Area Headlines: Friday, 7/31/20, AM | KALW

Bay Area Headlines: Friday, 7/31/20, AM

Jul 31, 2020

Boosted Unemployment Benefits Set To Expire / California’s Counties Lack Beds, Community Programs For People With Mental Illness, Audit Finds / Inquiry Eyes Claim That Police Bent Badges To Mark Killings / California Court: Public Employees Can't 'Spike' Pensions / Lawmakers Grill EDD Leaders, Again, Over Unemployment Benefits / Chinese scientist arrested after seeking medical care

Boosted Unemployment Benefits Set To Expire

A federal 600-dollar unemployment boost expires tomorrow [FRIDAY]. That means more than 4 million Californians will see their weekly payments shrink dramatically. CapRadio’s Nicole Nixon reports.

Without the Cares Act lift, California’s weekly unemployment payments are capped at 450 dollars. UCLA economist Till von Wachter says the median payment is closer to $340.
 

“In a state like California, those benefits don’t get you very far.”

Congress is still negotiating over a new stimulus plan. And Democrats in the California Legislature say they may step in to fill the 600-dollar-a-week gap.

But those proposals are likely still weeks away. And in the meantime, von Wachter says people are spending their savings and taking on debt.
 

“If we will have a gap that is several weeks, I’m sure people will start falling short on their rent and we may see evictions rise.”

Other researchers say the expiring benefits will only exacerbate the strain for lower-income people and communities of color -- groups already hit hard by the coronavirus.

California’s Counties Lack Beds, Community Programs For People With Mental Illness, Audit Finds

In California, a 5150 hold places someone in psychiatric treatment for 72 hours, whether they want to be there or not.

It’s an option for when a mentally ill person poses a threat, or can’t take care of themselves. But a new report from the California State Auditor says counties need to work harder to avoid forcing people into treatment.

Some mental health advocates want to lower the bar for involuntary treatment. They say these holds can be an entryway for helping people who would never seek care voluntarily. But the auditor says that’s not how it’s playing out - people are just cycling in and out of holds without entering treatment. The report found there were more than 7,000 people in Los Angeles who’ve been in five or more involuntary holds since 2015.

The auditor says counties should be required to run programs for people leaving forced psychiatric treatment. It also calls for better monitoring of how mental health dollars are currently spent.

Inquiry eyes claim that police bent badges to mark killings

The police chief of a San Francisco Bay Area city under scrutiny after several fatal police shootings said he is opening an inquiry into allegations that officers bent their badges to mark on-duty killings. Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that he would not tolerate such a “despicable" act if the claims are true. John Whitney, a former Vallejo police captain, previously accused the department of firing him in August for flagging misconduct that included concerns that some officers bent their badges in a ritual to mark fatal shootings.

California Court: Public Employees Can't 'Spike' Pensions

The California Supreme Court says public employees can’t pad their pensions by working extra hours and cashing out unused vacation and sick leave just before retiring.  The court ruled unanimously Thursday that so-called pension spiking is not protected under state law that holds that retirement benefits, once promised, cannot be touched. The high court said a 2013 law designed to keep certain benefits from padding employees’ pensions was intended to close loopholes and prevent pension abuse. Michael Colantuono is an attorney for the League of California Cities and says the ruling is a big win for local government trying to control escalating pension costs.

Lawmakers Grill EDD Leaders, Again, Over Unemployment Benefits

California lawmakers once again grilled leaders from the Employment Development Department over its handling unemployment claims during the pandemic.

Assemblyman David Chiu says there’s a backlog of about 1 million applicants seeking benefits:
 

“EDD has been failing California. My colleagues, our staff and I are at wit’s end. Our constituents are depleting their life savings, going into extreme debt, having trouble paying rent and putting food on the table.”

Department director Sharon Hilliard acknowledged that EDD needs to improve its turnaround time on applications and be more responsive to questions from applicants. But she also defended EDD, saying employees have been working overtime in response to a historic spike in benefits claims.

The department has processed over 9 million applications and distributed 55-billion-dollars in unemployment benefits. It plans a massive overhaul to its claims processing system starting in November. The cost of the project, and how long it will take, remains unclear.

Chinese Scientist Arrested After Seeking Medical Care

Records show a Chinese scientist charged with visa fraud after U.S. authorities said she concealed her military ties was arrested after she left the Chinese consulate in San Francisco to seek medical care. A filing Wednesday by her attorney says Juan Tang had been living in the consulate since June, when the FBI seized her passport and visa. Tang, who has asthma, was informed last week there was a warrant for her arrest. She had a medical emergency and federal agents arrested her after she visited a doctor. Her attorney is arguing she should be released on bail.

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