(Updates with California Legislature vote in the third paragraph.)
Faster unemployment benefits were instituted Monday in at least three states, and San Francisco announced it will help private employers pay sick leave as governors and mayors moved to blunt the impact of paychecks lost because of the new coronavirus.
“We want everyone to know that staying home to take care of themselves and their families is the most important thing they can do,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said.
Meanwhile, the California Legislature on Monday unanimously passed an aid package that would provide an initial $500 million and allow for as much as $1 billion to be appropriated if needed. Lawmakers also unanimously sent Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) a $100 million appropriation to help schools pay for cleanup and buy protective equipment.
San Francisco will use $10 million in public funds to offer paid sick leave to all private sector workers and employees at nonprofits. Employers are banned from requiring a doctor’s note or other documentation for workers who use paid sick leave during the health emergency.
Breed said the city will contribute up to one week, or 40 hours, at $15.59 per hour minimum wage per employee. Employers will have to pay the difference between the minimum wage and an employee’s full hourly wage.
`Get Out Of The Way’
“You see a whole hodgepodge of efforts being taken across the country,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). “It’s chaos. I think it actually feeds the feeling that the country’s out of control, and there is no clear direction, and there is no clear path.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, like fellow Democrat Cuomo, criticized the federal government’s virus response. “Precious time has been lost because the White House made some bad decisions early on, which led to the current low levels of testing across the United States, he said.
“We need the federal government to lead, follow, or get out of the way,” Pritzker said. “There are Covid-19 tests right now that have been approved for use in Europe and use in Asia, that are not available in the United States. So I am calling on the FDA to review and approve these tests as soon as possible.”
Local officials are best suited to communicate and coordinate with their residents, said Clarence Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities.
“We are the most trusted level of government,” he said.
Among cities that moved fast were San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Dallas, which scrapped large gatherings and declared local disasters before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and President Donald Trump followed suit on March 13.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), speaking via video from self-isolation after a family trip to Europe, said he was signing an executive order to ensure paid leave for state employees.
“We hope this can be an example for our friends in the private sector, as well,” Reeves said.
Rules for receiving state jobless assistance were changed Monday in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said he wants his state to act next.
Baker filed legislation (S 2598) to let workers begin collecting unemployment without the usual one-week wait. He also announced that affected small businesses can borrow from a $10 million loan fund created Monday. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees, including nonprofits, can get p to $75,000 immediately, with no payments due for six months.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) both waived a waiting period for receiving cash assistance. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), following DeWine’s lead, suspended work-search requirements to receive the benefits.
Jason Bailey, executive director of the liberal Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, praised Beshear’s order but said it isn’t enough because workers won’t necessarily qualify for the help.
“The COVID-19 bill that passed the House Friday ties added federal unemployment [dollars] to state action expanding access,” he said in a Monday Tweet. “Our inadequate system means workers will be left out and checks will be too small, with our economy paying the price.”
Before Trump issued his emergency declaration, at least eight states, including New York, had begun setting up drive-through virus testing stations.
Florida declared its state of emergency March 9, four days before Trump’s announcement.
The governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut on Monday announced a tri-state approach to combat the virus. Any social gatherings in those states can’t exceed 50 people, and as of 8 p.m. Monday night all movie theaters, casinos, gyms, bars, and restaurants will be closed for the foreseeable future. Restaurants and bars will be able to offer takeout and delivery services.
Some States Slower
School closings have been among decisions made with different degrees of urgency.
North Carolina’s Roy Cooper (D) formed a state task force Feb. 11 but didn’t order schools to close until this past Saturday, the day after the federal edict.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) initially ordered schools closed just in the two counties with positive virus cases, then on March 14 he ordered public schools statewide to close through March 31.
Arizona and Nevada decided to close schools only after the federal declaration, and closure is still optional this week in Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Monday urged all school districts to close by March 20.
Massachusetts declared a state of emergency March 10, followed a day later by Louisiana, where the mayor of New Orleans joined with Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) to plead with people to stop congregating in large groups.
By the end of the weekend, police were using loudspeakers to tell crowds in New Orleans’ French Quarter to return to their hotels. “Your actions are jeopardizing public health,” they said in videos posted to social media.
Figuring It Out
“States frankly don’t have the capacity to make up for the federal government,” Cuomo told reporters.
“Let the federal government say these are the guidelines, here are the guidelines on schools, here are the guidelines on businesses, here are the guidelines on travel, rather than having a scramble of every local government, state government trying to figure it out on its own,” he said.
“I guess a lot of folks don’t have a playbook on this and they’re trying to figure it out as they go along,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said.
With assistance from Stephen Joyce, Jennifer Kay, Adrianne Appel, Tripp Baltz, Andrew M. Ballard, Chris Marr, Paul Stinson, Brenna Goth, and Tiffany Stecker
To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at firstname.lastname@example.org; Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at email@example.com; Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at firstname.lastname@example.org