The Untold Story of the Unspent Covid Dollars

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It was recently uncovered that back in July, Sen. Joe Manchin outlined his views on the $3.5 trillion social spending package in a memo to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.  In that document, Manchin specified that no funds should be distributed until after all the money from the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passed in March was all spent.

While it’s common knowledge that there’s still plenty of Covid money around, it was not clear just how much is still laying in coffers – until now. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, states and localities, who shared a total of $350 billion, have spent an embarrassingly miniscule amount.  State governments had spent just 2.5 percent of their initial allotment while large cities spent 8.5 percent. More than half of states and nearly two-thirds of the approximately 90 largest cities reported no spending at all.  And that’s just states and cities — the AP did not include counties in their study, which were too numerous.

Among the reasons government officials gave for not spending the funds is that the money arrived too late in their budget cycles, others confessed that they were still trying to figure out how to spend the previous millions they received for Covid relief.

In fact, there is still nearly $10 billion of unspent money left for state, local, territorial and tribal governments from the $150 billion CARES Act — the first relief package passed back in March 2020.  Officials are scrambling to spend that money now that the December 31, 2021 deadline is looming.

In California, the state has more than $350 million in unspent funds from that first tranche of aid, while Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles each have approximately $150 million to spend. Orange County has more than $47 million of unspent funds.

But if all this idle cash isn’t enough to think twice about more government spending, let’s not forget that we are still reeling from the outright waste and fraud committed against billions of taxpayer dollars.

California’s Employment Development Department admitted that at least $30 billion of employment funds were paid out to criminals.  Most recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California Housing and Community Development bungled federal relief funds meant to help the homeless. After receiving $316 million under the federal CARES Act to reduce the effect of COVID-19 on unhoused people, the department “did not take critical steps to ensure those funds promptly benefited that population,” the State Auditor Elaine Howle’s office wrote in a report.

Howle’s office warned last August of the potential mishandling of federal COVID-19 relief funds. A year later, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, she said it’s still an issue and some aspects have become more severe.

The final (we hope) Covid relief package signed by Biden stipulates that the funds should be designated by the end of 2024 and the money spent by the end of 2026.  If governments are spending Covid relief funds at the same rate they’ve been spending over the last 18 months, and if Schumer actually listens to Manchin, not one penny of the $3.5 trillion would be spent until 2027.

We don’t know what the state of America will be on the nation’s 251st birthday, but as Tennessee Ernie Ford laments in his famous song, the country will be “older and deeper in debt.”

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Parents Protest California COVID Vaccine Mandate for Kids

More than a thousand people crowded the front steps of the California Capitol on Monday to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to require all children to get the coronavirus vaccine to attend public and private schools.

Newsom’s mandate, announced earlier this month, made California the first state in the country to say it will require the COVID-19 vaccine for schoolchildren once the vaccines receive full federal approval.

California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country — over 85% of people 12 and older have gotten at least one shot, and 72% are fully vaccinated. But as in other places, the state has a vocal minority skeptical of both the vaccine and the government’s assurances of its safety.

Many parents at the rally in Sacramento had pulled their children out of school to attend the rally, hoping the absences send a message to state officials. …

Click here to read the full article from US News.

Recent Legislative Session: A Mixed Bag For CA Taxpayers

This past weekend was the deadline for Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign or veto bills. Thankfully, many of the worst bills, like attempts to create a wealth tax and a perennial attempt to repeal one of the most important protections in Proposition 13 by lowering the existing two-thirds vote threshold for both local bonds and special taxes to 55 percent, failed to get out of the Legislature.

By the end of the session, only a handful of bills we opposed made it to the governor’s desk. Let’s review how taxpayers fared.

On the positive side, the governor signed Assembly Bill 398 which prevents the Department of Motor Vehicles from making a profit by selling personal information. By ensuring that the department cannot impose charges that exceed a service’s cost, AB 398 removed a dangerous opportunity for the department to trade valuable data to third party interests.

Senate Bill 219 authorizes the auditor or the tax collector to cancel any penalty, costs, or other charges associated with a missed property tax payment caused by the state shelter-in-place order if certain criteria are met. The Legislature has been particularly active in addressing the harm the COVID-19 lockdown had on renters, but the pandemic has also had a tremendous impact on homeowners as well. SB 219 provides important relief for homeowners.

On a similar note, Senate Bill 303 extended by two years the five-year time period under existing tax law in which to transfer a Prop. 13 base year value to a comparable property following a disaster.

Legislation which enhances government transparency and citizen participation also passed. SB 274 requires local agencies to make agendas and all the documents constituting the agenda packet available by email at the request of a member of the public. Previously, it was only required by mail.

We were also pleased to see the governor veto SB 660. All SB 660 would have done is drive up the cost of getting measures on the ballot. That favors wealthy and entrenched interests.

Now for the bad.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Supply Chain Woes Strand Sailors Off SoCal Coast

Abrorizki Geraldy Aulia, the son of a ship’s captain, is part of the new generation that moves more than 80% of the world’s raw materials, parts and merchandise on commercial cargo fleets. At 24, he has already traveled farther by ship than most people ever will.

It’s heady stuff. Strange then, that he should feel so absolutely powerless.

Maritime union protections say Aulia should sail no more than 11 months a year on a contract with an employer-paid flight home at the end, but the Indonesian native has worked 15 straight months without a break. In June 2020, he boarded a cargo ship months before any country started vaccinating against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aulia is a valuable piece of the engine that powers world commerce, but he is never allowed to leave his ship. Like hundreds of other sailors marooned in the massive floating traffic jam off the Southern California coast, he had long been unable to get vaccinated and so is restricted to ship.

Some 300,000 of these migrant merchant sailors have been stranded on vessels at sea or in ports around the world, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a London-based trade union that is among the maritime agencies lobbying governments to address what’s been labeled the “crew-change crisis.” …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Asylum Seekers To Again Wait In Mexico

In compliance with a court order, the Biden administration said it plans to reinstate a Trump-era border policy next month that makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court.

Reinstatement of the “Remain in Mexico” policy hinges on the approval of the Mexican government, which has raised concerns that U.S. officials are working to address, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Thursday. Mexico wants to see most cases concluded within six months and to ensure that asylum seekers have timely and accurate information about hearing dates and times and better access to legal counsel.

Mexico also wants exemptions for “particularly vulnerable populations” and better coordination on locations and times of day that asylum seekers are returned to Mexico.

About 70,000 asylum seekers have been subject to the policy, known officially as Migrant Protection Protocols, which former President Trump introduced in January 2019 and Biden suspended on his first day in office. A federal judge sided with the states of Texas and Missouri and ordered the Biden administration in August to reinstate the policy “in good faith.” The court filing says it should be in effect around mid-November. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

California’s Public Officials Are Usurping The Role Of Parents

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

California has a long history of “firsts.” The Golden State was home to the first computer, the first movie theater, and the first McDonalds. Sadly, the state is now leading the nation in stripping parents of their childrearing authority.

For starters, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a vaccine mandate on October 1, making California the first state to require that public and private school students age 12 or older be fully vaccinated for in-person instruction. (Unvaccinated students will have the option of enrolling in an online school or attending independent-study programs offered by districts.) The mandate will go into effect once the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines for kids over age 12. Depending on when the expected FDA decision comes down, students will need to get the jab by either January 1 or July 1 of next year. Next up are schoolchildren ages 5 to 11, who will be forced to join the vax club as soon as the FDA greenlights it for them. Newsom recently claimed that so far, 63.5 percent of kids between 12 and 17 had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Mandate proponents are quick to claim that the Covid vaccine is just the latest addition to a list that includes mumps, measles, and rubella. But unlike those illnesses, Covid does not pose a significant risk to children, and kids are not “super spreaders.” Teachers are more likely to catch it in the teachers’ lounge than in the classroom.

“It’s unconscionable that a society uses its children as shields for adults,” says the Hoover Institution’s Scott Atlas, an M.D. and former advisor to President Trump. “The children do not have significant risk from this illness.”

What effect Newsom’s mandate will have on school enrollment remains to be seen, but California public schools have already lost more than 160,000 students, a 2.6 percent decline—the largest enrollment drop in two decades—since the start of the pandemic. A mandate isn’t likely to reverse that trend. And since the edict also covers private schools, look for homeschools and micro-schools in California to grow. According to California Globe, immediately following the announcement of the mandate, homeschooling and tutoring inquiries were up dramatically, with some homeschooling sites crashing from the sheer volume of parents searching for information. Many teachers may follow students out the door, since they, too, must be vaccinated.

California parents have more to contend with than just the vaccine mandate, however. Last month, AB 1184, cosponsored by Planned Parenthood, became law. As the California Family Council explains, the law “prohibits insurance companies from revealing to the policyholder the ‘sensitive services’ of anyone on their policy, including minor children, even though the policy owner is financially responsible for the services.” The term “sensitive services” refers to all health care services related to mental or behavioral health, sexual and reproductive health (including abortions), sexually transmitted infections, substance-use disorder, and gender-affirming care. The bill doesn’t define “gender affirming care,” but according to the University of California, San Francisco, the concept includes hormone therapy and a laundry list of surgeries including vaginectomy, scrotoplasty, voice modification, and others. These procedures can begin when a child is just 12—starting with puberty blockers, paid for under the family’s insurance policy. When the statement is sent home, no explanation is offered of any of these procedures. Parents are reduced to bill-paying bystanders.

AB 1184 is similar in tone to AB 2119, which passed in 2018. That law provides that the “rights of minors and nonminors in foster care . . . include the right to be involved in the development of case plan elements related to placement and gender affirming health care, with consideration of their gender identity.” The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) filed testimony against the bill, urging legislators to reject it. “Children with gender dysphoria believe they are not their biological sex,” the group’s March 2018 testimony read. “A delusion is a fixed false belief. This bill proposes that foster children with gender dysphoria be socially affirmed into their delusion, and allowed to obtain experimental puberty blockers, and dangerous cross-sex hormones and surgery without parental consent.” ACPeds cited various statistics in opposing the bill, including the fact that roughly 88 percent of gender-dysphoric girls and 98 percent of gender-dysphoric boys will, if given time, go on to identify with their biological sex by late adolescence.

While ACPeds did not weigh in on AB 1184, it asserts that puberty blockers may cause mental illness and permanent physical harm, and that cross-sex hormones (testosterone for women and estrogen for men) may disrupt mental health.

Legislative totalitarians in California are usurping the role of parents. Unless they leave the state, parents and other concerned citizens will need to find a way to push back.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

California Bullet Train Funds Stalemated

While Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 770 bills passed by the Legislature this year, he couldn’t approve a big one that he wanted badly — a $4.2 billion appropriation to shore up the state’s much-delayed, increasingly expensive and obviously mismanaged bullet train project.

He couldn’t sign it because the Legislature, controlled by his fellow Democrats, won’t send it to him. Legislative leaders, especially Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, are disenchanted with the project and want the money to be spent, instead, on improving local commuter rail service.

The $4.2 billion is the last bit of a $9.95 billion bond issue approved by voters 13 years ago on the promise that it would attract enough other financing for a $33 billion high-speed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles with future extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.

For political reasons, it was decided that an initial segment would be built in the San Joaquin Valley but the starter line has never really gotten started. There’s been some construction, most notably some sections of viaduct in and around Fresno, but it’s years behind schedule and has only a fraction of the money needed to cover its ever-rising costs.

Los Angeles Times journalist Ralph Vartabedian, who’s been a one-man truth squad on the project’s managerial and financial woes, reported last week that two of the San Joaquin Valley line’s major contractors want an extra $1 billion-plus for unforeseen costs. That would raise it to nearly $23 billion or two thirds of what the entire 800-mile system was originally supposed to cost.

The $4.2 billion that Newsom wants is sorely needed to keep the project shuffling along, but the state is still a long way from having enough money to cover the entire cost of the segment, much less the $80 or so billion more that a full project would need.

Rendon and other like-minded legislators see it as money going down a bottomless sinkhole rather than being spent on projects that could be completed in years, rather than decades, and have a direct impact on traffic congestion in Southern California. A chunk of the bond money has already been spent on upgrading commuter rail on the San Francisco Peninsula and the Rendon faction is seeking parity for its region.

The odd thing about the situation is that Newsom himself seemingly was ready to abandon the project after becoming governor in 2019, virtually disavowing it in a speech to the Legislature. He then reversed course and said he not only wanted to complete the San Joaquin segment as then planned but extend it on both ends on the assumption that it could be linked to major metropolitan areas.

Newsom’s revised position had the effect of increasing the segment’s cost without declaring how the financial gap would be closed.

Newsom and the Rendon faction have been negotiating for months, ever since Newsom proposed to tap the remaining $4.2 billion in bond money, and the governor apparently was offered a roughly 50-50 split but insists on the entire amount. Diverting even a token amount of bond money would be tantamount to surrender and would whet the appetites of other urban areas for pieces of the pie.

It’s really time for those in charge to put up or shut up — either telling Californians when and how the project will be financed and completed or calling it quits before it becomes an even more embarrassing train to nowhere.

Newsom’s position — willing to keep it barely alive until he can will it to a successor governor — is somewhat cowardly for someone who purports to be decisive.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

All California Public High School Students Will Soon Have to Take Ethnic Studies

The hundreds of new laws that Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed over the past several weeks include plenty of “firsts.”

California has become the first state to force the garment industry to pay workers by the hour, instead of per item. The first to ban the sale of gas-powered lawn mowers. The first to target Amazon production quotas. The first to outlaw removing a condom without permission during sex.

Of these landmark bills, perhaps the most controversial is one requiring all public high school students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate.

Under the new law, high schoolers will be taught about the struggles and contributions of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic groups, “which have often been untold in U.S. history courses,” according to the state’s model ethnic studies curriculum. …

Click here to read the full article from the NY Times.

Activist Judges Are the Latest Threat to California Businesses

An activist judge with a questionable track record has made a head-scratching decision to overturn the votes of millions of Californians.

Alameda County Judge Frank Roesch recently ruled in favor of a union-backed lawsuit aimed at dismantling Proposition 22 — a ballot measure that provided job protections for gig workers while allowing them to retain the flexibility of being freelancers. But last fall, Prop. 22 passed by more than 58 percent of the vote with almost 10 million Californians voting in favor of the ballot measure. Now, thanks to one union-friendly judge, it’s as if those votes don’t count.

It’s no secret that California has become increasingly hostile to the entrepreneurs and business owners that drive our state’s economy. The recent decision to overturn Prop. 22 is just the latest example of many.

Businesses already face a legal minefield in the Golden State; there are more than 1,000 pages in the California Labor Law digest.

My organization, the California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA), has been outspoken about harmful laws on the books, especially the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) — a terrible policy that leaves both workers and business owners worse off. In addition to that, now businesses have to worry about activist judges like Roesch who base their decisions on the will of interest groups, rather than on the merits of the actual case in front of them.

The lawsuit against Prop. 22 was backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It’s not hard to see why the union wants to eliminate the policy. The SEIU is one of the main labor unions trying to organize gig economy workers. With Prop. 22 out of the picture, it would be much easier for the union to convert gig workers, newly-classified as employees, into dues-paying members.

Judge Roesch has a long history of making bad decisions that are repeatedly tossed out by higher courts. CABIA’s new report documents Roesch’s poor judgement over the years.

In 2009, Roesch sided with public-sector unions when he ruled to invalidate California’s furlough powers during a fiscal crisis, only to be overruled by both a California appeals court and the State Supreme Court. That same year, Roesch unsuccessfully tried to block the City of Oakland from using public safety funds to hire desperately needed police officers.

In 2012, a State Appeals Court found Roesch incorrectly tried to limit a man’s constitutionally protected speech. The next year, a California appeals court unanimously overruled a prior decision from Roesch, finding he not only erred on matters of fact, but even misapplied a legal concept commonly taught to first year law students. In 2018, two separate decisions from Roesch were overturned due to his egregious biases in the cases.

Roesch has also been repeatedly disciplined for his improper conduct as a judge. In 2011, he was reprimanded by the state Commission on Judicial Performance after repeatedly denigrating and insulting a plaintiff, even proclaiming the plaintiff asked an idiotic question. In October 2020, the same state judicial commission unanimously admonished Roesch due to his egregious biases in two cases he had presided over.

In the first case, Roesch denied a party their fundamental right to due process as part of his efforts to ensure a preferred judicial outcome. In the other case, Roesch sought to deny a man ownership over a property he had legally bought, due to unfounded suspicions about cheating.

Passing Prop. 22 was the first step toward reversing the havoc AB 5 caused in California.

At least if Judge Roesch’s track record holds true, an appeals court will easily see through his bias and validate the millions of voters who passed Prop 22.

Tom Manzo is the founder of the California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA).

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

L.A. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ex-USC Dean Indicted on Bribery Charges

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted Wednesday on federal charges that he took bribes from a USC dean in exchange for directing millions of dollars in public funding to the university when he was on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Ridley-Thomas is accused of conspiring with Marilyn Louise Flynn, who at the time was dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian into the graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Ridley-Thomas, 66, one of the most powerful figures in Los Angeles politics, is the third L.A. City Council member to face federal corruption charges over the last two years. In a 20-count indictment, he and Flynn face charges of conspiracy, bribery and mail and wire fraud. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.