California Suspends Some Disability Claims, Citing Fraud

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After stealing the identities of death row inmates and even a sitting U.S. senator to make off with billions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment benefits during the pandemic, scammers have now moved on to impersonating doctors to dupe California officials into giving them disability checks.

State officials on Monday said they had suspended 345,000 disability claims while they worked to verify the identity of about 27,000 doctors whose credentials were used to file disability claims for purported patients.

The Employment Development Department said most of those suspended claims were likely fraud attempts. But some of them are legitimate claims from people who can’t work because of an injury or are taking paid maternity leave. Now, those people’s checks have stopped while state officials try to sort out the mess.

“Here we are once again when this big bureaucracy that can’t tell the difference between the honest and the corrupt,” said Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Republican from Fresno. He said many of his affected constituents “are at their wits ends because they are simply running out of money. They are at the end of their financial rope.”

The Employment Development Department oversees claims for both unemployment and disability benefits in California. State and federal officials relaxed rules for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, which had the unintended consequence of making it much easier for scammers to file fake claims.

In California, criminals used stolen identities to steal at least $20 billion in unemployment benefits since March 2020 as the state approved fraudulent payments in the names of death row inmates and even U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Now, state officials say organized criminals are stealing doctors’ credentials to file fake disability claims. The state is using a computer program to verify the identity of these doctors to find those fake claims. They do this by sending the doctors an email from an official government account asking them to verify their identity by using a computer program known as ID.me.

That’s a problem for Martha Mariscal, who says her doctor doesn’t use email. Mariscal hurt her foot and hasn’t been able to work at her grocery store job. She hasn’t received her disability check since December and has now exhausted her savings.

Mariscal said she hasn’t been able to reach anyone at the Employment Development Department. And, since her doctor’s office doesn’t use email, they have yet to receive anything from the state to verify her claim.

“We’re just in limbo, just waiting for their mercy,” she said.

Click here to read the full article at AP

How State GOP Can Get Out Of Wilderness

Republicans need better candidates and an agenda beyond kowtowing to Trump.

Barring something extraordinary, like, say, being caught on videotape dynamiting the Golden Gate Bridge, Gavin Newsom will be reelected as California governor in November.

And even if Newsom were to be jailed and convicted of such a nefarious assault on the Bay Area landmark, it is virtually certain he’d be succeeded by one or another of his fellow Democrats.

It’s been a decade and a half since a Republican won statewide office in California and more than a quarter of a century since the once-dominant GOP controlled either legislative chamber.

The ranks of Republican lawmakers in Sacramento are so shrunken that they have about as much say over legislation as the shrubbery growing outside the Capitol.

None of which is good for California.

Politicians and political parties need serious competition to hold them in check, keep them honest and avoid arrogance and overreach.

For our system of self-government to keep working, voters need to feel as though they have a voice and stake in the actions of their elected leaders.

Millions of Californians, who either identify as Republican or conservative, feel unheard and unseen in Sacramento, bobbing like red pinpoints in an ocean of blue. That alienation was a major impetus behind last year’s fruitless and extravagantly wasteful effort to recall Newsom and feeds the perpetual — if fanciful — talk of breaking off a chunk of rural California and creating a 51st state.

So what will it take for Republicans to regain relevancy and for California to once more benefit from a healthy and competitive two-party system?

The short answer is winning the governorship, not just electing more lawmakers to the Assembly and Senate, or to other statewide offices — though that would certainly help.

“In California, governor is an exceedingly powerful position,” said Marty Wilson, a former advisor to Pete Wilson and no relation to the ex-governor. “You’ve got a media platform. You make appointments. You can raise money for yourself as well as other candidates.”

Not least, a Republican chief executive could rebrand the party and improve its acrid image in the state.

Even before Donald Trump came along and warped the GOP into something resembling a zombie cult, the national Republican Party was seen in California as increasingly harsh, intolerant and beholden to its white Southern base. That guilt by association has hurt any candidate running statewide under the party banner.

Winning the governorship will require a different kind of Republican than most of those put forth over the last two decades — which is to say one capable of winning over more than a limited slice of the electorate.

California is a Democratic state, but not a flamingly liberal one. When Republicans got behind gubernatorial candidates who appealed to voters at or near the center — George Deukmejian, Wilson, Arnold Schwarzenegger — they succeeded. (Notably, the first time the politically moderate Schwarzenegger ran was in the 2003 recall election, a free-for-all of 135 candidates on a single ballot, avoiding a Republican primary he might well have lost.)

More often, the party has rallied behind gubernatorial hopefuls — the hapless Bill Simon Jr.,vapid John Cox,combustible Larry Elder — who excited the most ardently conservative Californians but were too inept or extreme for a majority of voters to swallow.

In theory, when — or if — things get bad enough under one-party Democratic rule, a meaningful number of voters will be amenable to giving Republicans another look. Call it the wreckage-and-ruin road to party redemption.

“A Democratic screw-up would open the door,” said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College and former Republican National Committee staffer. But even then, he said, “It takes a quality Republican to walk through it…. Somebody who’s qualified, reasonable and pays attention to governance.”

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Rewarding Failure In The K-12 System

California spends a lot on education. Ever since the passage of Proposition 98 in 1988, which guarantees to education a minimum of 40% of the general fund, per-pupil spending on K-12 has risen faster than any other category of state appropriations. And yet, for all that new money, the state’s education monopoly continues its history of failure to deliver a quality product.

Just last month, this column cited the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, showing that in 2017-2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, per-pupil spending for the state’s K-12 public schools was $13,129 in inflation-adjusted 2019-20 dollars, the highest ever. Measured in the same constant dollars, per-pupil spending was $9,594 in 1999-2000.

California is quickly rising in the ranks in spending according to multiple metrics and we are now at least 17th highest in the United States. And many of these statistics are pre-pandemic, before the state plowed even more money into the system.

Where it excels in spending money, California lags in educational outcomes due to a clear hostility to meaningful education reforms. For decades, reformers have unsuccessfully advocated for more school choice, merit pay for teachers, advancement based on merit rather than seniority and the ability to fire bad teachers including some credibly accused of crimes against children.

The “reforms” coming out of the union-dominated Legislature will only make matters worse. The latest iteration of this is Senate Bill 830 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that would change the way schools are funded. Under current law, schools get financial support based on a formula that includes average daily attendance. This bill would eliminate daily attendance from the formula, and with it the financial incentive for school personnel to attempt to get students in the building.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Newsom Rejects Claims His Homelessness Plan Isn’t Working

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday rejected claims by the sheriff of California’s most populous county that record spending on homelessness initiatives isn’t putting a dent in the problem of people living in the streets and the state isn’t held accountable for where the billions of dollars go.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized Newsom’s announcement this week that he would add $2 billion under his latest budget proposal to an existing $12 billion plan to reduce the number of homeless Californians.

“It’s going to the same homeless industrial complex, and there’s no accountability,” Villanueva said. “There’s no results that we’re seeing, there’s no vision. What is that success?”

Newsom shot back during a stop in the Los Angeles County city of Paramount. The governor pointed to legislation he signed last July that specifically requires cities and counties to follow strict accountability measures in order to receive state money to combat homelessness. Each local jurisdiction must submit an “action plan” by mid-2022 that includes data-driven goals. If the goals are met, the jurisdictions can qualify for additional resources.

“So there is a new framework around accountability, new planning metrics that include county sheriffs,” Newsom said Wednesday. “And I look forward to the sheriff’s detailed strategy on how best to use the resources that he’s been provided as well.”

Before visiting LA County, Newsom helped clean up a homeless encampment along a San Diego freeway to highlight the budget proposal that he said would build on previous efforts to end homelessness. In 2021, the state invested $50 million in encampment removal and this year he has proposed increasing that figure tenfold to $500 million.

“These encampments in California are unacceptable. The dirty streets in the state are unacceptable,” he said. “We have to do more. We have to do better.”

Newsom said that in the past year the state put 50,000 people who were homeless into hotel rooms that were turned into temporary shelters. On top of that, some 8,000 people were moved into hotels converted into permanent housing facilities that offer services such as mental health care and job placement.

The governor’s proposal calls for an additional 55,000 more units, including tiny homes, to be made available to move people off the streets.

Villanueva, who’s running for reelection, has fashioned himself as a brash outsider. Last summer he veered outside his traditional jurisdiction and showed up at LA’s Venice Beach wearing a cowboy hat and promising a cleanup of homeless encampments. Villanueva has dubbed city and county leaders “architects” of the homeless problem and rejects taking a more measured approach.

Click here to read the full article at AP

Four Arrested In Fatal Shooting Of Off-Duty LAPD Officer

Four people were arrested in connection to the shooting of an off-duty Los Angeles cop who was killed during an alleged botched robbery.

LA County Sheriff’s investigators said the four suspects were arrested on Wednesday— two days after LAPD Officer Fernando Arroyos was gunned down in South LA as he and his girlfriend were house hunting.

Sheriff’s officials didn’t release the names of the suspects or list the charges against them.

Arroyos, 27, and his girlfriend were crossing a street at about 9:15 p.m. on Monday in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood when a truck with three men approached the couple, officials said.

The men got out of the vehicle and confronted Arroyos, who then yelled at his girlfriend to run, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said. One of the men opened fire on Arroyos, Moore said.

Deputies who responded to the scene found Arroyos lying in the alleyway suffering from a gunshot wound, according to officials.

Arroyos was rushed to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries. 

Arroyos is survived by his mother, stepfather, and girlfriend. Arroyos’ family declined to comment on the arrests when reached by The Post on Wednesday.

The three-year LAPD veteran was assigned to the Olympic Division.

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

McCarthy, Foxx Demand Biden Ed Boss Cardona Turn Over Teacher Union Emails

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Education Committee ranking member Virginia Foxx sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Wednesday demanding copies of emails between his DOE, the White House and the teachers’ unions.

In the letter, obtained by Fox News, the Congressional Republican leaders blasted federal education officials for “radical spending” during the pandemic and accused them of mishandling school closures and billions of dollars of COVID-19 education relief.

“We noted Congress had already appropriated nearly three times the funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said was needed to operate schools successfully,” the Republicans wrote.

“Unfortunately, rather than continuing Congress’s bipartisan approach to addressing COVID-19, Democrats advanced their partisan agenda, approving more than $120 billion in additional funding for schools” in last year’s $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill.

McCarthy and Foxx wrote that Democrats argued “radical spending was necessary for schools to reopen safely for in-person instruction,” but said the claims were proven false by data that showed only 4 percent of the relief funds were used as the vast majority of US schools reopened in the fall, according to the report.

“Despite Democrats’ claims to the contrary, these funds were not needed to reopen schools,” the lawmakers reportedly wrote. “Because of this, some schools are grasping at any project they can find on which to waste these taxpayer funds, including indoctrinating students and staff with racist and divisive ideologies.”

As they accused the Education Department of misappropriating funds, McCarthy and Foxx also called the Biden administration’s handling of academic disruptions “appalling,” as “one million public school students across the country were impacted by district-wide school closures” as 2022 began.

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

Bay Area Freeway Shootings Have More Than Tripled In Four Years. In 2021, Almost Half Occurred In One County

The year had barely started when a major Bay Area freeway saw its first burst of gunfire, right at the onset of rush hour.

On the afternoon of Jan. 4, a bullet fired by a yet-unknown shooter hit Alameda County sheriff’s recruit David Nguyen as he drove his Toyota Prius west on Interstate 580 toward the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Nguyen apparently slumped over the wheel and crashed his car into a guardrail, becoming one of the latest victims of a surge in highway violence.

Over the past three years, shootings have more than tripled on the arterials that knit the region together — from 49 Bay Area freeway shootings in 2018, to 165 through October last year, according to the California Highway Patrol in response to a public records request from The Chronicle. Limited available records also show a spike in deaths — from two fatal freeway shootings for the whole Bay Area in 2018, to six gun deaths on Oakland freeways alone in 2021.

Among the lives claimed by these attacks were a toddler strapped in his car seat, teenagers packed onto a party bus and Amani Morris, a mother on her way to a job orientation. Their stories reflect the human toll of a trend that presents galling challenges for law enforcement.

“It just angers me so much,” said Alicia Benton, Morris’ mother. The two were FaceTiming minutes before gunfire killed Morris on I-80 near the Bay Bridge on the morning of Nov. 18.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

More High-Speed Rail Money In Gavin Newsom’s CA budget. Here’s What It Would Do.

California’s high-speed rail would get about $4.2 billion toward finishing the central San Joaquin Valley portion in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed state spending plan, which he unveiled Monday.

The budget describes the money going to the rail from Merced to Bakersfield as advanced work, while dollars would also go to advanced planning for the entire project.

Originally planned from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the rail project has been pared down to connecting the Central Valley without the larger city destinations on either end. In his first state of the state in 2019, Newsom said the project didn’t have the pathway to the longer route.

The project has been criticized, including from Democrats like Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who called for the state to redirect high-speed rail money to urban transportation projects.

In the budget plan presented this week, Newsom said new money was important for “getting those final appropriations and finish(ing) the job in the Central Valley.”

The 119-mile high-speed rail project has been under construction in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties for seven years.

Proposition 1A in 2008 provided a total of more than $9.9 billion to help pay for development and construction of high-speed rail in California.

Ahead of his big announcement Monday, Newsom had previewed that his budget would include spending some of the anticipated surplus on infrastructure, something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they support. On Monday, he announced he wants to spend $9.1 billion on transportation.

Click here to read the full article at the Fresno Bee

California State Budget to Top $286 billion With New Spending on Homeless Aid, Health Care

California will have an estimated $286.4 billion budget next year, which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday he wants to use to increase funding for heath care, infrastructure and schools.

Newsom’s plan for the 2022-23 budget includes a projected $213.1 billion general fund, anticipating a $45.7 billion surplus.

His spending proposal includes added money for homeless aid and increasing the health care workforce,as well as $34.6 billion for reserve accounts and paying down billions in pension debt.

Some money could go back to taxpayers in the form for rebates, similar to the $600 stimulus checks the state sent to millions of residents over the past year. Newsom said his administration would account for that money in May when he releases budget revisions.

Newsom’s budget proposal kicks off months of negotiations with lawmakers, who must pass a budget by June 15, in time for the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

California finds itself swimming in money for the second year in a row, a result of the state’s high earners continuing to prosper despite the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Last year’s $262 billion budget benefited from an estimated $80 billion in surplus money.

Among the flashiest proposals Newsom unveiled Monday: an expansion of the state’s health coverage for low-income Californians to include undocumented immigrants of all ages. Currently, undocumented people ages 26-49 are not eligible for the program.

That proposal, like everything in Newsom’s budget plan is subject to legislative approval. Under Newsom’s plan, the expansion wouldn’t take effect for two years.

Newsom is also proposing to add $2 billion in homeless aid, on top of the $12 billion he and lawmakers passed last year.

Most of that new money would go to quickly trying to get people off the streets and get them help, Newsom said. About $500 million would go toward cleaning up homeless encampments.

Newsom also said he wants to do more on conservatorships to compel more homeless people into treatment, but declined to give details.

Newsom’s budget plan includes new spending on recruiting, training and hiring more health care workers, including doctors, nurses, social workers and a new kind of worker the administration calls “community health workers.”

That funding would come on top of the $2.7 billion in COVID-19 response funding Newsom called for lawmakers to approve Saturday, and would be focused on longer-term health workforce development.

Newsom’s budget also includes increased funding for fighting fires and drought, as well as to boost rural industries.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

State Democrats Again Try for Universal Healthcare

Calling the Democrats’ new universal healthcare legislation “bold” is an understatement. It would be a life-changer for practically every Californian.

It also would require by far the largest state tax increase in history.

Some powerful opponents will call it “socialist.” But aren’t Social Security and Medicare socialist? And they’re among the most popular government programs in America.

Some supporters are hailing it as a California version of federal “Medicare for all.” But reallyit’s Medicare for nobody. Californians on Medicare would be shifted into the new state-run “CalCare.”

No more Medicare in the nation’s most populous state. Nor Medi-Cal, the California version of Medicaid insurance for poor people. And private healthcare insurance would essentially be out of business. Everyone would be transferred into CalCare.

As advertised by CalCare proponents, most Californians would be better off under the new state plan: “No premiums, copays or deductibles … or other out-of-pocket costs.”

But more benefits: “Including all primary and preventative care, hospital and outpatient services, prescription drugs, dental, vision, audiology [hearing aids], reproductive health services, maternity and newborn care, long-term services and … mental health and substance abuse treatment, laboratory and diagnostic services, ambulatory services and more.

“Patients will have freedom to choose doctors, hospitals and other providers … without worrying about whether a provider is ‘in-network.’ ”

Sounds like a late-night TV commercial for wonder pills.

The assumption is that Sacramento can manage such a massive endeavor. There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical.

“I look forward to hearing Democrats explain how they plan to successfully take over more than 10% of the state’s economy when in the last decade they’ve proven themselves incapable of simple things like building a railroad, providing clean drinking water, keeping the lights on and filling potholes,” says Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron of Valley Center in San Diego County.

Even a major Democratic supporter, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Jim Wood of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, has similar concerns.

“When you look at California, especially with COVID, clearly you see things that are not working very well,” Wood told me.

“I’ve always been supportive of healthcare for everyone,” the dentist added. “But I have serious and legitimate concerns about how an entity like this would be governed. I just worry whether we have the capacity to manage this.”

Wood cited as a glaring example of mismanagement the state Employment Development Department, which dished out several billion dollars in fraudulent unemployment benefits early during the pandemic, including to people in prison.

But state government is a mixed bag, Wood continued. He praised Covered California, which operates an expanded version of the federal Affordable Care Act, as “a model for the country.”

He also called federal Medicare “a well-run system.”

“Doctors and hospitals don’t like Medicare because the rates are lower,” Wood said. “But recipients on Medicare like it.”

And California would be leaving it.

Wood is ready to chuck current private insurance.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times