Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a package of financial relief for small businesses in California, as well as a new resource to help jobseekers, as the state seeks to tackle some of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Small businesses with less than $5 million in taxable sales will be able to defer payment of up to $50,000 for one year, without fine or penalty, according to Newsom.
“In essence, it is a bridge loan,” he said. “The money that you have already collected you won’t have to pay the state for 12 months.”
But as the Associated Press noted, Newsom’s plan would likely need to be approved by the state legislature, which has recessed until at least April 13.
An executive order signed by the governor had previously extended the sales tax deadline for small businesses to July 31, but this latest measure would go beyond that.
Additionally, the governor also announced a program that will provide up to $10 million in relief to small businesses that continue to pay their employees during the crisis.
Newsom also announced a comprehensive new job searching website that will assist out-of-work Californians — particularly those laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis — gain employment and provide them with other resources.
The website is OnwardCA.org.
Created in partnership between Bitwise Industries in Fresno, LinkedIn and Salesforce, the site matches open jobs to people’s skillsets.
Unemployment has been a major issue across the U.S., but particularly in California, where nearly 900,000 people in the state applied for jobless benefits last week alone.
Since March 12, 1.9 million Californians have filed for unemployment, as businesses deemed nonessential were forced by the state’s stay-at-home order to temporarily shut down.
Nearly half of the state’s private sector employees work for small businesses, according to the governor.
“The economic consequences are profound,” he said.
California’s Employment Development Department typically has a 21-day turnaround, but is struggling to keep up with that, Newsom said, adding that staff is working diligently get checks out.
The state pays between $40 to $450 per week in unemployment benefits, and the federal stimulus will provide an additional $600 per week for eligible recipients, according to the governor.
Coronavirus cases in state approach 10,000
While the number of novel coronavirus cases in the state continued to rise on Thursday, Newsom said California’s hospitals have thus far been able to meet the demands — something he attributed to people staying at home and practicing physical distancing when they’re away from their residences.
As of Thursday, the state had 9,937 confirmed case of COVID-19, with 203 deaths. Nearly 2,000 people have been hospitalized, including 816 in intensive care units.
“While they’re growing, they are not growing as significantly as you’re seeing in other parts of the country,” Newsom said of the hospitalizations. “The reality is, we are buying time.”
However, the state is still dealing with a backlog of testing, as nearly 60,000 results are still pending, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The governor explained this has been a problem across the country, pointing out that commercial labs have become overwhelmed as COVID-19 testing becomes more widely available. One lab alone in the U.S. has a backlog of more than 100,000 tests, he noted.
Nevertheless, the state currently has the capacity to meet coronavirus patient demand at hospitals, and that will give them more time prepare for a peak in hospitalizations that could come in the middle of May, according to Newsom.
However, he noted officials are still struggling to obtain critical protective gear for health care workers, such as N95 masks. To date, California has distributed nearly 36 million of them, but officials are seeking to shore up that supply in anticipation of a surge of patients.
Newsom on Thursday also provided some clarity on the wearing of homemade masks in public, a day after the state health department issued guidelines but stopped short of recommending everyone cover their face when leaving home. That’s something officials in Riverside County and Los Angeles have done in recent days.
The governor explained he’s concerned about mandating the usage of masks, particularly as the state struggles to provide them to health care workers, but encouraged the use of face coverings for individuals who want an extra layer of protection when leaving home.
However, even with a homemade mask, people must follow social distancing guidelines and stay six feet away from others.
“Masks are additive … not a substitute for physical distancing,” he said.
People should also avoid using N95 or surgical masks, which remain in short supply at hospitals nationwide.
The best thing people can do to keep themselves and their loved ones safe is adhere to the statewide stay-at-home order, something the governor has repeatedly urged.
“I’m going to REPEAT. REPEAT. REPEAT. The most important thing we can do is STAY HOME and practice physical distancing,” he tweeted Monday. “That’s how we flatten the curve.”