As the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy departed Los Angeles on May 15 after a seven-week deployment, the fact that the ship treated just 77 patients was proof that this magnificent vessel was never needed to serve as a relief valve for our local medical facilities battling COVID-19. The 1,000-bed ship was not tasked to treat COVID-19 patients but to provide medical, surgical and trauma care to other patients to free hospital beds from the anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients. The federal government deserves a sincere thank-you for allocating this invaluable asset to Los Angeles. It appears that the Los Angeles health-care system has been able to handle the patient influx caused by COVID-19, and that is extremely good news.
Nonetheless, the bad news is that as of May 24, the Los Angeles County Department of Health has identified 44,988 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of Los Angeles County, and a total of 2,104 deaths. The 6,159 people who tested positive for COVID-19 (14% of positive cases) have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. There are 1,491 people who are currently hospitalized, with 26% of these people in the ICU and 18% on ventilators. There are testing results for 436,000 individuals, with nearly 9% of people testing positive. Los Angeles County has the highest rate of deaths from COVID-19 in the state and the second-highest infection rate. Despite these numbers, L.A. County does appear to be moving towards “flattening the curve” and has announced a five-stage reopening process based on risk. Stage 1 is the Safer at Home mandate, which has impacted 10 million County residents; stages 2–4 cover the reopening of businesses based on risk and stage 5 is fully normal operations by the Fourth of July. This is also extremely good news.
But make no mistake, as a result of the unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis, our country, our state and our County have in record time been thrust directly into an immediate financial crisis that will more than likely lead to a recession.
The U.S. unemployment rate in two months (February–April) has dramatically surged to a high of 14.7% in April, well above the Great Recession–era peak of 10% in October 2009. In the single week ending on March 28, 2020, nearly 6.9 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims. This was more than 10 times higher than the single-week peak during the Great Recession of 665,000 initial clams in the week ending March 28, 2009. Over 38 million initial unemployment claims have been filed from March 14–16, 2020. This amount is higher than the total number of cumulative initial claims over the entire Great Recession that lasted 18 months (January 5, 2008–June 27, 2009). Experts say that even though almost all states across the country have begun to reopen their economies from lockdowns, the expected drop in U.S. gross domestic product for the second quarter, April through June, will be the steepest ever.
California, which is the fifth-largest economy in the world, has an unemployment rate that has nearly tripled from 5.5% in February 2020 to 15.5% from mid-March to mid-April. The rate has surpassed the peak of California’s Great Recession (July 2007–February 2010) of 12.3%. California employers have eliminated a historical 2.3 million payroll jobs in just one month. This one-month total already surpasses the loss of 1.3 million California jobs during the Great Recession. As of April 12, California has seen 1.4 million new unemployment claims for a total of 5.1 million. Every one of California’s 11 industry sectors showed job losses in April. Hopefully, these numbers are temporary, but the path to recovery remains to be seen as the “new normal” of dramatically altering past business practices will have to change until COVID-19 is no longer a global threat.
Governor Newsom announced at his May 2020–21 budget revision update that California will have a $54 billion budget deficit. That figure is higher than the deficit during the Great Recession and obliterates the state’s once-healthy reserves of $16 billion.
- $41 billion in revenue loss
- $7 billion increase in health and human services programs, mainly Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for the poor
- About $6 billion in additional spending, mainly driven by the state’s response to COVID-19. The governor is adamant that the federal government must pass a relief package for state and local governments.
According to a forecast released by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, our unemployment rate could surge to a record high, possibly doubling the County’s most recent unemployment peak of 13.4% in 2010, following the Great Recession. The projected loss of payroll jobs could top 1.2 million as the full impact of business shutdown orders to fight COVID-19 is felt. Again, all of us hope that the reopening of the economy and easing of mandates results in a dramatic deviation of projected unemployment rates and loss of payroll jobs.
In Los Angeles County, the fiscal year 2020–21 Recommended County Budget (RCB) was submitted to the Board of Supervisors on April 28. It must be noted that the RCB was largely prepared before our County went on the Safer at Home order in mid-March. The $35.5 billion proposed budget will see major revisions as a result of the unprecedented health crisis that has tragically impacted Los Angeles County harder than any other area in California.
Our County CEO, Sachi Hamai, is projecting a $1 billion drop in revenue for this fiscal year (ends June 30) and an additional $1 billion-plus next fiscal year (July 1, 2020–June 30, 2021). As of May 26, there have been no budget updates or action plans regarding the County’s anticipated loss of revenues from Prop 172 (public safety sales, realignment sales, Measure H sales and hotel taxes). The County anticipates closing out this fiscal year with almost $200 million in cash, although that amount reflects a drop of $950 million from earlier projected levels. Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented acceleration of the COVID-19 crisis, the County is still collecting and analyzing financial data and will provide updates during the subsequent RCB phases that will continue until the fiscal year 2020–21 budget is finalized in September.
For PPOA members working at the Sheriff’s Department, the present budget “turf war” between Sheriff Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors is based on the April 28 RCB that does not include post–COVID-19 financial data and updated revenue projections. On May 4, Sheriff Villanueva announced that there would be deep cuts to the Department, including closures or reductions at the Marina del Rey and Altadena Stations, closing of the Parks Bureau and reducing homeless outreach services and specialized units to reduce the Department’s budget deficit. Inexplicably, PPOA became aware of these proposed actions during the Monday morning briefing and immediately notified the Department that it had violated its obligation to meet and confer with PPOA regarding its proposed changes to our members’ working conditions that are scheduled to occur on July 1. PPOA has requested that the Department provide specific information and data regarding the Sheriff’s proposals and have been advised that its plans are still in progress. As soon as PPOA is provided information, we will meet with the Department to determine what impacts there may be and collectively work with the Department to ensure that all PPOA members (who are essential workers) have their interests and rights fiercely defended and protected.
Please remember that many rumors will circulate regarding operation and fiscal issues at the Department of Medical Examiner, District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department in the upcoming months. Stay factually informed by reading the Week in Review that is electronically available every Saturday morning, checking your emails for PPOA updates, utilizing the PPOA mobile app, PPOA.com website and LAPPOA Facebook page or by calling the PPOA office. Each PPOA member, who is also a designated County of Los Angeles essential worker, has gone above and beyond the call of duty by bravely working every day through the COVID-19 pandemic (with less than adequate protective equipment), sacrificed their personal and family’s wellness in service to residents and incarcerated inmates and provided unparalleled public safety protection to the County of Los Angeles in an unprecedented global crisis.
Stay well, thank you and may God bless you and your loved ones.