“There are so many people who have followed the rules; they pay taxes, they save money, they scrape by so their kids can go to college. And now this crisis has taken all of that away,” said Chang, a Republican from Diamond Bar whose 29th District includes portions of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
“I hear from families that are limiting their meals per day to save money or make sure their children have enough food. The extraordinary moment calls for extraordinary responses. And we need to use every tool we have right now.”
Chang’s Senate Bill 943 would tap the state’s general fund to expand California’s Paid Family Leave program, which already covers people who miss work to care for a sick family member, have a new child, or are under quarantine for the coronavirus. Her plan would expand the benefits at least to the end of 2020 for parents caring for children dismissed from school due to the pandemic.
Chang said the bill will cover gaps in a temporary federal plan approved in mid-March. That plan expanded paid leave for many Americans, including offering some parents caring for out-of-school kids two-thirds of their regular pay, with limit of $200 a day and a total of $10,000. But that bill excluded anyone who works for a company with more than 500 employees. It also had opt-out options for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and for healthcare workers and emergency responders.
The federal bill also doesn’t help parents with children displaced from school longer than three months, or after December 2020. Chang’s SB 943 currently has a similar sunset date, but the senator believes that cutoff will be expanded if conditions demand it.
“We can see a world where kids are back in school next year, and people are back at work, but a certain city or county has a surge and needs to shut their schools down,” Chang said. “We want this available in those instances, too.”
While the main goal is to cover people left out of the federal program, Chang said she’s also reviewing whether such a boost in state benefits could be combined with federal benefits, to make families financially whole during the coronavirus crisis.
Here’s more information about how SB 943 would work.
Q: How will caregivers qualify and prove they qualify for the benefits covered in the bill?
Chang: If your child has been displaced by school closures you would qualify.
My office will be working closely with (the Economic Development Department) to ensure there are no fraudulent claims. Currently, to qualify for leave you need to provide documentation. For example, you need to provide proof of relationship for bonding claims — birth certificate or record, adoption paperwork, etc. Under this bill it would likely include a certificate from the child’s school or school district, but I’m continuing to consult with experts on that question.
We have a system in place for family leave, so we don’t anticipate it to be very difficult to apply this new qualification. We’ll also be consulting with our federal partners on best practices for their program.
Q: Is there an estimate for how many people this might apply to? And how much it might cost?
We are working with EDD to get information on the exact number of workers who would qualify… Cost estimates will be very difficult to quantify as it depends on who applies, what their income is, and how long the COVID-19 crisis continues.
According to the (Legislative Analyst’s Office), fewer than half of workers (in California) are covered by the new COVID-19 Federal Leave programs. It doesn’t make sense to cover half the population. We are in a crisis and California needs to step up and fill these gaps.
Q: With the legislature on recess until April 13, is that the soonest this bill can be taken up? And how soon after that could it take effect?
Chang: We are waiting for direction from Senate leadership on how the legislature will function during this crisis, but I am hopeful the week of the 13th or the week after. It’s important the legislature take up important measures like this addressing COVID-19 as soon as possible — and prioritize them among any other bills.
Before the state lawmakers adjourned for the emergency break, we passed a key resolution outlining rules to allow us to take up bills and vote remotely. We may need to take advantage of that if this continues.