Wood critical of state’s response
North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood offered some pointed criticism of California’s coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wood called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to include state lawmakers more in the process and asked for more information to share with constituents and local officials.
“There is tremendous expertise in this legislative body to be able to help take things to another level and it feels like every effort I make to get to another level, I meet resistance, quite frankly,” Wood said during an oversight hearing in Sacramento on Monday morning. “Getting information that my constituents desperately need has been difficult. It’s a missed opportunity. … each of us on the dais represents 465,000 people. We have relationships with local governments, cities, counties, special districts, our hospitals, our doctor groups, a variety of things. And we’re not getting information that would be helpful to us to communicate.”
Wood was invited to the budget subcommittee meeting Monday. He is not a member of the committee. The hearing was informational and no decisions were made. Lawmakers spent several hours questioning the state’s Health and Human Services Agency as well as members of the Finance Department.
Wood said he often hears news about Newsom’s executive orders “five minutes before an order comes out” or “watching live the governor’s daily updates.”
“When my district and I have county public health officers and hospital executives and members of the community asking me for information, I have to say, ‘I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you,’ ” Wood said. “And that’s a missed opportunity.”
Wood asked about an incident over the weekend in which an in
mate was released from a state prison. He “was supposed to go to Stanislaus County and self-quarantine for two weeks,” Wood said, but the inmate ended up in Mendocino County.
“We have only had four cases in Mendocino County — the last one was 22-23 days ago now,” Wood said. “Now we have someone who’s exposed, who ended up in our county, with no notice. And that is of concern to me.”
Wood asked whether inmates who were being released were being tested and whether there was any follow-up on whether quarantine procedures were being followed.
Amy Jarvis, with the state Department of Finance, said that testing of all inmates who are released is “infeasible,” noting that an estimated 6,000 inmates are set to be released in April.
Jarvis added that while the corrections department was notifying county health officials about the release of inmates, it would likely also include probation departments in future notifications.
Wood commended Newsom on the call for California Health Corps volunteers who help relieve strain on the state’s health care system amid the pandemic.
“Many hospitals — I know of a couple in my district but I would gather there are others among the state — have laid off staff,” Wood said. “Our federally qualified health centers are laying off staff.”
He asked if the state is looking to those individuals, who might now be receiving unemployment benefits, if they are being recruited to the state Health Corps. Some Humboldt County health care workers have been furloughed recently.
“I don’t believe we have but we can take this offline and get back to you,” said Marko Mijic, with the state’s Health and Human Services Agency.
Finally, Wood, in a very tense exchange, asked what smaller municipalities should be told about Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, which he noted only appears to be available to communities with a population of 500,000 or more.
“When the CARES Act and the money for governments, every community, including the community I live, is under that 500,000 threshold,” Wood said. “To date, I have seen no information about how these smaller jurisdictions are actually going to receive federal money. And, that’s a question I get a lot.”
Vivek Viswanathan, chief deputy director for the budget at the Department of Finance, said that was a hole that has been raised with the state’s congressional representatives.
Viswanathan said smaller communities are “ineligible” for the federal monies, noting what will be sent to California will be divided between the larger communities and the state. The state’s potion will be part of the governor’s May revision of the state budget.
The governor still has to decide how to allocate that,” Viswanathan told Wood.
“So there’s a possibility that smaller jurisdictions might not get money where larger jurisdictions might? Is that what you’re saying? Unless Congress takes action?” Wood pressed.
“Rght now, the money goes to larger governments or the state,” Viswanathan said.
“What I am concerned about is we’re always fighting in rural districts just for our fair share,” Wood said. “It feels like we might not even get our fair share here. I am very concerned as are my local governments on that.”
Assemblyman Jim Wood questioned state finance leaders about the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wood was critical of the lack of information available to lawmakers.