Wood crit­i­cal of state’s re­sponse

Times Standard (Eureka) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ruth Sch­nei­der rschnei­der@times-stan­dard.com

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.”

SCREENSHOT

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.

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