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In Orange County, masks are no longer required to be worn, though they’re “highly recommended.” (Photo: APU GOMES, AFP via Getty Images)

Three days after Orange County’s top health official resigns — she’d received threats for her face mask requirement — there’s a change of heart. And bills on reparations and affirmative action move through the legislature. Plus: Stick around for my convo with a leading unemployment expert about ways to help the hardest-hit workers. 

It’s Arlene with news to know about this Thursday. 

But first, we fact-check the claim that 449,000 Californians who were excused from jury duty because they are not citizens can vote. They cannot. But there’s more to this falsity that pops up again and again. 

In California brings you top stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.  

O.C. lifts mask order after threats to public health official, who resigned

Orange County rescinds the requirement that people wear face masks in public. (Photo: Getty Images)

Days after his predecessor abruptly quit, Orange County’s new interim health officer lifted a requirement that residents wear face coverings in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The move comes three days after Dr. Nichole Quick quit as the county’s health officer following threats at a public meeting and on social media over her order that residents wear masks in public when near others. Residents have blasted the requirement at public meetings, and the sheriff said he wouldn’t enforce it.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the interim health officer, said the change was to make the county rules consistent with those of the state. 

“This decision is not because of public pushback,” he said.

New Floyd art, media moves, cop shows and is there really an urban/rural divide?

Artist MisterAlek spray paints a mural of George Floyd that says “I Can’t Breathe” at 311 N. Indian Canyon Dr. in Palm Springs, June 10, 2020. The work was commissioned by the City of Palm Springs Public Art Commission (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Palm Springs commissions a mural of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer, for its downtown. Artist MisterAlek’s work includes “I can’t breathe” and a painting of Floyd. 

Audrey Cooper, the youngest woman ever to lead a major daily newspaper as editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015, has been hired to lead WNYC’s public radio operations. 

Why there’s no point in mourning the “Cops” and “Live PD” cancelations: “These programs have been terrible for our understanding of policing and criminal justice.” (Commentary)

I’m urban, you’re rural, but we’re not really so different (Opinion). 

Reparations, and ending a ban on affirmative action?

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, wears a face mask as she calls on lawmakers to create a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, June 11, 2020. The Assembly approved the bill that now goes to the Senate. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP)

Two legislative proposals designed to help eradicate structural inequality are making their way through the state legislature, fueled in part by large demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd.

A proposal to establish a task force to study and prepare recommendations for how to give reparations to African Americans passed the California Assembly on Thursday.

“We seem to recognize that justice requires that those who have been treated unjustly need the means to make themselves whole again,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego who wrote the bill.

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, eight people with backgrounds in racial justice reforms would lead a study into who would be eligible for compensation and how it should be awarded.

A day earlier, the Assembly passed a proposal to erase the state’s 24-year ban on affirmative action. If passed by the Senate and approved by voters, it would strike from California’s Constitution the rules imposed by Proposition 209, which in 1996 prohibited government agencies and institutions from giving preferential treatment to individuals on the basis of race or sex.

The two measures are among the top priorities for California’s Legislative Black Caucus, which Weber heads.

What else we’re talking about 

Law enforcement personnel from several jurisdictions patrol Spring Street in Paso Robles, Calif., on Wednesday after an early morning shooting that injured a sheriff’s deputy. (Photo: David Middlecamp, AP)

A man suspected of ambushing and seriously injuring a deputy, and killing a man near a train station on Wednesday, was killed Thursday in a shootout with police in Paso Robles. The ambush triggered a massive manhunt for the Visalia resident.

State officials eye the Porterville Developmental Center as a possible treatment site for inmates hit by massive coronavirus outbreaks at crowded Kings County prisons. The Army Corps of Engineers in April spent $876,000 converting it into a hospital for a possible surge of coronavirus patients, but it’s sat empty since.

The first incarcerated woman has died from what appears to be coronavirus complications. If confirmed, she’d be the 14th state inmate death linked to the virus.

An Asian American exercising at a Torrance Park was the target of a lengthy, racist tirade captured on video: “This is not your place. This is not your home.”

The San Francisco police union tells the city’s transportation agency in a Tweet to “lose our number” next time it has problems with passengers. The agency previously had said it would no longer transport police to anti-police brutality protests. 

Unemployment claims are down, but is that a good thing?

The news on the surface sounds good: Unemployment claims are going down and/or being denied because more people are returning to work and earning more money. 

Then you dig deeper. 

There, you’ll see that going back to work, for many people, means taking home less than they did when they weren’t working, because of the additional $600 in federal unemployment they would miss out on. And the situation is hurting already disadvantaged workers the most. 

Those are some findings from UCLA’s California Policy Lab’s unemployment analysis released Thursday. I spoke via email to co-author Till von Wachter, the lab’s faculty director and a UCLA economics professor, more about their findings and what could help.

Our conversation has been lightly edited.

Till von Wachter is the faculty director of the California Policy Lab and a UCLA economics professor who has done extensive research on unemployment. (Photo: Contributed / California Policy Lab)

Q: Let’s start with some good news. What about the numbers cheer you?

A: The fact that we see an increasing number of Californians whose UI (Unemployment Insurance) payments are being either reduced or denied altogether because they’re working is a good sign for the economy as we slowly re-open. That being said, going back to work also creates a challenging dilemma for some workers: If you’re going back to work on a reduced schedule (with reduced pay), this part-time work can result in your UI benefits being either denied or reduced.

And, of course, there’s still ongoing safety concerns for workers around COVID-19, as well as childcare issues for working parents. 

Q: The brief shows how an increasing number of people are getting denied unemployment because of partial income. Is there a minimum people can earn before they’re cut off from unemployment or is it based on percentage reduction of your usual income?

When you file for unemployment insurance, EDD (The division which handles Unemployment Insurance) takes a look at your earnings history, and determines a weekly benefit amount, which is the maximum you can be paid in benefits each week.

For claimants whose amount is below the cap of $450, they can typically earn up to 75% of their prior average weekly earnings.  If they earn more than that in a given week, they aren’t eligible for any benefits. But it’s week by week, so if they earn less in the next week, then they could be eligible to receive unemployment again.

Q: Your findings show one in four women, as opposed to one in five men, are affected by the crisis. Why are women impacted so much more?

Some of this, though not all, can be explained by the nature of the crisis: We’ve seen that several of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic are often the ones where more women tend to work. In particular, women make up a disproportionate share of the labor force employed in accommodation, food services and sales, industries hit especially hard by the shutdowns.

Q: I’ve heard from a lot of people that they’re making more in unemployment than working because of the extra $600 federal unemployment assistance. So should people go back to work if they can?

A: Generally speaking, yes, the Unemployment Insurance system in the U.S. is structured in such a way as to encourage people to go back to work because you’ll make more money. That being said, policymakers created the $600 FPUC payment because they recognized the unique circumstances created by the COVID-19 crisis and all of the social distancing challenges it created, especially for the labor market.

While earning a bit of extra money during the shutdown helps many workers, the $600 payment is set to expire next month, and hence workers may return to work when they can since the risk of being unemployed and uninsured again in July may outweigh the benefits of a few weeks of extra cash now.

Work sharing programs can make a big difference for employees, a policy brief on California’s unemployment notes. (Photo: California Policy Center)

Q: The report suggests a program like work sharing could help workers. How does it work?

A: Work sharing programs allow firms to avoid layoffs by instead reducing hours for a group of employees. For these employees, a portion of their lost pay is replaced with prorated UI benefits. Importantly, for companies re-opening at reduced hours, work sharing allows some employees who would otherwise earn too much money in a week to remain eligible for partial UI, to instead receive these benefits, and also receive the $600 weekly FPUC payment.   

Q: What else could be done to help workers and/or business owners who have been hit so hard because of this pandemic?

A: The $600 FPUC payments are a lifeline for many workers. Even with these payments, the median weekly benefit amount for initial claimants in California is just above 50% of median family income in the state. Without these additional payments, many families out of work would be facing even more severe income shocks, which will have repercussions throughout the economy as they’re forced to further reduce spending.

Tying such benefits to a meaningful economic trigger as opposed to an arbitrary calendar date should be a high priority.

Q: Anything I didn’t ask or you want to add?

A: The report also finds that close to 80% of workers who filed unemployment insurance benefits during the crisis could have received a payment. The typical UI claimant could have been paid within two weeks of filing benefits. While this may not have been true for every claimant, overall it seems the system was able to provide support for unemployed workers in a timely fashion!

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. Also contributing: Reason, WNYC, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times. 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/11/california-unemployment-reparations-affirmative-action-thurs-news/5342600002/

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