Newsletter: Californians are struggling, and the rent is due today

Demand for food stamps  surged in California in March.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, April 1. I’m Laura J. Nelson, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

For millions of Californians, April will be the cruelest month.

Unemployment claims have skyrocketed in California, with 1 million people having applied for jobless benefits in less than two weeks. Food stamp applications are spiking. And the rent is due today.

If you’re struggling to pay your rent because you’ve lost your job, seen your hours cut back or had to stay home to care for someone, here’s what you need to know about how California is trying to help. If you’ve lost work, here’s what you should know.

As the economy falters, coronavirus cases continue to soar. The death toll in California has tripled in the last week, as has the number of reported cases in Los Angeles County. More than 50 people have now died of COVID-19 in the county, including a healthcare worker.

[See the data: “Tracking coronavirus in California”]


Coronavirus is spreading through U.S. nursing homes at terrifying speed, including in Los Angeles County, where 11 area homes have seen outbreaks, health officials said. Administrators are scrambling to protect elderly patients, facing life-and-death stakes as they ban visitors, confine patients to their rooms and create sterile wings for treatment.

[Read the story: “As coronavirus hits nursing homes, families wonder: ‘What are we going to do?”]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


During the quarantine, some Angelenos are forming their own families: They don’t have a spouse or kids to keep them company during our long period of national solitude. So they’ve found a few friends and made a pact: See each other, and only each other. Los Angeles Times

Homeless outreach workers in ski masks are holding L.A.’s social safety net together. They’re spritzing their clothes with alcohol and trying to help people who are over 65 get off the street during the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Coronavirus has arrived in skid row. After a Union Rescue Mission employee tested positive, 95 residents and several employees have been quarantined on the building’s third floor, which houses a live-in recovery program and is where the unnamed employee worked. Los Angeles Times

Restaurants in L.A. will be able to sell groceries, as long as they follow some basic rules spelled out by public health officials. The decision comes after some restaurants were shut down last week for selling groceries. Cafes say they’re helping customers avoid crowded grocery stores. Los Angeles Times


Food wholesalers are hurting too, throwing away usually popular foods and selling produce for less than they paid. One seller says avocado sales are down 95%. Los Angeles Times

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He was Cuba’s Walt Disney. Cartoonist and filmmaker Juan Padrón created the country’s most emblematic animated character: Elpidio Valdés, a mustached mambí fighter in the war of independence with Spain during the late 1800s. Los Angeles Times

Washing your hands for 20 seconds feels like an eternity if you’re a farmworker, encouraged to work hard and fast during peak produce season. Many of the state’s estimated 420,000 farmworkers are undocumented, lack health insurance and don’t qualify for unemployment insurance. Said one 73-year-old: “There’s never any attention paid to the campesino.Los Angeles Times

Release for migrant children and parents? A federal judge in Los Angeles has given the Trump administration until April 6 to explain why it can’t quickly release many of the roughly 7,000 immigrant children in shelters and detention facilities as the pandemic grows. Los Angeles Times


“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.” The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier that has been docked in Guam since the coronavirus began spreading there more than a week ago is pleading for help from the Navy to isolate his crew before more sailors fall sick. San Francisco Chronicle


“Very, very painful two weeks.” President Trump on Tuesday gave his most dire assessment to date of the coronavirus pandemic, telling Americans to prepare for a “minimum number” of 100,000 deaths and urging them to follow strict rules on social distancing to prevent even greater tragedy. Los Angeles Times

Pistols at dawn at the Hall of Administration: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has repeatedly clashed with Sheriff Alex Villanueva since his election in 2018, voted unanimously Tuesday to remove him as the head of the county’s emergency operations. Villanueva called it a “brazen attempt to consolidate power.” Los Angeles Times


I’m a celebrity, get me out of here: A long list of high-profile prisoners — including R. Kelly, Bill Cosby and financier Bernie Madoff — are asking judges for early release because of the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

Should California punish people who refuse to stay home? Violating California’s stay-at-home order is theoretically punishable with a misdemeanor, jail time and fines, but Gov. Gavin Newsom says peer pressure is far more persuasive. Los Angeles Times

California is releasing 3,500 prisoners early. The accelerated discharges apply to inmates due to be released over the next 60 days, and come in the face of pressure to do much more. Los Angeles Times


The fatality rate for COVID-19 is nearly 9% for people in their 70s, a new study has found. Among people in their 20s, it’s 0.06%. Los Angeles Times


So how should older people stay safe? Here’s a Q&A on how to stay healthy if you’re older, and care for the seniors in your life without putting them at risk. (In the words of Pearl Buck, “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them.”) Los Angeles Times

Fever, shortness of breath and a compromised immune system. This very sick patient needed a COVID-19 test. Here’s how the process went, from swab to result. Los Angeles Times


Small museums at risk: Temporary closures could become permanent at some of Southern California’s most overlooked temples of art, culture and the offbeat. What will happen to the Altadena Bunny Museum? Los Angeles Times

A family of bunnies made of resin stands in front of an oil painting at the Bunny Museum in Altadena in 2018.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Baseball in an empty stadium? Major League Baseball and the players union are talking about it, says Angels pitcher and union representative Andrew Heaney. (To pass the time, Heaney is playing an MLB video game: “I haven’t played a video game in probably like 15 years. ... I played as myself. I’m horrendous.”) Los Angeles Times

Something to do on your self-distancing walks: Get to know L.A.’s beautiful trees and flowers. Curbed LA



Los Angeles: sunny, 75. San Diego: partly cloudy, 68. San Francisco: windy, 57. San Jose: sunny, 62. Fresno: sunny, 71. Sacramento: sunny, 66. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Deborah Lelchuck, who grew up a block away from Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park:

Occasionally we’d get a rooster or a peacock walking down the street. My best friend lived next door and we’d be in and out of each other’s houses. I remember drawing on the driveway and sidewalk with chalk on bright afternoons. I was reminded of this when I was walking today and saw the wonderful chalk drawings of the children who are unexpectedly home due to COVID-19.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.