Essential California: What to know about the stimulus package

Dusk falls over the Capitol on Monday in Washington.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 22, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Another COVID relief package is nearly on its way, eight wrenching months after Americans received their onetime stimulus checks.

A sprawling $900-billion pandemic relief bill was passed by both houses of Congress on Monday night. It now awaits President Trump’s signature.

[Read the story: “Congress includes historic measures in government funding, pandemic relief bills” in the Los Angeles Times]


As my D.C. colleague Jennifer Haberkorn reports, congressional leaders in both parties were under mounting pressure to approve legislation to respond to the pandemic in the face of expiring programs and a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases around the country, prompting restrictions on movement and business closures.

The 5,593-page, $2.3-trillion bill — which Jennifer describes as “a massive piece of legislation stuffed with a buffet of unrelated provisions” — is thought to be the largest single piece of legislation in congressional history. It includes a $1.4-trillion catchall spending bill along with the $900-billion pandemic relief package.

Here’s a look at some of the broad strokes:

  • The bill includes a new round of $600 stimulus checks for American adults earning up to $75,000. That’s half the amount given in the first stimulus package, and would cover roughly one to two weeks of rent for most L.A. apartments. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Monday that some of the payments to individuals could go out as early as next week.
  • Supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week would go into effect for another 11 weeks, halving the $600 weekly benefits given in the first round.
  • Benefits for freelance and gig workers: Workers in the gig economy and the entertainment industry who earned most, but not all, of their income from 1099 independent contracting qualified for very little in unemployment benefits — and thus, none of the $600 additional unemployment payments — Congress issued in March. The new bill attempts to repair that glitch if states opt in, with a provision that would provide an additional $100 weekly supplement to people who earn more than $5,000 in 1099 income if they do not qualify for the enhanced unemployment benefit. As Jennifer reports, the provision was authored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who said he expected California to opt in to the program.
  • Aid for small businesses and the arts: The bill would provide funding for another round of Paycheck Protection Program grants and deliver $15 billion in grants to independent venues, such as live music stages and movie theaters, to help them meet their bills for six months.
  • The bill would provide $25 billion in emergency rental assistance. Speaking Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the rental assistance provisions were not “as big and bold” as he had hoped but still “significant.” Offering an initial estimate, the governor speculated that $2 billion of that $25 billion could go to the state. State eviction protections are set to expire on Feb. 1, potentially leaving tens of thousands of Californians at risk of losing their homes. State legislation introduced earlier this month could extend the protections for 11 months, until Dec. 31 of next year. Newsom said Monday that he was working with the Legislature to try to extend the Feb. 1 moratorium.
  • The bill doesn’t include funding for struggling state and local governments — a decision that drew the ire of many L.A. elected officials.
  • The bill also includes ... money for education providers and childcare assistance, food stamps, coronavirus testing and tracing, vaccine purchasing and distribution, strengthening broadband access and state transportation programs.

Again, those are just the broad strokes — see Jennifer’s full story for a more in-depth look at the bill. More details are also likely to emerge in the days to come, as reporters and the public parse the tome.

The bill’s 11th-hour release drew frustration from both sides of the aisle, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeting that members of Congress had not yet read the thousands of pages they were expected to vote on, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) asking, “Who in their right mind thinks that this [is] a responsible way of governing?”

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

Coronavirus stay-at-home orders are likely to be extended in Southern California: The region is eligible to emerge from the state order beginning next week, but Gov. Newsom said he’s doubtful it will, as ICU bed availability continues to dwindle. Los Angeles Times


California once quelled COVID-19 with a stay-at-home order. Here’s why this one isn’t working as well. Los Angeles Times

“We’re going to be New York.” There is a growing sense of dread in hospitals across Los Angeles County and the rest of California that the already grim conditions are about to get much worse and that the coming holidays could bring yet another surge of COVID-19 patients. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


LAUSD will not reopen campuses when the spring semester starts Jan. 11. “We’ll remain in online-only mode until community health conditions improve significantly,” said Supt. Austin Beutner. Los Angeles Times

The semiotics of Ariana Grande’s engagement announcement: Grande got quarantine-engaged to an L.A. realtor and announced it in an Instagram photo dump. New York Times

Congratulations to Brian De Los Santos, the new editor of LAist. De Los Santos, who previously worked at KPCC and the L.A. Times, is currently steering digital strategy at the Desert Sun. LAist


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The pandemic is fueling a long-shot recall effort against Newsom. Only once has a California governor faced a recall: the 2003 election that cut short the tenure of Gov. Gray Davis. Los Angeles Times

Newsom’s chief of staff leaves as a new top advisor joins his team. On Monday, Newsom confirmed the selection of veteran Sacramento strategist Jim DeBoo to lead his administration. Los Angeles Times


Police in Pasadena and Long Beach pledged not to send license plate data to ICE. They shared it anyway. Los Angeles Times


Coronavirus cases are rising faster in Fresno than any other metro area in the country, according to a New York Times analysis. New York Times


The Radio Lazer 103.1 party van is a lifeline for California farmworkers. For decades, Spanish-language radio stations have hosted morning coffee in the fields. Now, this station’s van plays music and delivers PPE. Los Angeles Times

A van in a dusty field.
Ricardo “El Profe” Castorena kicks up dust while driving down a dirt road to deliver PPE to the farmworkers in Selma.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Filmmaker George Lucas is suing the town of San Anselmo and a family that used to own his home to clear up a discrepancy over a property line. Marin Independent Journal

Bay Area single-family home prices jumped to record levels this fall, defying a tumbling economy, worsening health crisis and early doomsayers. Mercury News

A poem to start your Tuesday: “Revolutionary Letter #1” by Diane di Prima.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: partly sunny, 66. San Francisco: partly sunny, 57. San Jose: partly sunny, 61. Fresno: sunny, 54. Sacramento: partly sunny, 61. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Mitzi Mayer:

Mom, young and divorced, hummed along to Jim Croce and Diana Ross eight-tracks as our ’68 VW “bug” sputtered from Los Angeles to Mammoth to join her brother and his family. Our Christmas Eve tradition to a tree farm took a detour as a blizzard unfolded. Mom and my uncle returned looking like snow creatures, towing behind a tree suitable for a fire. Huddled near the fire stringing cranberries and popcorn and cutting paper snowflakes, my mom said, “Did you know that no two snowflakes are alike?” My little cousin said, “kinda like people.” Mom smiled, “exactly.”

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.