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Newsletter: The $600 surprise

People apply for unemployment benefits in Los Angeles this month.
People apply for unemployment benefits this month in Los Angeles.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

A quirk in the coronavirus relief law means workers with only reduced hours may receive the full federal unemployment subsidy.

TOP STORIES

The $600 Surprise

If you live in California and have had your work hours cut as little as 10% because of the coronavirus outbreak, state officials and employment experts say you’re eligible for a welcome surprise: You could receive the entire $600-a-week federal subsidy offered in the CARES Act passed by Congress.

Though it’s widely known that workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic may receive the $600, less understood is that it also applies to any worker receiving prorated unemployment benefits because their hours have been reduced through a so-called work-sharing or short-time program. Such programs have been available in about 26 states for years.

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That means, in some cases, workers in California — and across the country — could end up temporarily receiving far more from the government for those lost hours than they would have earned by working them. Employees are eligible only if their employer fills out paperwork with the state.

In practice, few companies and workers so far are taking advantage of the benefits, partly because of the unprecedented backlog of unemployment claims, and partly because many business owners don’t yet fully understand the incentives.

A Mixed Picture in California

The coronavirus is on the decline in many parts of California but continues to spread in Los Angeles County, sparking new debate about whether officials will need to begin easing stay-at-home restrictions in certain sections of the state while giving harder-hit regions time to flatten the curve.

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L.A. County has had 944 people die from COVID-19; 315 of them died last week. Even adjusted for the county’s larger population, its rate of 9.3 deaths per 100,000 people is 58% higher than the next hardest hit urban county, Riverside, and 72% higher than the epicenter of the Bay Area, Santa Clara County, according to a Times analysis.

The differing situations across the state are causing some local officials to chafe under Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s blanket stay-at-home order, while others are pushing to prolong it. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has expressed concern about reopening too early, struck an optimistic note Monday. He said social distancing measures were proving effective, “the curve really is beginning to flatten,” and even suggested that easing restrictions under the city’s safer-at-home order could be weeks away.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Despite a steady climb in the national death toll to more than 56,000 people, several states from the Rocky Mountains to the South have begun to ease stay-at-home orders for residents. But in New York, the state announced it would cancel its presidential primary scheduled for late June. That has upset supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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— The small-business loan program that received a new infusion of cash last week reopened with a sputter, as the Lakers became the latest high-profile name to return money it received.

— Atty. Gen. William Barr ordered federal prosecutors across the U.S. to identify coronavirus-related restrictions from state and local governments “that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

— The mayor of San Francisco says the city is still struggling to get adequate medical equipment to battle the coronavirus, as shipments of masks, gloves, face shields and gowns are diverted or seized by the government.

— The pandemic has turned some truckers into essential workers hauling high-value loads, while others have less work despite the risk.

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— The Coachella Valley may be known for festivals and golf, but it’s home to some of the densest concentrations of senior citizens in California — a group at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Plus, here are some tips on getting through the days ahead. For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter. As with all our newsletters, it’s free:

— Do I have the coronavirus? The CDC has updated its list of COVID-19 symptoms.

— Having trouble with the IRS site to learn the status of your stimulus check? Try all caps. Yes, really.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

In the 1960s, Americans saw Cold War crises unfold around Berlin and Cuba, so they built fallout shelters. By the 1970s, a new question had arisen: What to do with those unused shelters?

The private Dunn School in the Santa Ynez Valley found plenty of uses for theirs. At one end, it was a photo lab and dark room. Other portions became a projection room and a dressing room for visiting sports teams. Bill Webb, headmaster of the Dunn School, told The Times the space had also once served as a band practice facility, but the acoustics were a little too good. “We gave it up because we were afraid the boys could go deaf down there,” he said.

April 28, 1971: Students at the Dunn School in Santa Ynez Valley work in photo lab in one end of the school's fallout shelter.
April 28, 1971: Students at the Dunn School in Santa Ynez Valley work in the photo lab in one end of the school’s fallout shelter. From left are Herb Yang, 16; Jon Sinclair, 18; Liz Shannon, 16; Henry Hassfeld, 17, and Randy Clark, 18.
(John Malmin / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— Gov. Newsom criticized thousands who flocked to open beaches in Southern California, saying, “This virus doesn’t take the weekends off.” Newport Beach says it may start closing its beaches on weekends to deter crowds.

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— L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced an initiative to decontaminate N95 masks that will allow first responders and healthcare workers countywide to safely reuse them up to 20 times as they battle the coronavirus.

L.A. restaurant owners, who have been vocal about high service fees charged by food delivery apps, could soon pay significantly less if a new city ordinance is approved.

— The Orange County Fair is the latest to be canceled over coronavirus fears. It was scheduled for July 17 through Aug. 16. The California State Fair and fairs in San Mateo, San Diego, San Bernardino and Calaveras counties have also been canceled.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Supreme Court has ruled that insurance companies can collect $12 billion from the federal government to cover their losses in the early years of the healthcare law championed by President Obama. The court also declined to rule on a 2nd amendment case.

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the latest high-profile Democrat to endorse Joe Biden in his run for president.

— The last 12 COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, were discharged Sunday. The city had accounted for more than 80% of the country’s reported deaths.

— A suburb of Paris was rocked by riots in 2005. Tensions eased, but the coronavirus is stoking them again as residents are forced to wait in lines for food and aid amid lockdowns.

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Netflix has announced a documentary chronicling former First Lady Michelle Obama’s book tour for her bestselling memoir, “Becoming.” It will arrive next month.

— Meet Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. She beat out 15,000 hopefuls to land the lead role of Netflix’s new series “Never Have I Ever,” but she still says, “I feel pretty normal.”

Goonies never say die! The original cast members of the beloved ‘80s tween adventure film got back together for a virtual reunion.

— Disney will make “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” available for streaming two months earlier than anticipated. The movie is set to appear on Disney+ for May 4, also known as Star Wars Day.

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BUSINESS

— In Texas, the governor said that movie theaters would be able to open as soon as this weekend. But one of the state’s major theater companies, Alamo Drafthouse, had a clear message to patrons: “We will not be opening this weekend.”

Saudi Arabia has taken a 5.7% stake in Beverly Hills-based Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter. It’s the kingdom’s latest attempt to build ties in Hollywood.

— After a seven-week hiatus, Alta Adams is reopening its kitchen with fried chicken, braised oxtails and a new sliding-scale payment option.

SPORTS

USA Swimming announced that it has canceled all national meets through this summer, replacing them with a tentative schedule of 14-16 regional competitions beginning in mid-August.

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— Like planets orbiting the sun, the lives of play-by-play broadcasters revolve around the regimented sports calendar. What happens when the games stop?

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OPINION

Joe Biden needs competence, not sizzle, from his vice presidential running mate. That’s what The Times’ editorial board recommends.

— The coronavirus has shown us what life without L.A. traffic is like. Columnist Nicholas Goldberg asks how we can keep it from returning to soul-crushing levels.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— “260,000 words, full of self-praise, from Trump on the virus.” (New York Times)

Axel Scheffler, the illustrator of “The Gruffalo,” is back with a children’s book about the pandemic. It’s already been translated into 45 languages. (BBC)

ONLY IN L.A.

Bill Gardner has been broadcasting in Los Angeles for 36 years. But these days, when his KPFK-FM (90.7) show “Rhapsody in Black” comes on at 2 p.m. Saturdays, Gardner is listening to it on the radio like anybody else. The 81-year-old can’t go into the studio because of the coronavirus lockdown, and he doesn’t have a setup at home. Instead, an engineer puts in a “Best of Bill” CD and plays it on the air. “It’s … a little surreal,” Gardner says. “I don’t know what they’re going to play, and so I just sit back and listen.”

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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