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Newsletter: Coronavirus relief confusion

President Trump signs an executive order at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Saturday.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

President Trump tries to go it alone on providing economic relief in the pandemic, but it’s unclear whether his approach is legal — or feasible.

TOP STORIES

Coronavirus Relief Confusion

As the United States surpasses 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases, by far the highest of any country, and its economy remains in a deep slump, with more than 31 million Americans receiving jobless benefits, there’s still much confusion on what the national plan for economic relief is.

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After the breakdown of talks on Capitol Hill to reach a bipartisan deal, President Trump said he was bypassing Congress and taking unilateral action to provide financial relief to Americans struggling during the coronavirus crisis, despite uncertainty about his legal authority to do so.

The stated goals of his four executive orders, signed at his New Jersey golf club, are to defer some employees’ payroll taxes, continue a temporary ban on evictions, reduce the burden of student loans and extend federal unemployment benefits at $400 a week. That’s $200 less than the recently expired weekly benefit Congress approved as part of its coronavirus relief package earlier this year. But the rub is that states would be required to pay $100 of that $400 — and some have already said they don’t have the money.

On Sunday, Trump’s senior aides struggled to explain the envisioned mechanisms for carrying out the president’s wishes, at times contradicting one another, and Democrats suggested that Trump’s attempts to unilaterally chart spending and tax policy — normally the purview of Congress — might well fall apart on their own.

Politically speaking, Trump’s moves offer more evidence of how he is losing political influence in Washington and facing the early onset of “lame duck” status, as Republican leaders in Congress increasingly appear willing to defy or rebuff him.

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Operating Behind Closed Doors

Faced with a pandemic that put millions of Californians out of work and eviscerated businesses large and small, Gov. Gavin Newsom promised that “health and science” would guide state officials in repairing the economy and steering it toward recovery.

But as Newsom rapidly reopened the state in May, he also received advice from an all-star roster of business titans: the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery, a 108-member group that counts former California governors, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger and a former chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, among its members.

Beyond that, little is known about the task force’s work, including how extensive a role the group has played in shaping the decisions to reopen California. Some in Sacramento say they are still waiting for the big ideas promised by Newsom when he announced the group in April.

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A Sliver of Hope

When the number of people being sent to the hospital with COVID-19 began to creep up in Los Angeles County early this summer, officials warned that a major increase in deaths was inevitable. A record-breaking number of cases could result in a record-breaking number of deaths, they said.

But nearly two months later, that has not materialized. The coronavirus continues to kill hundreds of people every week in L.A. County, but the death toll has remained lower than expected.

The trend is due in part to younger people falling sick, as well as better control over the disease’s spread in high-risk settings, such as nursing homes. But doctors say there’s another factor pushing up survival rates: better treatments.

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Even so, many people who get sick may not die but will endure long-term health consequences.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Dr. Sonia Angell, the director of the California Department of Public Health, has abruptly resigned, just days after the discovery of a computer system failure that resulted in the undercounting of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday reported 1,789 new cases and 10 related deaths but said the numbers still did not include a pending backlog of lab reports that could show a spike in new cases.

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Prepared-food vendors are trying to fight rules banning them at farmers markets in L.A. County.

— Minor scuffles erupted between rival demonstrators outside Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, which welcomed congregants in defiance of a judge’s order forbidding indoor services as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

Hermosa Beach officials say they are tapping personnel from a private consulting firm to help the Police Department enforce an ordinance requiring face coverings in many public areas.

— A COVID-19 testing site will open up just outside a pedestrian crossing in San Ysidro, where tens of thousands of people enter the United States from Mexico every day.

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For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

Fraud Alert

California’s unemployment agency has processed 9.7 million claims since March — more than double the number filed during the worst year of the Great Recession — and has paid out $59.8 billion in jobless benefits since the pandemic began.

Amid all the suffering of those who have lost jobs or work hours in the pandemic, there are also scammers across the U.S. filing fraudulent unemployment claims — and swamped agencies are having a hard time rooting those out. In California, just 27 sworn officers are assigned to investigate fraud, while the rest of the agency focuses on processing claims.

An agency official urged the public to be on the lookout for suspicious activity, including receiving unemployment insurance forms when an application for benefits has not been filed.

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OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

— Although Newsom and California corrections officials have focused on freeing nonviolent offenders during the pandemic, they also are letting out people who have committed violent crimes but have serious medical conditions.

— Facing a wave of evictions, California is about to make thousands of kids homeless, columnist Erika D. Smith writes.

— In the middle of a pandemic, a miracle came to Father Greg Boyle and his Homeboy Industries, as columnist Steve Lopez explores.

— These members of the U.S. women’s water polo team are Olympic gold medalists. But this team was forged in tragedy.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 1984, Mary Decker and Zola Budd got their feet tangled during the women’s 3,000-meter race at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The incident knocked Decker into the Coliseum’s infield and out of the race.

Budd, a South African who was running for Great Britain, stumbled but regained her balance. Decker tumbled to the ground, tearing the number off Budd’s back as she fell. Maricica Puica of Romania won the race and Budd finished seventh.

Twenty-five years later, Budd told The Times’ Bill Dwyre about being whisked away to her mother’s hotel, where she stayed in semi-hiding. For two days, she watched TV and waited for her flight back to England.

“I ate a lot of Haagen Dazs ice cream,” she said.

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Mary Decker gets tangled up with Zola Budd and falls in the women's 3,000 meters.
Mary Decker gets tangled up with Zola Budd and falls in the women’s 3000 meter final at the Coliseum.
(Hiram Clawson / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— The Apple fire continues to burn more than a week after it broke out in Riverside County, but firefighters are getting a handle on the blaze as their focus shifts from protecting homes to stopping the fire’s growth.

— Military officials are preparing to transfer the remains of seven U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor, who died on a training mission near San Clemente Island, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware over the next few days to be prepared for burial.

— More than a year after a law clamping down on short-term rentals in L.A., thousands of illegal rentals are still being advertised online, according to city officials and a Times analysis of listings on Airbnb.

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— With L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar arrested and suspended, who’s in charge in his district?

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NATION-WORLD

Russia has continued its support for Trump by actively trying to undermine the candidacy of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment released Friday that suggests wide-ranging foreign threats to the November election.

— The most powerful earthquake to hit North Carolina in more than 100 years rattled homes, businesses and residents.

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— Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai and raided the publisher’s headquarters in the highest-profile use yet of the new national security law Beijing imposed on the city after protests last year.

Cambodia, which has so far withstood the worst of the pandemic’s health effects, is at risk of financial meltdown due to millions of smallish loans ballooning into insurmountable debt.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— The near future of theme park experiences could look very different. Here are some creative ways for theme parks to reopen responsibly.

— Fans of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” may have noticed some particularly dramatic changes to the ending of the 1911 novel in Marc Munden’s new film adaptation.

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— In “Black Is King,” Beyoncé sings “My Power” at a church in downtown Los Angeles. Production designer Hannah Beachler breaks it down.

— Netflix filmed Chrishell Stause’s surprise divorce in November for “Selling Sunset.” Now, as the episodes showing the divorce begin to roll out, she says anxious but “ready to just rip off the Band-Aid.”

BUSINESS

TikTok reportedly plans to file a federal lawsuit as soon as Tuesday to challenge Trump’s executive order banning the video-sharing service from the U.S. as unconstitutional. Meanwhile, TikTok’s pain is Triller’s gain. But will the L.A.-based video app’s surge last?

— A series of blockbuster deals has led a resurgence in merger and acquisition activity since the start of July, with companies rushing to prepare themselves for the recession.

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SPORTS

— The Negro Leagues’ 100th anniversary has received a heightened focus after recent protests over social inequality.

— When Serena Williams left her bubble in Florida to play her first matches in six months, she packed a new sense of perspective along with her tennis gear, columnist Helene Elliott writes.

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OPINION

— Despite all the fears about reopening schools, we know a fair amount from watching other countries about how to do it safely, The Times’ editorial board writes. Success looks a lot like Uruguay and Denmark. It does not look like Israel — or a school in Dallas, Ga.

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— California should let voters decide how to fill vacant Senate seats, columnist George Skelton writes, not the governor.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party have taken to the courts to challenge voting-by-mail rules, while Trump’s aides are pondering possible executive actions. (Politico)

— The “most hated attraction” in Disney history. (SF Gate)

ONLY IN L.A.

Julio Gosdinski, a native of Peru who began working at the Griffith Park carousel as a teenager, became so devoted to it that the owner eventually made him co-owner. He used to love jumping on and off the carousel mid-ride to impress kids. And if parents or anyone inquired about the history or mechanics of the nearly 100-year-old merry-go-round, he’d take them on an extensive tour. Last week, Gosdinski died at 49. Some of his many fans shared their memories.

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


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