Story by Sofia Alva
Photo by Richard Gomez
Senator Anthony Portantino briefed the city council on state efforts in response to the coronavirus outbreak at its meeting on Wednesday, Apr. 29. Portantino and the state are currently brainstorming ideas to help residents, cities, and businesses adjust to the coronavirus situation, through proposed senior meal programs and sales tax deferrals.
Portantino opened his special presentation by informing the council of updated California state statistics and information. Currently, there have been 48,808 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,954 deaths in the state of California.
Small businesses and their employees have also taken a toll. To date, 2.7 million Californians have filed for unemployment.
Councilmember Dr. Richard Schneider stressed the importance of helping unemployed residents whose numbers have increased due to the coronavirus’s economic implications.
“We really need to have a system where everybody has insurance and it’s not tied to their employment,” Dr. Schneider said. “There are unemployed people and people who lose their jobs who then lose their insurance and this creates a bigger health crisis than there has to be.”
Portantino also noted that Huntington Hospital’s rate of coronavirus patients has remained constant with no shortages of medical equipment. The hospital has had approximately 600 coronavirus patients since the beginning of the outbreak.
Additionally, Portantino remarked the drastic consequences the coronavirus will have on cities. According to the League of California Cities, there is a $7 billion projected loss in general revenue for the state. The League has also cited that 90 percent of cities plan to cut staff and decreasing essential services in California.
Portantino also relayed messages from Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti. According to Governor Newsom California is currently in Stage 1 of the outbreak, which focuses on building up testing and safety in essential business workplaces before reopening non-essential businesses and public spaces.
Mayor Garcetti has stressed the importance of expanding access to testing across Los Angeles. Currently, only residents who exhibit coronavirus symptoms are eligible for testing, however, Portantino noted that Garcetti hopes to have all residents the option for coronavirus testing at some point.
In order to cater to senior residents during quarantine, L.A. County has implemented a critical 24-hour delivery system for residents over the age of 60 who require essential items. Governor Newsom has also announced the launch of first-in-the-nation home-delivery senior meal partnership with restaurants.
Additionally, the state has authorized a sales tax deferral in order to help bring relief for small businesses. However, councilmember Diana Mahmud expressed her concern to Portantino about how the loss of sales revenue will affect the city budget.
“It shouldn’t cost the state much money to [backfill from state reserves],” Mahmud said. “I think it’s really important for the state to do the most that it can to help cities when it doesn’t cost anything.”
Due to the unprecedentedness of the coronavirus outbreak, the state is only allowing bills relating to the virus at this time. Originally Portantino had 25 proposed bills, however, only three were coronavirus-related bills, leaving the remaining 22 are on hold.
Portantino is also currently serving on one of two committees that the California Senate has appointed in its efforts against the virus. He asserted that the state is currently only making propositions and most plans have not been made in place.
“Right now everything is on the table,” Portantino said in his briefing. “There is going to be an economic recovery plan and there’s going to be some changes in life… but I can’t tell you what that’s going to look like yet because there’s so much brainstorming going on.”
However, Portantino encouraged the council to send him any proposals and ideas that could aid in combatting the outbreak and its implications.
“We really need to make sure that whatever comes out of this, we don’t just pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve got a plan,” Portantino said. “We need to come up with protocols that are implementable.”