OP-ED: Wildfires aren’t the only things burning in California

Link: https://antiochherald.com/2021/09/op-ed-wildfires-arent-the-only-things-burning-in-california/

Excerpt:

As many Contra Costa residents are well aware, the county fire departments have absorbed ambulance services – previously provided by private operators at a lower cost to taxpayers – to pad their already bloated pensions since 2016. What many residents probably don’t know, is that 60 to 80 percent of the fire department’s budget goes to paying off their pension obligations. The California Pension Tracker notes that the market basis pension liability per household is $81,634. That sum surpasses many residents’ annual income. To fund upcoming pension payments that are currently underfunded, fire unions have called for additional tax measures and service redistribution that ultimately leaves county residents at a disadvantage. So, while residents are seeing costs go up, they’re seeing EMS response times and quality of care diminish. That’s just not right.

Author(s): Mark Fernwood

Publication Date: 9 September 2021

Publication Site: Antioch Herald

California Lawmakers Unanimously Approve the State’s First Basic Income Program

Link: https://reason.com/2021/07/16/california-lawmakers-unanimously-approve-the-states-first-basic-income-program/

Excerpt:

On Thursday, the California legislature unanimously passed a budget trailer bill that will create the state’s first guaranteed income pilot program.

Under the lawmakers’ plan, the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) will get $35 million to dole out in grants to cities and counties that will then set up local basic income schemes. Grants will be prioritized for programs focusing on “pregnant individuals” and young adults 21 or older who’ve aged out of extended foster care programs.

State Sen. Dave Cortese (D–San Jose) said in a press release Thursday that participants of these pilot programs could end up receiving monthly payments of as much as $1,000 each.

Author(s): CHRISTIAN BRITSCHGI

Publication Date: 16 July 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Without Enough Boots on the Ground, California’s Vaccination Efforts Falter

Excerpt:

Lackluster vaccination uptake drove the Newsom administration to pursue the more personal approach that public health experts favor, but the still-nascent campaign leaves out large swaths of the state. The administration launched its “Get Out the Vax” campaign in April, enlisting 70 community-based organizations and 2,000 community canvassers, now focused on Los Angeles and Central Valley neighborhoods where vaccinations have plateaued or declined.

But county public health officials say the campaign isn’t big enough to combat the vaccine misinformation that has infiltrated regions such as California’s rural north.

Author(s): Angela Hart

Publication Date: 29 June 2021

Publication Site: Kaiser Health News

Waking from Bankruptcy Shock, Stockton Comes Back to Life

Link: https://www.governing.com/now/waking-from-bankruptcy-shock-stockton-comes-back-to-life

Graphic:

Excerpt:

The metrics on the OGSP give a high-level view of how progress can be measured, but they are just part of the data that Regan’s office collects. Hundreds of other data points are in a performance scorecard that includes factors that contribute to attainment of large targets such as reduced crime rate.

High-level goals may take time to achieve. The StocktonStat portal, scheduled for launch on June 30, will include data on the number of potholes and streetlights repaired, or square feet of graffiti removed, says Regan. “The stat process, and this shared data, are part of a continuous conversation and relentless follow up toward our performance targets.”

Author(s): Carl Smith

Publication Date: 16 June 2021

Publication Site: Governing

Which US vaccine plans actually helped hard-hit communities?

Link: https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/06/07/1025824/us-vaccine-equity-success-story/

Excerpt:

One success story took place in Philadelphia, thanks to an effective collaboration between two health systems and Black community leaders. Recognizing that the largely online signup process was hard for older people or those without internet access, Penn Medicine and Mercy Catholic Medical Center created a text-message-based signup system as well as a 24/7 interactive voice recording option that could be used from a land line, with doctors answering patients’ questions before appointments. Working with community leaders, the program held its first clinic at a church and vaccinated 550 people.

….

In Alabama, for example, National Guard mobile vaccination units were set up with the ultra-cold freezers needed to transport and store mRNA-based covid-19 vaccines. “Why not, when this particular push is over, leave those freezer units with the federally qualified health centers that are already in those communities?” McClure says. “You’re starting to build the infrastructure for being able to deliver vaccination on a consistent basis.”

Author(s): Mia Sato

Publication Date: 7 June 2021

Publication Site: MIT Technology Review

Alameda County Updates COVID-19 Death Calculation to Align with State Definitions

Link: https://covid-19.acgov.org/covid19-assets/docs/press/press-release-2021.06.04.pdf

Excerpt:

Today, June 4, Alameda County’s COVID-19 dashboard will be updated to reflect
the total number of COVID-19 deaths using the State’s death reporting definition. Alameda County previously included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County. Aligning with the State’s definition will require Alameda County to report as COVID-19 deaths only those people who died as a direct result of COVID-19, with COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or in whom death caused by COVID-19 could not be ruled out. Based on data available as of May 23, 2021, this update will decrease the overall number of deaths from 1,634 to 1,223.

….

This update does not disproportionally impact reported deaths for any specific race or ethnic group or zip code.

Close observers of Alameda County’s dashboard may have noticed a substantial increase in the COVID-19 death totals prior to this update, during the week of May 17. This increase was due to a separate quality assurance process intended to correct previously incomplete data; adjustments were made based on additional information that became available regarding date of death and county of residence. These corrections are unrelated to the current alignment with the State’s definition of death due to COVID-19, and some of the deaths will be removed from the updated totals because COVID-19 was not a contributing cause.

Author(s): Neetu Balram

Publication Date: 4 June 2021

Publication Site: Alameda County Health Care Services Agency

California county cuts COVID-19 death toll by 25% after finding some deaths ‘clearly not’ caused by virus

Link: https://news.yahoo.com/california-county-cuts-covid-19-151921394.html

Excerpt:

California county cut its COVID-19 death toll by around 25% after determining that some deaths were not a “direct result” of the virus.

Alameda County revised the total number of deaths caused by the coronavirus to 1,223, down from 1,634.

County officials decided to revise the numbers to align with the California Department of Public Health’s guidance on how to classify deaths. The county previously included deaths of anyone infected with the virus, regardless of whether COVID-19 was a direct or contributing cause of death.

Author(s): Peter Aitken

Publication Date: 6 June 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo News

My Word | The rhetoric does not match the arithmetic on public pensions

Excerpt:

In 2015 Eureka started paying down its unfunded pension liability. These pension debt payments were $921,000 in 2015, $1 million in 2016, $3.9 million in 2017, $4.6 million in 2018, $5.4 million in 2019, and $5.7 million in 2020. Going forward, these debt payments will increase from $6 million in 2021 to $8.4 million in 2029, and are currently scheduled to continue until 2038. In 2015, Eureka cut $834,000 from the Eureka Police Department budget. Heading into budget talks in early 2020, EPD Chief Steve Watson talked of how EPD had seen a 19% reduction in staffing since 2016. Eureka followed up these previous cuts to EPD in its FY 2020-2021 budget with a funding cut of $1.1 million and loss of six more positions, including four officers, for EPD.

…..

The rhetoric does not match the arithmetic. Pension debt payments are funding taken out of the budget and represent tax dollars that are not invested in the community and that citizens see no current services for. Not exactly keeping funding local. With so many governmental agencies in the same debilitated economic situation due to pension obligations, the economic evidence does not support the claim of governments being prudent in their spending. Constant increases in funding for pension obligations along with cuts to law enforcement and other services do not support the idea that tax dollars are the taxpayers’ dollars as a priority expenditure.

Author(s): Patrick Cloney

Publication Date: 2 June 2021

Publication Site: Times-Standard

Letter: Why should taxpayers bear CalPERS risk?

Excerpt:

The city [Chico] has been receiving more sales tax, property tax, developer fees, and Utility Tax revenues every year as development brings more people to Chico. Instead of maintaining and improving infrastructure, Staff has poured these funds into their pension deficit, $11,500,000 this year, by 2025, $13,000,000. This money is allocated from all the department funds, at the expense of infrastructure and services.

Instead of pursuing new taxes that will hurt our local economy, council needs to switch from CalPERS’ defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, like 401Ks. Why should the taxpayers but never the employees bear the burden of the risks taken by CalPERS? The POB scheme, which Dowell admits is “gambling,” puts ALL the burden on the taxpayers, forever. Any new revenues will go to the pension obligation first.

Author(s): Juanita Sumner, Chico

Publication Date: 26 May 2021

Publication Site: Oroville Mercury-Register

CalPERS Long Term Care Program Bleeds Policyholders Dry via 10X Higher Premiums, Gross Mismanagement, Bad Faith Dealing

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Excerpt:

To justify the rate increases, CalPERS asserts that there is nothing problematic with the program, other than the usual suspects of low interest rates and unexpected policyholder behavior, issues that all long-term care providers have faced. But that is, at best, a half-truth.

While all other long-term care providers have faced the same challenges, there is no evidence that any other insurer in the nation has responded with premium increases like CalPERS. For example, the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program has raised rates as much as 150%. For commercial policies, premiums rose up to 75% for UNUM Group in some states, while in California premiums for Mutual of Omaha policy premiums rose 20%, Transamerica premiums rose 25%, and Thrivent premiums rose about 37%.

During the past two decades, roughly the timeframe of the policies subject to the lawsuit, inflation has risen 49% and the cost of long-term care services about 120%. The chart below shows actual policy rates and the initial policy rate along with inflation and long-term care trends.

Author(s): Yves Smith, Lawrence Grossman

Publication Date: 14 May 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Politics Report: The Mayor’s Choice

Link: https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/politics/politics-report-the-mayors-choice/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Almost all of that is in the required contribution the city must make to its pension system. Yes, San Diego politics will always somehow find a way back to pensions. Pensions and Mark Fabiani.

Nick Serrano, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, even clapped back at a critic who accused the mayor of giving more money to the police department while making cuts elsewhere.

“Because the City has a pension obligation we have to fulfill. The increase to the police budget is the City’s pension payment — it’s not a service level increase. Nice try,” Serrano wrote on Twitter.

The pension spike: This year, the city is grappling with a $49.3 million increase in its pension payment. To the extent pensions matter as a civic issue it’s in this: the payments. That amount of money can pay for a lot of things – parks, rec centers, libraries, firefighters and cops, etc.

About $36.8 million of the increase is tapping the city’s general fund, and police make up 42 percent of the general fund. Here’s how pension increases have affected the police department’s budget over the last five years:

Author(s): Scott Lewis, Andrew Keatts

Publication Date: 24 April 2021

Publication Site: Voice of San Diego

Insuring Another Disaster

Excerpt:

Leave it to California lawmakers, however, to cast aside thousands of years of complex commercial history in a misguided attempt to fix an admittedly legitimate insurance problem. Thanks to Proposition 103, a 1988 ballot measure, California already has a distorted insurance market that gives the insurance commissioner czar-like powers to approve rate increases and impose rate decreases.

Because of that law, insurers have a tough time adjusting rates to manage their risks. It’s a long, cumbersome, and antagonistic government process to adjust rates. Their other lever for ensuring solvency is to reduce their underwriting risks by, say, not writing fire-insurance policies to homeowners who live in high fire-risk areas or car insurance policies to drivers with multiple DUIs.

….

Instead, California Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Marin County, has introduced Assembly Bill 1522, which would prohibit insurers from canceling insurance policies solely because a home or business is located in a high-risk wildfire area. It epitomizes California’s economically illiterate edict approach.

Author(s): Steven Greenhut

Publication Date: 29 April 2021

Publication Site: The American Spectator