By Toni G. Atkins
This past month has seen some changes in the way we do things in the Senate, as all of us in California—and around the world—continue trying to get through this crisis together.
In April, I created the Special Senate Budget Subcommittee on COVID-19 Response to oversee how California has been funding our vital containment and response efforts. Governor Gavin Newsom has broad emergency spending authority, and when the Senate and the Assembly approved up to an additional $1 billion in emergency funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we assured Californians there would be this appropriate legislative oversight over all of this spending.
At its first hearing on April 16, the Budget Subcommittee looked at areas where the emergency funding has gone thus far, including obtaining hospital beds and equipment, child care for essential workers along with protective equipment and cleaning supplies for child care providers, lowering the risk to our communities by getting more homeless people into motel rooms, and filling gaps in the federal loan program to help small business.
The hearing made a couple things extremely clear—dealing with COVID-19 continues to be extremely fluid and fast-moving with major decisions having to be made in the moment, and the pandemic will have major repercussions on the state budget. The hearing showed there is still information we need to ensure California’s efforts are having the desired effects, and much preparation we need to do in a very short time to pass a budget.
Thankfully, we are more prepared than ever to enter a downturn. But the magnitude of the shutdown of the economy will reach beyond even our historic preparation. It will take major additional federal support for local governments and states throughout this country. It is imperative that California maximizes our efforts to gain the federal support our state needs to get through this crisis in as strong of shape as possible.
This hearing was also the Senate’s first opportunity during this crisis to include remote participation as part of the proceedings. Ten thousand more people than is usual for a hearing tried to watch online, and while that caused some technical glitches at the outset, we ultimately were able to successfully connect and stream the hearing. Most of the committee participated electronically, and for the Senators, staff and others who took part in person, we adhered to strict social distancing protocols.
The decision to try something new with remote participation was easy, given that protecting the public health takes precedence right now. Parents, students, and teachers all across California are already utilizing remote strategies. We know we can do the same and provide transparent, accessible, and participatory opportunities to conduct the people’s business.
In addition to the work being done by the Budget subcommittee, I also recently created a Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response to look at California’s overall actions regarding the current crisis and to make findings and recommendations for steps we can take now to prepare for future pandemics.
Despite these changing times, one thing remains constant – my team and I always remain available to assist you in any way we can.
— Toni G. Atkins represents District 39 in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.