Published On: Fri, Jun 26th, 2020

Newsom declares budget emergency and threatens to withhold funds over face mask order

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California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a budget emergency on Thursday as the state faces a deficit of more than $54 billion. But amid the budget shortfall and the record number of coronavirus cases, Newsom threatened to withhold $2.5 billion in the upcoming budget from local governments if they don’t comply with state’s orders on wearing masks, testing and other measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The move allocates about half of the state’s $16 billion “rainy day” funds to be used for the purchasing of personal protective equipment, medical supplies and other expenditures in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

Newsom said funds will be distributed on a monthly basis and the Department of Finance will be in charge of determining whether counties are compliant with the federal guidelines, the state’s stay-at-home order and other directives issued by state agencies to prevent the spread of the virus. That includes Newsom’s statewide order from last week requiring all Californians to wear a face mask in most public places. 

“We are now at a stage in this pandemic where we have to demand more accountability,” Newsom told reporters on Wednesday. “That is why we are attaching $2.5 billion dollars to that pledge,” he added.    

Virus Outbreak California
In this June 19, 2020, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, wears a face mask as he answers a reporter’s question during his visit to the Queen Sheba Ethiopian Cuisine restaurant in Sacramento, California. 

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

While the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) technically referred to rules for wearing masks as “guidance,” Newsom’s executive order from mid-March allows the state to enforce the public health rules. 

On Thursday, Newsom said his approach “is to be guided by enforcement at the local level first” but made clear he has tools at his disposal to implement enforcement at the state level. The governor said he doesn’t want to see Californians fined for not wearing masks and compared its enforcement to jaywalking, something that could be targeted towards specific hubs.

Newsom said that unlike the beginning of the pandemic in March and April, there is now “an abundance of face masks” in California and “no excuse” for people to not wear one in public places. 

California has now reported 195,571 coronavirus cases and 5,733 deaths. The state has averaged nearly 90,000 tests per day for the last seven days, but on Thursday, Newsom told reporters that is not enough. On Tuesday, the state registered 7,149 new positive cases, a record number for a single day, more than three months into the pandemic. 

Newsom’s office also announced a new platform on Thursday that encourages scientists, mathematicians and other experts in the state and around the country to help California with modeling and data in the response to the pandemic. 

The California COVID Assessment Tool, or CalCAT, includes assessments of spread of the coronavirus, forecasts of disease trends, and scenarios that show what could happen over the next few months under different conditions. 

“While these models and forecasts make different assumptions, all of them show that individual actions can dramatically change the trajectory of the virus,” Newsom said in a statement.

California also released all of its coronavirus data and tools for the public to be viewed here.

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