California has haphazardly spent billions of state and federal money on its COVID response with lackluster results. We currently have massive rapid testing shortages and difficulties getting boosters, and businesses are closing their doors. California’s overpriced COVID lab in Valencia has routinely underperformed, failing to meet the contract’s goals for turnaround times and numbers of processed tests. But the state auto-renewed the yearlong contract at the end of October 2021. Additionally, converting the Sleep Train Arena to a field hospital cost millions, but the site saw only nine patients. The Employment Development Department, in particular, was nothing short of a disaster. We told everyone to stay home and apply for supplemental unemployment, then we couldn’t get benefits out to countless Californians who’d paid into the system for years, even as we paid out billions in fraudulent benefits, including to prison inmates. Many state agencies are poorly managed, but this is a case where Californians needed the state to act effectively and were left spending weeks on the phone desperately trying to reach a human.
After shutting down our state and schools, and spending billions of dollars, our children are masked and the Legislature continues to push for more mandates. A constant stream of changing directives from Sacramento left everyone trying to implement them deeply frustrated and ultimately eroded the trust in state government. More and more data is showing that extended closure in California was devastating to our students.
We need to provide greater oversight and accounting of distributed funds. Write clawbacks into state contracts for underperforming entities like the Valencia testing lab and quantify actual return on investment. Stop recklessly spending billions of dollars to respond to the pandemic’s challenges with poor results. We will help our struggling businesses, and work to end the constant cycle of short supply of medically necessary items. Also, the initial school closures might have been the right call based on sheer uncertainty. It was horribly damaging to allow our schools and our kids’ learning and their mental health to remain closed as long as they were. In my Senate District in northern California, schools in most counties could and did open in the 2020-21 school year based on the state’s metrics, and they were successful. But they had to fight the state’s periodic rule changes to stay open, and their success at safely educating kids through the pandemic was basically ignored by a majority-party that said it couldn’t be done.