California aims to help businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic by assisting them with inventory problems and credit card debt they’ve amassed. Those are among the ideas to be considered by a new, 80-member task force that Gov. Gavin Newsom created Friday to guide the state’s economic reopening and recovery.
Co-chaired by former presidential candidate and businessman Tom Steyer, the task force includes many A-list business leaders from a broad spectrum of sectors — from retail to restaurants and from airlines to utilities.
The task force
Members include Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Bob Iger, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Patagonia CEO and President Rose Marcario, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Homeboy Industries founder Father Gregory Boyle, Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal, Los Angeles Clippers President Gillian Zucker and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
Also included are leaders of ten labor unions, including United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770 President John Grant and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees president Lee Saunders.
The four living California governors also are members of the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery — Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson, and Democrats Gray Davis and Jerry Brown.
“We want to make this actionable, we want to make this meaningful,” Newsom said. “This is not something where in six months I’m looking forward to giving you a draft or putting out a long, thick report. We want in real time to demonstrate meaningful reforms, meaningful changes.”
California’s economic engine was humming along until it took a massive hit last month, along with the rest of the global economy, as businesses closed down to stem the spread of the virus. California lost nearly 100,000 jobs in March, shattering a 10-year long continuous period of job growth.
Newsom said 3.1 million people have filed for unemployment since March 12, and the state’s unemployment rate for that month is now 5.6 percent — a figure that hasn’t taken into account the job losses incurred in April.
“We are now in a pandemic-induced recession in the state of California,” he said.
The task force is the state’s first step toward a comprehensive plan for reopening businesses, but details of its focus were spare at today’s press conference and ensuing interviews.
Steyer will co-chair the task force with Newsom’s Chief of Staff Ann O’Leary. Most of the members reside in California.
Steyer’s spokesman, Benjamin Gerdes, said in a press release that the task force will deliver recommendations to Newsom concerning three timeframes: a short-term set of recommendations to cover the 60 days after the task force was appointed; a second set of recommendations for the rest of the year; and a third set aimed at the long term beyond 2020.
“In the coming weeks and months, we will bring together the public and private sectors, outside experts, organized labor, environmental groups and activists to develop recommendations for a recovery plan that works for all Californians, with an emphasis on those communities hardest hit by the pandemic,” Steyer said in a press release.
Newsom’s selection of Steyer to chair the task force drew an immediate rebuke from Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a Sacramento-area Republican.
“We need a unifying nonpartisan figure to lead our economic recovery,” Kiley tweeted. “By anointing California’s biggest political donor, billionaire Tom Steyer, it’s hard to imagine @GavinNewsom more wildly missing the mark.”
Jacqueline Reses, a task force member and head of Square Capital, said time is running short for small businesses waiting to reopen.
“The typical small business typically only has 30 days of cash-on-hand. Today (April 17) marks day 29 of California’s stay-at-home [order],” Reses said.
Small businesses hurting
To alleviate the burden on those businesses, Reses said the state will prioritize their immediate needs: Restocking their shelves, telling customers what they have for sale and helping with credit card debt they used to stay afloat during closures or significantly reduced hours.
“They need to let the customers know when are they open, what’s for sale. They need to manage their inventory and keep the shelves stocked,” Reses said. “We need to think across the broad spectrum of needs, many of which are new.”
Task force members said California can’t do it alone; they will need federal help. Reses said the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program needs to be expanded. The program offered $349 billion in forgivable loans, and that well has already run dry.
“Congress and the administration must go further,” Reses said. “Our smallest businesses were underrepresented in the first wave of PPP funding.”
On a day when President Donald Trump supported protesters in favor of reopening businesses across the country despite state-issued shelter-in-place orders, Newsom said it’s too soon to address when Californians can attempt to regain their lives outside their homes again.
“The worst mistake we can make … is to pull back right before we’re at a point where we can start toggling back,” Newsom said.
Newsom said the swift-moving nature of the pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought wedged a lot of history into a few short weeks.
“It’s been said that there are decades when nothing happens,” Newsom said, “and there are [weeks] that decades happen.”
CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.