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California is in a 'pandemic-induced recession' amid huge job losses, Gov. Newsom says

Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped former governors, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Disney Chairman Bob Iger and other business executives and politicians on Friday to guide the state's economic recovery from the coronavirus outbreak as unemployment climbed and millions of Californians sought financial support.

The governor said his chief of staff, Ann O'Leary, and billionaire climate activist and former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer would head the new Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery and develop recommendations for the government and companies to improve the economy, create jobs and help Californians get back on their feet.

"We are now in a pandemic-induced recession in the state of California," Newsom said. "These are sobering and challenging times."

Newsom appointed the task force shortly after the state announced that California's unemployment rate had increased to 5.3% in March, up from 3.9% one month earlier. The governor said 3.1 million Californians had filed for unemployment benefits over the last month, surpassing the total number of claims in all of 2008 at the start of the Great Recession.

The toll of business closures and restrictions to curb the coronavirus have been deeply felt in Los Angeles County. Less than half of the county's residents still hold a job - 45% compared with 61% in mid-March, according to a study released Friday by USC Dornsife Center.

Newsom has acknowledged this week the dire economic consequences of his efforts to prevent mass COVID-19 infections and unveiled a set of criteria that the state intends to meet before gradually easing the restrictions and allowing businesses to reopen.

With a massive influx of Californians seeking financial support, many have complained about the state's unemployment insurance claim process and difficulty connecting with the Employment Development Department's help hotline.

The state moved this week to expand hours at that call center, which handles unemployment insurance claims, and to expedite benefits to independent contractors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom also announced a $125-million relief effort on Wednesday to help roughly 150,000 Californians without legal immigration status.

State Labor Secretary Julie Su said EDD was launching a new online portal over the next two weeks to allow independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed to file for benefits.

Newsom said Friday that former California Govs. Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson will be among the 80-member group who will advise on the state's path forward.

"We will try to come up with a recovery plan," Steyer said, "that is worthy of California's past and pushes us to the better future and remedies some of the injustices, which this COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in our society."

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