Joy Benedict reports from USC, where she spoke with The Cardinal Divas, the university’s first ever majorette dance team. Normally a staple of HBCUs, the group of students has brought their culture to football games and received a positive outpouring from the student body.
Dear Liz: In these uncertain times, I decided I need to have cash on hand. I withdrew $500 in small bills from the bank and put it in a fireproof pouch. Is there a recommended amount of cash one should have available for emergencies?
Answer: The appropriate amount depends on how much you spend and how paranoid you are.
Many financial planners recommend storing a few hundred dollars somewhere safe in your home in case a widespread electrical outage — after an earthquake, for instance — affects ATMs and point-of-sale devices. The idea is that you’ll want enough cash to cover spending for a few days until the power comes back on. Smaller denominations are better than larger ones because you may have trouble finding anyone to give change for $50 or $100 bills.
Emergency preparedness sites tend to recommend storing even larger amounts — $1,000 to $3,000, or whatever you would need — in case access to ATMs and credit cards was affected for a few weeks.
Obviously, storing cash has its perils. The money could be lost, stolen or destroyed in a disaster. You’ll have to weigh those risks against the possibility of needing the cash, and make your own call.
Dear Liz: You mentioned in a recent column that people should check estate plans created before 2010 because they might contain bypass trusts that are no longer needed. The classic AB Trust, although not necessary now for the estate tax exemption for most people, still can be useful if one spouse wants to ensure her half of the estate goes as she desires if she is the first to die.
Answer: Possibly, but people should make the decision proactively by having their estate plan reviewed and discussing their options with an experienced attorney, since these trusts have some significant disadvantages.
Bypass, or AB, trusts were a routine part of estate planning even for middle-income couples when the estate tax exemption limit was just $675,000. When the first spouse died, a portion of the couple’s assets went into an irrevocable trust that would avoid estate taxes when the surviving spouse died. Because the trust was irrevocable, the surviving spouse couldn’t change its terms and had limited access to the assets.
Also, assets in the irrevocable trust don’t get a step up in tax basis when the survivor dies. That means the ultimate beneficiaries could wind up paying higher capital gains rates when they sell the assets. When the estate tax exemption limit was low, couples were gambling that the estate tax savings would outweigh the future capital gains cost.
Today, far fewer families have to worry about estate taxes. The exemption limit for 2022 is over $12 million per person and over $24 million per couple. Even after the current limit sunsets in 2025, individuals would be able to exempt over $6 million and couples over $12 million from estate taxes. Estate tax exemptions are also now “portable,” which accomplishes much of what the AB trust was designed to do in ensuring the exemption of the first to die wasn’t “wasted.” Now the amount of the exemption limit that isn’t used by the first spouse to die can be transferred to the survivor’s estate.
Bypass trusts are still routinely used for wealthier people and those who live in states with low estate tax exemption limits, but for many people this estate planning tool has outlived its usefulness.
Dear Liz: You recently stated Social Security numbers were never intended to be used as a universal identifier. I’ve found that every place asking for my number has other means of identification and will ask for my mother’s maiden name or my place of birth when I tell them I don’t use my Social Security number for identification purposes. This also works for financial institutions that have a legitimate claim for having it.
Answer: To clarify, you probably had to disclose your Social Security number when you applied for accounts at your financial institutions. You also typically need to disclose it when you apply for credit, employment or government benefits.
But you don’t necessarily have to cough it up on demand to verify your identity or to do business with the many, many other companies and organizations that ask you for it without good reason to do so.
The board for CalOptima, which provides publicly funded health coverage for nearly 900,000 needy Orange County residents, abruptly fired its entire in-house legal team of attorneys and support staff late last week. Some had been with the agency for more than 20 years, according to records.
The agency instead will rely on a contract with Sacramento firm Kennaday Leavitt for legal services.
The board approved a $1 million contract with that firm in November, for two outside attorneys to support CalOptima’s nine-member legal team, whose salaries totaled roughly $1.5 million. The agency said at the time that additional help was needed as demands for legal services increased. CalOptima now says the decision during a closed session meeting Thursday night to fire the in-house team was about “improved efficiency.”
The move comes amid increasing concerns about how the agency is operating under the direction of its board chair, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, with substantial turnover in key positions over the past two years while salary levels for newly created or replacement positions have jumped significantly.
The agency’s chief medical officer, executive director of quality initiatives, communications director and other key staff members all have left in recent months. The last chief executive officer stayed only a year, with an interim CEO in his place. And the salary for that job jumped in September from a minimum of $400,000 to at least $560,000.
Do could not be reached for comment Monday.
A CalOptima spokesperson didn’t respond to a request about these concerns or additional information on the legal team’s departure. She instead emailed a statement that said: “CalOptima has taken action to utilize external legal resources to improve efficiency of the agency in support of its mission and to better serve our members.”
CalOptima is the health care insurer for poor and disabled O.C. residents, a majority who qualify for Medi-Cal coverage. The agency has an annual budget of $3.7 billion and operates under the direction of an eight-member board of directors.
The board started discussing the idea of contracting for outside legal services in late 2020. Do led an ad hoc committee that formed Dec. 3, 2020, to consider getting help to “address the substantial and increasing demand for legal services.”
During its Sept. 2 meeting, the eight-member board unanimously voted to request proposals from outside law firms to “augment, and integrate with, the legal services currently provided by the agency’s employed and contracted lawyers,” according to a board report.
Two months later, at the Nov. 4 meeting, the board approved using up to $1.05 million in reserves to contract for a year with Kennaday Leavitt, which has attorneys specializing in health care law, for general counsel to “work with internal lawyers.” The contract includes two additional one-year extension options and covers two full-time attorneys at $70,000 per month plus up to $210,000 in business expenses.
When the request for proposals went out, it included a requirement that the firm must have its main office in the Southern California area. But that requirement was dropped when the committee came back to the board with a recommendation to contract with Kennaday Leavitt, with veteran healthcare attorney James Novello in the top post.
During the Dec. 20 meeting, the board met behind closed doors to discuss Kennaday Leavitt’s job performance. Then, on Thursday, Feb. 3, the agenda listed a closed-door session to discuss “public employee discipline/dismissal/release.” Following that meeting, a clerk reported the board had “approved the closed session item.” The Register learned all seven in-house attorneys plus a supporting paralegal and office staff member were let go.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who said he recently moved from alternate to full board member and has only attended a couple CalOptima meetings, said the process of changing the legal staff started before his tenure. But he said the current interim CEO, Michael Hunn, reviewed the situation “and concluded that it was not very efficient,” Chaffee said, so Hunn asked the board to “make an organizational change” to exclusively use the new outside counsel.
Chaffee said the dismissed legal staff will receive severance packages per the agency’s policy, but he didn’t have details on the amount. As to using a contracted firm instead of in-house staff for legal services, he said, “I think there is a cost savings; time will tell exactly how much.”
In recent years CalOptima has weathered its share of criticism. In 2013, the county’s Grand Jury raised flags about a wave of CalOptima staff departures and issues with leadership.
The agency seemed to have course-corrected, with little controversy for several years. But since Do took the helm of the agency, some local healthcare officials have started to criticize recent changes.
In December, a past chairman of CalOptima’s board raised concerns with the recent appointment of Do’s deputy chief of staff to a newly created position at the agency, pointing to the staffer’s lack of experience in the healthcare industry and starting salary of $282,000, the Voice of OC reported.
The month before that, the Hospital Association of Southern California expressed dismay that a majority of the OC Board of Supervisors ignored its recommendation on whom to appoint to a vacant CalOptima board seat, picking someone from Los Angeles County instead of someone with local experience, according to another Voice of OC story.
A musician who lost all her unemployment documents when her home burned in a wildfire. An arborist who filed for unemployment assistance a year before the pandemic began. A tattoo artist who can’t prove he was working because he ran a cash operation.
These are just a few Californians caught in a state dragnet to recover money from fraudulent unemployment claims.
Late last year, California’s Employment Development Department launched a clawback program, requiring some 1.4 million people who received federal pandemic unemployment assistance to retroactively prove they were working or seeking work. That program, which ended in September, was aimed at helping people who don’t usually qualify for unemployment benefits because they are freelancers or small-business owners.
As of Jan. 4, one out of five recipients who received the notice has responded. The state says a majority have been deemed eligible and won’t have to repay, but some are unable to provide documentation, leaving them on the hook to repay benefits that could add up to tens of thousands of dollars. If they can’t pay, the state could collect the money in a variety of ways, such as wage garnishments or taking them to court.
“They are going to want money back from me that I don’t have,” said Donna Casey, a musician who could owe EDD more than $30,000 after losing her home in the August Complex fire in 2020. “What are they going to do to me, put me in jail? At least I’ll have a place to live.”
Even former federal prosecutor McGregor Scott, hired by the state to lead a separate investigation into large-scale unemployment fraud, expressed skepticism that the effort would recoup much of some $20 billion lost to fraudulent claims, including millions of dollars of state-approved payments to prison inmates. Advocates suggested letting claimants like Casey keep the money regardless of proof, but the state is holding firm.
That’s left many Californians in a bind.
Some who were contacted by EDD said they are terrified of losing their homes. Many are furious that the responsibility fell on them after they already received the money. And others simply don’t know where to turn for help.
Casey had lost gigs and stopped selling homemade jewelry at festivals when the lockdown began. Then she lost all her documentation when her house in Trinity County burned in a wildfire, just after her daughter died of a lung infection.
Unemployment was a lifesaver as Casey searched for work throughout the pandemic, including applying to an Amazon warehouse. But, at 67-years-old, she couldn’t lift enough to qualify for the job.
Casey, however, never thought she might have to pay back her benefits.
Now living in Berkeley with one of her daughters, Casey has some photos of her old business cards that she’ll send to the agency. She also hopes EDD will speak with the music groups she played with – but she worries that won’t cut it.
Similarly, at the start of the pandemic, Sasha Emery was living in an RV partly paid for by federal emergency funds after her Paradise home burned down. After finally getting into affordable housing during the pandemic, she signed up for unemployment when the few available jobs didn’t pan out.
When the notice arrived asking for proof or repayment, shock turned into tears. All Emery has to offer are records of her dire situation: food stamps, Medi-Cal documentation and potentially the federal assistance she received after the fire.
If a recipient can’t offer the necessary proof, and cannot repay the funds at once or in installments that could include 3% interest, EDD may seek the money in a number of ways. The agency could put a lien on property, take up to 25% of a recipient’s wages, withhold state and federal tax refunds or lottery winnings, deduct benefits from future unemployment or state disability insurance benefits, or file a lawsuit.
A California hospital is being criticized for leaving the bodies of nearly 20 COVID-19 patients lying outside in the rain before security guards could eventually move them to a refrigerated morgue.
Soaking wet body bags are seen piled up outside the Los Angeles-based Memorial Hospital of Gardena, owned by Pipeline Health System, in footage captured by CBSLA. Employees are also seen in the footage rearranging the body bags of 19 deceased COVID-19 patients and carrying them into a mobile freezer in the hospital’s parking lot.
A morgue inside the hospital could only hold six bodies, which has posed difficulties throughout the pandemic, a hospital spokesperson told CBSLA.
The spokesperson added that the mobile freezer outside the hospital is kept at 34 degrees Fahrenheit, the necessary temperature to store the bodies, and denied that the bodies were left out in the rain.
‘Because of the overcrowding situation, hospital administrators took action yesterday to organize the outdoor cooling unit in a more orderly fashion,’ Memorial Hospital of Gardena wrote in a statement to CBSLA.
‘Hospital protocol calls upon security guards to assist in the process when mortuaries come to pick up bodies, primarily helping to lift and move the bodies,’ the statement continued.
However, a witness recalled watching teary-eyed employees carrying the bodies into the freezer in a recent downpour.
‘Security had tears in their eyes. They’re crying. Some of the security had to leave because they got fluid on their clothes when they did move the bodies,’ the anonymous witness told the news outlet.
The witness referred to what appeared to be body fluids on the bags and said there was no way the bodies were being stored at an adequate temperature. ‘Impossible. Those bodies were defrosted. They were decomposing,’ she said.
It is not clear how long the bodies were left outside before the were transferred, but the hospital confirmed that it has kept bodies in its mobile freezer for months at a time.
The hospital also claimed that 11 of the 19 people whose bodies were seen being transferred were not claimed by family members and Los Angeles County has yet to pick them up.
In this clip, Van Lathan spoke about moving to Los Angeles in 2005 and being determined to make his own way. When Vlad spoke about his experience living in L.A. for the first time and feeling like it was fake, Van explained that he sees a lot of people falling into the same trap because they get caught up in what they believe is the L.A. lifestyle. Van then detailed how he took the bus to his first job at a video game company, and he added that he met a lot of real L.A. people by interacting in his community. From there, Van spoke about how people succeed in L.A. by sticking it out and figuring out their own way. To hear more, including Van speaking about celebrities tricking him into not being filmed for TMZ, hit the above clip.
Mexicali, Mexico – This is the capital of Baja California, Mexicali, and it has such a unique history to the fabric of Mexico, Gareth Leonard had to add this place as the last stop on his first Northern Baja road trip. Between the mid-1800s and the 1940s, Mexicali, became Mexico’s largest Chinatown.
By 1920, Mexicali’s Chinese population outnumbered the Mexican population 10,000 to 700, and yet, many people still didn’t even realize how many were here.
We meet up with our local guide Diego, to get the full story.
Now here’s the most interesting part for Gareth about La Chinesca.
Just beneath the surface of central old town, in the neighborhood of La Chinesca, there’s a labyrinth of basements and tunnels that once were home to an entire population of Chinese immigrants. During Prohibition in the United States, La Chinesca in Mexicali housed just about all of the city’s casinos and bars, and established a tunnel system to connect bordellos and opium dens to neighboring Calexico on the U.S. side.
Along with being a passageway for bootleggers into the United States, this underground world was also where Chinese people would live here in Mexicali.
The University of Southern California is apologizing to former Japanese American students whose educations were interfered with by the school during World War II.
USC President Carol Folt will issue a formal apology to the former students and award them honorary degrees posthumously, according to the Los Angeles Times. The school is also asking the public for assistance in locating the families of around 120 students who went to USC from 1941-42.
“This is a stained part of our history,” USC Associate Senior Vice President for Alumni Relations Patrick Auerbach told the Times. “While we can’t change what happened in the past … the university can certainly still do right by their families and let them know that we are posthumously awarding them honorary degrees so that they can occupy that place in the Trojan family, which they deserve.”
An executive order issued by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 forced the removal of people of Japanese descent from the West Coast, placing tens of thousands of people in detention camps.
USC refused to release the transcripts of Japanese American students so they could attend another university, the Los Angeles Times reported. When some students attempted to return to USC after the war, the school would not recognize their previously completed courses and told them they would have to start over, their surviving family members noted.
USC alumni have been pushing for the school to apologize for their actions toward Japanese American students during World War II for years, but the issue gained new momentum after George Floyd’s murder last year, which prompted many institutions to examine their roles in acts of racism.
USC law students last year publicized their research project centering on the issue, titled “Forgotten Trojans,” and an Academic Senate committee also pushed for the school to formally recognize the issue, the Times reported.
Folt will officially make the apology and award the degrees next spring at an Asian Pacific Alumni Association gala and will also recognize the former students at the school’s commencement in May, according to the Times.