Friday, January 15, 2021

SLO County ICU bed capacity decreases due to staffing

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2021 at 10:39 AM

Local ICU bed capacity in SLO County dropped by 15 available beds on Jan. 11, according to new data released by San Luis Obispo County.

DATA UPDATE SLO County health officials update ICU bed data to reflect available beds in relation to medical staff. - IMAGE COURTESY OF EMERGENCYSLO.ORG
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF EMERGENCYSLO.ORG
  • DATA UPDATE SLO County health officials update ICU bed data to reflect available beds in relation to medical staff.
SLO County Public Health made the adjustment after consulting with local hospitals and changed the number from 53 total licensed ICU beds to 38 licensed and staffed ICU beds. Previous ICU bed data included all licensed beds regardless of whether they could be staffed.

“We are always trying to improve the information we provide to the public in order to help them understand the local situation, and this is part of that effort,” Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said in a press release. “While at this time the ICU capacity in SLO County is better than in the Southern California Region, our local COVID-19 situation is getting worse, and the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 is higher than it has ever been.”

Of the 38 available and staffed beds, 15 are occupied with individuals, and eight of whom are active COVID-19 cases. Currently, 61 percent of SLO County’s ICU beds are available.

Data also shows that 52 residents with COVID-19 are in the hospital, some of who are being treated at out-of-county hospitals such as Marian Regional Medical Center.

Sara San Juan, a spokesperson for Dignity Health Central Coast, told New Times Marian does have additional beds and are able to care for a greater number of COVID-19 patients due to the size of the facility.

“We are ensuring there are sufficient beds at each of our facilities for patients by redirecting some of them for care,” she said.

During the SLO County Public Health Department’s Jan. 13 media briefing, Borenstein said that state data and data local hospitals are required to report have always included the number of licensed ICU beds.

“But as we really dug down with these folks from the hospitals, we all came to an understanding that this number of staff available or staffed beds that can be stood up in a moment’s notice is really the metric that matters,” Borenstein said. “Because if we don’t have the staff to provide the care, if we have 53 beds then that’s not a real portrayal of the impact to the system.”

The beds at the alternate care site at Cal Poly aren’t currently counted in the county’s ICU or hospital bed numbers, Public Health spokesperson Michelle Shoresman said. Those are a separate number, she said, that the county would activate if the hospital bed and ICU capacity exceeded or was close to exceeding the county’s maximum allowances. The alternate care site isn’t open at this time.

For more information on ICU capacity, visit emergencyslo.org. ∆

—Karen Garcia

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Hagerman Sports Complex reopens with new pickleball courts; Paul Nelson Aquatic Center remains closed

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 4:26 PM

While the Paul Nelson Aquatic Center in Santa Maria will remain closed for at least another week, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department just unveiled another athletic option for those looking to stay fit.

GETTING FIT While Santa Maria’s Paul Nelson Aquatic Center (pictured) will remain closed for a bit longer, the city’s Hagerman Sports Complex is back open for patrons to utilize on a reservation-only basis. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DENNIS SMITHERMAN
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF DENNIS SMITHERMAN
  • GETTING FIT While Santa Maria’s Paul Nelson Aquatic Center (pictured) will remain closed for a bit longer, the city’s Hagerman Sports Complex is back open for patrons to utilize on a reservation-only basis.
The Hagerman Sports Complex reopened Jan. 12 on a reservation-only basis, a city statement said. Local teams will be able to utilize the sports fields for training and conditioning (games are not yet permitted), and newly constructed pickleball courts are now open for reservations as well.

“It’s a combination of the pickleball courts being ready for play, and that the goal of the Recreation and Parks Department is to provide opportunities for people to remain active and stay fit,” Public Information Manager Mark van de Kamp said of why the city decided to reopen the complex.

Recreation Services Manager Dennis Smitherman said the city is doing everything it can to keep patrons at the facility safe.

“Pickleball is one of those sports that allows for social distancing,” he said. “There’s not a lot of doubles played, it’s usually singles, and then of course following all the guidelines that are required.”

Van de Kamp said the courts have been in the works for more than a year, and that pickleball is growing in popularity on the Central Coast.

“So having a number of courts available is terrific,” he said. “I know that the city of Solvang is working on building some pickleball courts at its Hans Christian Andersen Park, though it's still looking for some donations to complete the construction. … So this is sort of another indication of the popularity.”

Smitherman said anyone interested in reserving a pickleball court or participating in a different COVID-19-safe activity should head to the sign up page on the Recreation and Parks Department website. The Hagerman Sports Complex requires a $3 registration fee. The department also continues to offer small group activities like tennis lessons, taekwondo, and self defense classes, Smitherman said.

The Paul Nelson Aquatic Center was originally slated to remain closed until Jan. 14 due to a number of COVID-19 cases among staff, but Smitherman said it will be a bit longer before the pool reopens.

“Looking at the current numbers, we’re going to go ahead and hold off on the reassessment until next Thursday [Jan. 21],” he said. “So the pool will remain closed for at least one more week and then we’ll reassess then.” Δ

—Malea Martin

Monday, January 11, 2021

Pismo Beach to fund needed repairs at Chapman Estate

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2021 at 10:30 AM

Pismo Beach is planning to put about $650,000 of its general fund toward what staff say are much-needed repairs at the Chapman Estate, a well-known oceanside event venue and museum in Shell Beach that’s struggling to turn a profit amid the coronavirus pandemic.

GETTING A MAKEOVER Chapman Estate, a Shell Beach property that is often used for fundraising events, is on schedule to get some much-needed repairs. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • GETTING A MAKEOVER Chapman Estate, a Shell Beach property that is often used for fundraising events, is on schedule to get some much-needed repairs.
The estate at 1243 Ocean Boulevard was gifted to the city of Pismo Beach by owner Clifford Chapman upon his death in 2012. Chapman, who was a well-known art collector and philanthropist, purchased the property in 1962 and often used it to host fundraisers for nonprofits. Now, in non-pandemic times, the Chapman Estate is typically open for public access and occasionally used for private events.

But thanks to COVID-19, those services are on hold and the Chapman Estate is forecasted to be operating in the red by the end of this fiscal year.

“As you know, the fiscal year 2021 adopted budget for the Chapman Estate fund was balanced,” Administrative Services Director Nadia Feeser said at a Jan. 5 Pismo Beach City Council meeting. “But due to reduced entry fees from COVID-19 impacts, limiting gatherings, and the inability to rent the Chapman Estate for venues without an accessible restroom, we’re projecting a negative $28,000 ending fund balance as of the end of the fiscal year.”

To make up for the deficit and maintain regular operations at the Chapman Estate would cost the city around $50,000, Feeser said at the meeting. Then there are the bigger projects that need tackling, including electrical upgrades, fixes to leaking roofs and windows, and the installation of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible restroom. Those repairs, Feeser said, will likely cost another $600,000.

Though Pismo Beach City Council voted unanimously in support of the projects and proposed funding for them, city officials say it’ll cover just about a quarter of the repairs and updates needed on the Chapman grounds.

“I know we toured it last month and it needs a lot of improvements,” City Councilmember Scott Newton said at the Jan. 5 meeting, “let’s just put it that way.”

According to City Manager Jim Lewis, the Chapman Estate needs about $4 million worth of repairs and ADA accessible installations before it can become the fully functioning public asset the city envisions. Much of that includes funding needed to fix the sea walls protecting the oceanside cliffs the estate is situated upon.

Lewis said the venue has never really made the city any money, and staff plan to discuss ways to turn the Chapman Estate into a revenue generator at a City Council meeting in the spring of this year. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Central Coast unemployment remains about twice as high as last year

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2021 at 11:35 AM

While local employment has steadily improved since the spike in joblessness that occurred in April, the most recent data released by the state Employment Development Department (EDD) shows some stagnation. But state labor market consultant Andriy Moskalyk said it’s too early to say definitively whether this marks the beginning of a trend or if it’s temporary.

LEVELING OUT Recent data shows the unemployment rate slowed its rate of improvement on the Central Coast in November. - GRAPH COURTESY OF EDD
  • GRAPH COURTESY OF EDD
  • LEVELING OUT Recent data shows the unemployment rate slowed its rate of improvement on the Central Coast in November.
In November, Santa Barbara County’s unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, compared to 6.1 the month before. In SLO County, November saw a rate of 5.4 percent unemployment versus 5.9 in October. While the rates did tick down slightly, the decline was smaller than months prior, and both counties’ unemployment rates are still about double what they were this time last year.

Unemployment rates also stagnated in September. After months of consistent 1 to 2 percent improvements in the unemployment rate for both counties, suddenly the rate saw almost no change that month.

“But then [in October] it returned to the previous trend, so it went down by 1.2 percent,” Moskalyk said, meaning the slowed improvement was just temporary. Once December data is released, it will be easier to discern whether it’s “a one-time slowdown, or if it’s becoming a trend,” he said.

Job recovery varies depending on the industry. Industries like construction have seen some of the best job return among all sectors on the Central Coast. In Santa Barbara County, the construction industry even grew slightly year-over-year, employing 9,000 workers in November 2019 and 9,500 in November 2020. But industries like leisure and hospitality are still struggling. In November 2019, there were 28,200 Santa Barbara County residents employed in this sector, but in November 2020, just 23,600—indicating that the economy still faces a long road ahead.

Moskalyk added that the slow down in job recovery, whether it turns out to be temporary or a lasting trend, is probably not attributable to the state-issued stay-at-home order, given the way unemployment data is collected.

“The way households are contacted is they get a survey during the week of the month that includes the 12th of that month,” Moskalyk said. “So in November, the reference week would be the week of Nov. 8.”

The regional stay-at-home order wasn’t implemented until early December, so any effect it may have on employment wouldn’t be reflected until December data is released on Jan. 22. Even then, Moskalyk said, it may take a few months to fully understand the impact and identify clear trends in the data. ∆

—Malea Martin

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

SLO city to host community meeting on 2021-23 budget priorities

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 6:40 PM

As cities everywhere grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19, San Luis Obispo is slated to host a virtual community meeting on Jan. 14 to hear from residents about where they think the city should focus its budget for the next two years.

The 6 p.m. meeting is “intended to solicit suggestions from residents, community groups, stakeholders, and interested individuals on city goals” in the midst of “unprecedented and challenging times,” according to the city.
PRIORITIES The city of San Luis Obispo is asking for public input on its next two-year financial plan at an upcoming virtual community meeting. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • PRIORITIES The city of San Luis Obispo is asking for public input on its next two-year financial plan at an upcoming virtual community meeting.

It’s intended to kick off a decades-old practice in the city of developing budgets in two-year cycles. Part of the focus in this cycle will be how to spend new sales tax revenue generated by Measure G and how to navigate SLO’s recovery from COVID-19.

“Although we can’t meet in person for this important engagement process, we are excited to bring our community this opportunity to share their priorities virtually,” SLO Finance Director Brigitte Elke said in a Jan. 5 press release.

In addition to announcing the meeting, the city also released the results of a community survey on the budget, which received nearly 1,300 responses. Topping the list of priorities among respondents was homelessness—followed by economic stability, recovery, and resiliency; housing; open space; and downtown vitality.

In survey questions about “other” priorities, Laguna Lake dredging (and park maintenance) proved by far the most popular, followed by “limit growth and development.”

Despite the disruption wreaked by COVID-19, SLO officials report that the city has “maintained a stable financial position into this current fiscal year with its reserve levels and unassigned General Fund balance intact,” according to a Jan. 12 City Council meeting report. ∆
—Peter Johnson

Monday, January 4, 2021

FDA charges distilleries for producing hand sanitizer, then reverses course amid backlash

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2021 at 3:55 PM

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blindsided distilleries across the nation last month when it charged the businesses more than $14,000 in fees for making hand sanitizer during 2020.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services swiftly came to distilleries’ aid, ordering the FDA to void the fee charges days later.

SWITCHING GEARS In an effort to aid the SLO County community that was experiencing a hand sanitizer shortage KroBar Craft Distillery changed production from spirits to hand sanitizer. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BARTONFAMILYWINES.COM
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF BARTONFAMILYWINES.COM
  • SWITCHING GEARS In an effort to aid the SLO County community that was experiencing a hand sanitizer shortage KroBar Craft Distillery changed production from spirits to hand sanitizer.
Stephen Kroener, co-owner of KroBar Craft Distillery, told New Times he received a notice from the FDA early in the morning on Dec. 29 and was shocked.

“To levy a fee on us out of the blue was inconsiderate. We are already struggling and to throw this on us kept me up at night for multiple days,” Kroener said.

On Dec. 29, the FDA issued two fees on craft distillers that created hand sanitizer during the pandemic as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The agency’s statement pointed to the act’s legislative initiative that would reform and modernize the way certain nonprescription, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs—such as hand sanitizer—are regulated in the U.S. These drugs, known as OTC monograph drugs, may be marketed without an approved drug application if they meet requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The act established an OTC monograph drugs’ user fee program, and with it, the FDA could assess and collect fees from certain manufacturers. That facility fee would cost distilleries making hand sanitizer $14,060 with an additional $9,373 for contract manufacturing. All fees for 2020 would have been due by Feb. 11, 2021, and if distilleries didn’t immediately enroll in the program or cease production, they would be charged twice.

Kroener said the fees would have had a significant impact on his business.

“December was bad enough with the second shutdown; January is not looking much better. The $14,000 fee combined with all our other bills spells disaster,” he said.

KroBar and Calwise Spirits Co., both Paso Robles-based businesses, were among the first to switch gears from spirits to sanitizer during the initial local stay-at-home order in March 2020. At the time, everyone from residents to hospitals were having trouble finding hand sanitizer to purchase.

Similar to KroBar, Calwise Spirits Co. distiller and President Aaron Bergh said the shortage was concerning, especially when he learned that even frontline workers couldn’t get their hands on the product.

“The big companies could not keep up with their supply chains, so I decided to spring into action,” Bergh said. “Overnight I converted my distillery into a hand sanitizer manufacturing facility and produced 5,000 gallons in a six-week period that was distributed throughout SLO County and the state.”

On Dec. 31, after an emergency meeting, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement from Chief of Staff Brian Harrison via Twitter, expressing his department's intent to protect small businesses from the FDA fees.

“Small businesses who stepped up to fight COVID-19 should be applauded by their government, not taxed for doing so,” Harrison said. “I’m pleased to announce we have directed [the] FDA to cease enforcement of this arbitrary, surprise user fees [sic]. Happy New Year, distilleries, and cheers to you for helping keep us safe!” ∆

—Karen Garcia

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Santa Barbara County health officials say Tri-Counties shouldn’t separate from Southern California

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2020 at 3:15 PM

Just a few weeks ago San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties wrote a letter to the state requesting a separate Central Coast region, with the hopes that the stay-a- home order could be lifted sooner than the rest of Southern California. But the COVID-19 situation in the Tri-Counties has changed so rapidly since then that some health care professionals no longer believe a separate region would be wise.

JUST AS BAD A few weeks ago, Santa Barbara County and its neighbors were doing remarkably better than the rest of Southern California. With local ICU capacity now dwindling, that margin is narrowing, and the regional stay-at-home order remains in place. - SCREENSHOT FROM CALIFORNIA BLUEPRINT FOR A SAFER ECONOMY WEBSITE
  • SCREENSHOT FROM CALIFORNIA BLUEPRINT FOR A SAFER ECONOMY WEBSITE
  • JUST AS BAD A few weeks ago, Santa Barbara County and its neighbors were doing remarkably better than the rest of Southern California. With local ICU capacity now dwindling, that margin is narrowing, and the regional stay-at-home order remains in place.
“For right now it does not make any sense because we are not in better shape than the other areas,” Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said. “I think the idea was that, with the Central Coast alliance, we might be ready to get out of this sooner, but I don’t think that is a very viable solution, quite frankly.”

When the counties first made their plea, ICU capacity was solid, especially in Santa Barbara and SLO counties. On Dec. 7, Santa Barbara County reported 51 percent of ICU beds available, while SLO County reported 48.9 percent.

But in retrospect, Ansorg said, the numbers then were good because the surge in hospitalizations from Thanksgiving holiday infections hadn’t yet hit. It takes about two and a half weeks before infections are reflected in the hospitals, and another week before those who don’t recover then move into the ICU. As of Dec. 29, Santa Barbara County reported 6.6 percent of local staffed adult ICU beds remaining.

“What we’re dealing with right now is the direct impact of Thanksgiving,” Ansorg said. “We haven’t even seen our surge from the Christmas holiday yet.”

Ansorg said he was appalled to see how many people traveled over Christmas, with even more traffic through California airports than over Thanksgiving. We won’t see the full impact until January, he said.

“If somebody got infected Dec. 20, we will only see their hospital bump around Jan. 5, and then around Jan. 12 we will see the ICU bump,” Ansorg said. “You don’t need a crystal ball for that—it’s very reliable. With large numbers, that’s what happens.”

Cottage Health infectious disease specialist Dr. David Fisk agreed with Ansorg that the Central Coast is no longer in a position to be considered separately from Southern California.

“I think there’s less of an argument now to try to be a separate region than there was two or three weeks ago, because our COVID numbers have gotten so much worse,” Fisk said.

He believes the stay-at-home order is critically necessary to keep hospitals from reaching capacity.

“It also will take even more than that,” he said. “It’s going to take people taking very seriously the guidance to not get together with individuals out of their own household.”

Fisk said there could come a time in the future when a separate region could make sense.

“But do I think we should start to carve out a separate region today?” he said. “No.” Δ

—Malea Martin

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Stay-at-home order extended for SLO, Santa Barbara counties

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2020 at 5:03 PM

All of Southern California—including San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties—will remain under a state stay-at-home order into the new year, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue hitting record highs amid the holidays.

On Dec. 29, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week extension of his Dec. 6 order shuttering many indoor activities and business sectors, in most regions of the state, as demand on hospital and ICU beds soars.

COVID-19 IS EVERYWHERE Gov. Gavin Newsom extended a regional stay-at-home order on Dec. 29 amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM'S OFFICE
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM'S OFFICE
  • COVID-19 IS EVERYWHERE Gov. Gavin Newsom extended a regional stay-at-home order on Dec. 29 amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases.
In SLO and Santa Barbara counties, about 200 people are currently hospitalized with the virus—with about 50 in ICUs—both record highs. The death toll is also growing; SLO County reported 36 fatalities in December alone, a rate of more than one death per day.

“This pandemic is taking a human toll here in SLO County and we need every single person to do everything you can to stop the surge and protect the lives of those around us,” SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said in a Dec. 29 press release.

According to Borenstein, local ICU capacity is better off than some areas of the Southern California region, which has 23 counties, but it’s still in the worst shape of the pandemic.

On Dec. 29, SLO County and Santa Barbara counties had just 35 combined ICU beds open, according to state and local data.

Regionwide, Southern California has 0 percent ICU capacity, a number that doesn’t mean every bed is filled. The state factors in hospital staff availability, beds for non-COVID-19 patients, and other metrics while calculating ICU capacity.

Borenstein said the state will lift the stay-at-home order when the region’s “projected ICU capacity is equal to or greater than 15 percent.” Health officials said they hope the order will help cushion another expected surge in new cases following the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays

Newsom’s order means that wineries, bars, and breweries, salons and personal care services, museums, movie theaters, entertainment centers, and card rooms must close. It bans dining in restaurants and non-essential lodging, and reduces indoor capacity at retail and grocery stores. ∆

—Peter Johnson

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

40 Prado homeless shelter faces COVID-19 outbreak

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2020 at 2:00 PM

More than 15 residents at the 40 Prado homeless shelter in San Luis Obispo have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last several days, forcing it to close to newcomers and sending those infected to motel rooms or trailers, which are now in short supply.

Community Action Partnership of SLO (CAPSLO) Deputy Director Grace McIntosh said that the outbreak started last week, and the facility is now getting weekly testing from SLO County Public Health as it isolates residents who are positive.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” McIntosh told New Times. “I’m not surprised. We’ve been so lucky we haven’t had anything since September.”
OUTBREAK San Luis Obispo’s 40 Prado homeless shelter is at half capacity due to a COVID-19 outbreak. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • OUTBREAK San Luis Obispo’s 40 Prado homeless shelter is at half capacity due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The 100-bed shelter—reduced to 70 beds during the pandemic—grappled with three positive cases in early September. But this outbreak is considerably worse. McIntosh said that while most of the cases involve minor to no symptoms, a few have required hospitalization. She declined to say whether any residents passed away from the virus, which has killed 66 in the county since March.

In a preventative step, CAPSLO has also moved about a dozen of its most vulnerable residents to motel rooms, which has helped reduce the overall shelter population to less than half capacity.

“My [COVID-19] positives are gone. My elderly and frail are gone. So the numbers here are very low and that’s good. I want to keep them as low as possible,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh added that she’d like to send more 40 Prado residents to motels, but those rooms are in scarce supply.

Back in March, SLO County secured four motels to use as emergency shelter for the homeless during the pandemic. Public Health spokesperson Michelle Shoresman told New Times that those facilities, in addition to trailers, have been able to accomodate all COVID-19 positive residents at 40 Prado.

But beyond that, McIntosh said that it’s a struggle to find homeless individuals safe, socially distanced shelter.

“They talk about ‘Well get them out [of congregate shelters]’—but where?” she said. “Now there’s a shortage of motel rooms. Anyone who’s here, they have nowhere to go. Among them are the older, more vulnerable people, age 65 and over.”

The 40 Prado shelter has protocols in place to guard against COVID-19—including reduced beds, mandatory masks, sanitizing, and plexiglass installed at bunk beds. But McIntosh said that the reality is the residents and staff are at risk, especially when the virus is spreading rapidly in the community.

“It’s my staff who are truly the unsung heroes,” McIntosh said. “My homeless shelter workers who are showing up every day, who get paid way less than health care people, they’re showing up every day knowing that they are exposed. They’re still coming [to work]. To me, they don’t get the immense respect and kudos that they deserve.” ∆

Monday, December 21, 2020

Cal Poly’s Dream Center offers DACA application assistance

Posted By on Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 3:18 PM

Locals who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program can once again renew or apply for it—and Cal Poly’s Dream Center is offering assistance in the process.

The Dream Center is working with attorneys at Immigrant Legal Defense to help students with their pending or new applications. In a statement to New Times, the Dream Center said it provides holistic support for students renewing DACA or applying for the first time.

“We recognize the process can be stressful and incite feelings of anxiousness or fear for individuals. To ensure the wellbeing and safety of our students, we provide holistic services including academic, mental health, and legal services,” the Center’s statement read.
OPEN AGAIN Due to a court-mandated reversal of DACA policies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is once again accepting renewals and first-time applications for DACA. - IMAGE COURTESY OF CAL POLY DREAM CENTER INSTAGRAM
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF CAL POLY DREAM CENTER INSTAGRAM
  • OPEN AGAIN Due to a court-mandated reversal of DACA policies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is once again accepting renewals and first-time applications for DACA.

The Trump administration worked to dismantle the Obama-era program when it formally announced it would end DACA in September 2017. It continued to severely limit the program by cutting down the length of deferred action permits and halting the acceptance of new applications.

But on Dec. 4, Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn ruled that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must begin accepting new applications for the program as soon as Monday, Dec. 7.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, first-time requests for consideration of deferred action that were eligible before September 2017 are now eligible once again thanks to the ruling.

Garaufis also instructed the department to reinstate two-year permits for deferred action for qualifying applicants—in July of this year, the Trump administration had changed the length of time to one year.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must also accept applications for advance parole documents based on the terms of the DACA policy prior to September 2017. The decision also extends one-year employment authorization documents under DACA to two years.

Eligibility requirements for DACA remain the same: anyone requesting DACA must be at least 15 years old and have been under age 31 on June 15, 2012.

Recent data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows more than 645,000 active DACA recipients and upwards of 27,000 pending renewals.

Dream Center officials said the attorneys at the Immigrant Legal Defense provide no-cost legal services related to DACA renewals and detained/non-detained deportation defenses.

While there are no fees associated with its services, filing fees vary depending on the number and type of applications submitted.

If a student needs financial assistance, they can contact the Dream Center since it also partners with local nonprofits such as the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success, which helps cover filing fees.

“Because immigration cases are highly dependent on unique circumstances, we encourage all individuals to consult an immigration attorney about their specific case. Attorneys will review the case, identify risk factors, and provide legal guidance,” the Dream Center’s statement said.

During this process, the Dream Center coordinator also meets individually with students applying for DACA to ensure they are supported and connected to relevant resources throughout the entire process.

The Center also hosts bi-weekly check-ins for undocumented students and hosts various informational webinars.

“Above all, we want to remind students that they are seen, worthy and valued. Dream Center is here to continuously uplift, empower, and defend students on campus,” its statement read.

Students interested in DACA services can contact Dream Center Coordinator Vania Agama at vagamara@calpoly.edu, or make an appointment through the Center’s website. ∆
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