Calif. stores closing after city orders pay hike

Kroger Co. will close two Southern California supermarkets in response to a local ordinance requiring extra pay for certain grocery employees working during the pandemic.

The decision announced by the company Monday follows a unanimous vote last month by the Long Beach City Council mandating a 120-day increase of $4 an hour for employees of supermarkets with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 15 in Long Beach. Kroger said it will close a Ralphs market and a Food 4 Less on April 17, the Press-Telegram reported.

“As a result of the City of Long Beach’s decision to pass an ordinance mandating Extra Pay for grocery workers, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close long-struggling store locations in Long Beach,” the company said in a statement. The statement added: “This misguided action by the Long Beach City Council oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city.”

 A city statement characterized Kroger’s decision as “unfortunate for workers, shoppers and the company.”

A similar hazard pay wage increase has been approved by the city of Montebello and is being considered in Los Angeles and Pomona.

A lawsuit filed by the California Grocers Association claims that the Long Beach ordinance interferes with the collective bargaining process between grocery stores and unions representing workers.

An association official said Monday that an increase of $4 an hour represents about a 28% increase in labor costs.

“There’s no way grocers can absorb that big of a cost increase without an offset somewhere else, considering grocers operate with razor-thin margins and many stores already operate in the red,” association CEO Ron Fong said in a statement.

The ordinance was approved in a Jan. 19 meeting in which council members and Mayor Robert Garcia said many groceries gave employees hazard pay in the early stages of the pandemic but phased it out.

Vitamin D eyed as possible new tool in fight against coronavirus

Boston researchers are studying another potential weapon in the coronavirus fight.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital will look at whether vitamin D can lessen the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Researchers are also studying whether vitamin D supplements reduce the chance of becoming infected if you have been exposed to someone in your household who tested positive for COVID-19.

Vitamin D is already known as an immune system booster.

The study ( https://www.vividtrial.org/) will focus on patients age 30 or older who have been recently diagnosed with the virus within the previous five days.

Participants will be asked to take the vitamin D or placebo study capsules every day for 28 days, provide at-home blood samples by fingerprick and complete questionnaires.

Studies have suggested that vitamin D may reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections.

Researchers said, “the potential role of vitamin D to protect against infection by the novel coronavirus that leads to COVID-19 is promising but unknown.”

I’ve been working at home during the pandemic — do I qualify for home office tax deductions?

Say you’ve had to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Join the club. Like many others who are lucky enough to be able to do their jobs from home, you might now be wondering if you can claim a federal income tax deduction for home office expenses. As things currently stand, the answer is no unless you’re self-employed.

But the answer could change if Congress grants additional COVID-19-related tax relief. Here’s what you need to know about home office write-offs as things stand right now.

No home office deductions for employees
Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), an employee could potentially claim itemized deductions for unreimbursed employee business expenses —including home office expenses —if you used a home office for the convenience of your employer. In that case, you could lump the home office expenses together with other miscellaneous expenses — such as fees for investment advice, tax advice, tax preparation, and union dues.

If your total miscellaneous expenses exceeded 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), you could write off the excess — as long as you itemized deductions.

Unfortunately, that was then and this is now.

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33 million Californians face COVID-19 stay-at-home order that will restrict movements and business

A new stay-at-home order will be imposed on Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley Sunday night, as the coronavirus crisis spirals out of control with a speed that has exceeded health officials’ most dire projections.

Some 33 million Californians will be subject to the new order, representing 84% of the state’s population. The state mandated the restrictions in the Southland and Central Valley as capacity at hospitals’ intensive care units hit dangerously low levels. Five Bay Area counties will also begin lockdown restrictions in the coming days despite not yet reaching the threshold at which such action is mandated by the state.

The rules are less sweeping than California’s pioneering stay-at-home order in the spring, which is credited with slowing the first COVID-19 wave. But the new order will change daily life for many, especially in suburban Southern California counties like Orange and Ventura, which so far have enjoyed more open economies than hard-hit Los Angeles County.

Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley will implement the order Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Restaurants must halt in-person dining and can offer food only for delivery and takeout. Gatherings of people from different households will be prohibited, except for outdoor church services and political demonstrations. Affected communities will be required to close hair and nail salons, playgrounds, zoos, museums, card rooms, aquariums and wineries. Nonessential travel and use of hotels for leisure will be banned, as will overnight, short-term stays at campgrounds. All retail can remain open, but at 20% capacity.

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Disney’s theme park division loses $2.4 billion

The coronavirus cost Disney’s theme park division $2.4 billion as Disneyland remains closed, cruise ships are docked and Disney World is open at a limited capacity, the company disclosed Thursday in its quarterly earnings report.

But looking ahead, executives expect the next few months to be busy in Orlando since about 77% of the park reservations are booked for the next quarter, including an almost completely full Thanksgiving holiday.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the reopening is going well enough for Disney World to raise occupancy from 25% to 35%, adding he believes it is still possible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing among visitors with the higher number of people allowed inside.

For the company, it’s a hopeful sign as Disney theme parks try to rebound from the global pandemic.

“We’re very pleased by how we have become adapt at operating under these constraints,” Chapek said during Thursday’s earnings call. He said Disney has a proven track record of running theme parks with new strict safety rules several months into the pandemic reopening.

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Legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden tests positive for COVID-19

Former Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden has tested positive for the coronavirus.

ABC 27 spoke to Bowden on Monday, who confirmed the news.

Despite the positive diagnosis, Bowden, 90, said he’s doing pretty good and is waiting to see what’s going to happen.

While he did not say if any of his other household members have also tested positive, Bowden told ABC 27 they are all going to get tested again Monday.

Bowden said he does not know when he contracted it and did not mention when exactly he tested positive.

During his 34 years as Florida State’s head coach he had only one losing season in 1976. From 1987 to 2000, the Seminoles finished every season with at least 10 wins and in the top 5 of the Associated Press College Football Poll, and won the national championship in 1993 and 1999.

Judge refuses to hold John MacArthur, Grace Community Church in contempt without trial

A California judge has sided with California Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in yet another hearing over the church’s decision to hold indoor public worship services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pastor John MacArthur

On Thursday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that MacArthur and his Sun Valley-based church are entitled to a full trial on the merits of their challenge against state and local orders prohibiting indoor church gatherings before they can be held in contempt for violating the orders.

For nearly three months, the county has sought to shut down the church and hold MacArthur in contempt for repeatedly violating the order. However, attorneys at the Thomas More Society have argued that the governor’s orders violate several provisions of the state constitution.

This week, Beckloff ruled that the courts must first decide on the constitutionality of the shutdown orders before the county can pursue contempt charges.

Due to the state’s shut-down orders, the contempt trial is not expected to take place until early 2021.

The court scheduled a hearing to be held on Nov. 13 regarding the scope of the church’s challenge. A preliminary injunction was issued earlier this month by Beckloff prohibiting the church from conducting, participating in or attending any indoor worship services until the case is resolved.

Lawyers for MacArthur and Grace Community applauded the judge’s decision Thursday.

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