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COVID-19 Public Policy Update: April 10, 2020

Published Apr 10, 2020 by Taylor Landin

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Partnership will provide a daily update on public policies and other newsworthy items from local, state and national levels of government.

Executive Summary 
All levels of government continue to respond to the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19. At the federal level, the Senate did not pass plans to provide additional federal assistance to small businesses. 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total to more than 17 million new jobless claims filed in the past four weeks. At the state level, over 750,000 Texans applied for unemployment over the past month, with 313,832 applying last week. At the local level, the City of Houston planned for potential COVID-19 public health impacts of the Easter weekend by closing city parks. Harris County announced the closure of county parks on Wednesday. 

Federal 
Unemployment 

  • 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total to more than 17 million new jobless claims filed in the past four weeks.  
    • The unemployment rate jumped from 12 to 13 percent and is the worst level of joblessness since the Great Depression. 
    • Nearly every sector of the economy has job loses, including manufacturing, construction, and health care (especially facilities outside of hospitals).  
  • Source: Washington Post

Small Business Federal Assistance 

  • On Thursday, the Senate did not pass plans to provide additional federal assistance to small businesses. 
    • Republicans and Democrats blocked competing proposals on providing further relief measures to small businesses. 
    • The Senate attempted to pass the plan by unanimous consent to prevent having to bring the entire body back to Washington, D.C., therefore any one senator could block the measure.  
    • The Senate will not be back in session until Monday. 
  • The Treasury Department has asked Congress for an additional $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was originally passed in the CARES Act and provides assistance to small business owners to keep their businesses going and employees on payroll during the pandemic.  
  • Sources: 

President’s Economic Task Force

  • Although not officially confirmed, it is being reported that President Trump is preparing to announce a second coronavirus task force focused on the economic impacts of the virus. 
    • The task force will be made up of private-sector and senior administration officials, including Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and national economic advisor Larry Kudlow.  
  • The goal of the task force is to get as much of the country back to work by April 30th. 
  • Source: Washington Post

Numbers

  • As of Thursday afternoon, Johns Hopkins University is reporting over 451,000 cases and almost 16,000 deaths. 

State 

  • Governor Abbott continued to waive some healthcare regulations to expand care under the essential services order. Speech-language pathologists, hearing aid fitters and dispensers, dyslexia therapists, and behavior analysts will now be allowed to provide telehealth services over mobile phones or any other real-time video system.  
  • Over 750,000 Texans applied for unemployment over the past month, with 313,832 applying last week. 
  • $168 million in new Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit funding has been approved for Texas by the US Department of Agriculture. The funding will be issued for April and May. 

Numbers

  • 10,230 COVID-19 cases are reported in Texas as of Noon on April 9. 199 have died, 1,101 are estimated to have recovered, and more than 106,134 tests have been issued. 170 of 254 counties report cases. 

Local 

  • On Thursday, Mayor Turner announced the closure of City parks and trails for the Easter weekend, effective Thursday evening.  
  • On Thursday, the City of Houston announced an increase of 615 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the City’s total to 1,195. 

Higher Education Update 

  • DOE released guidance around the usage of funds for higher education institutions, precluding them from paying themselves back for refunds issued to students. This was done to insure there is no delay in funds reaching students in need. 
  • Higher Education Dollars ($14.25 billion) 
    • About half has already been disbursed which is earmarked for direct student emergency aid. 
    • The remaining funds are expected to be disbursed in the next 2-4 weeks. 
  • Governors discretionary fund ($3 billion) - expected to be disbursed in June.    
    • States are required to submit an “application” outlining how they intend to use the money which will be reviewed prior to disbursement. 

April 9 

Executive Summary 
All levels of government continue to respond to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. At the federal level, the Senate, the House, and the Trump administration continued discussions on additional federal stimulus. The Senate and Trump administration continue negotiations with the House with what should be included in the pending legislative package, with the Senate and Trump administration seeking $250 billion to bolster the recently created Paycheck Protection Program and the House seeking $250 billion in additional funding for health needs and federal food aid for families. At the state level, Governor Abbott held a press conference and provided an update on the production and distribution of personal protective equipment. A new partnership was announced between the Texas Military Department and Prestige Ameritech that will help increase production of masks by 2 million a week. At the local level, Harris County Judge Hidalgo announced that all Harris County parks will be closed for Easter Weekend to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Federal 
Additional Stimulus (from Politico) 

  • On Wednesday, the Senate, the House, and the Trump administration continued discussions on additional federal stimulus. The Senate and Trump administration are at odds with the House with what should be included in the pending legislative package, with the Senate and Trump administration seeking $250 billion to bolster the recently created Paycheck Protection Program and the House seeking $250 billion in additional funding for hospitals, health centers, state and local governments, and an increase in federal food aid for families. 

  • The Senate will be looking to pass their version of a relief bill during its pro forma session on Thursday, with the hopes that the House will pass the relief package during its pro forma session on Friday. 

  • House members indicate that they still plan on pursuing a separate and much larger legislative package in the coming weeks. 

Numbers 

  • AS of 2:30 p.m. (4/8/20) Johns Hopkins University is reporting 419,975 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. with 14,262 deaths. 

State 

  • Governor Abbott has waived certain regulations to increase workforce capabilities for pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns during the COVID-19 emergency. These waivers will allow pharmacy technicians to accept drug prescriptions by phone, to transfer or receive transfers of prescription information for patients and to additionally allow for pharmacy interns to directly assist pharmacists. 

  • Governor Abbott held a press conference and provided an update on the production and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE). A new partnership was announced between the Texas Military Department and Prestige Ameritech that will help increase production of masks by 2 million a week.  

  • Governor Abbott also announced that Walgreens locations in Texas will soon deploy 15-minute drive-through testing for COVID-19 which may have the capability to test up to 3,000 people per day.  

  • Governor Abbott mentioned that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has been experiencing record-setting call numbers to their benefits claims line. On March 26, the TWC received their highest number of calls ever, with about 1.7 million calls placed. The typical daily average of calls received by the TWC are about 120,000.  

Numbers

  • As of late afternoon on April 8: 9,353 cases in Texas. 177 deaths. 167 counties reporting cases. 96,258 tests administered. Harris County now has 2,146 cases, which is still the most reported positive cases in the state. 

Local

  • On Wednesday, Harris County Judge Hidalgo announced that all Harris County parks will be closed for Easter Weekend to prevent the spread of COVID-19. City of Houston parks will remain open. City park rangers will have the discretion to close parks, however, if individuals do not properly follow social distancing measures. 

Higher Education 
Institutional Updates 

  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is offering online support to help institutions seamlessly transition courses fully online.  SNHU is a leader in online education. 

  • UT President will lead the institution through COVID-19 before assuming the role of president at Emory University in June. 

April 8 

Executive Summary 
All levels of government continue to implement economic and public health policies to respond to COVID-19. At the federal level, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced $30 billion from the $100 billion allocated to hospitals in the CARES Act will be disbursed this week. Hospitals will receive the funding based on the individual hospital’s Medicare revenue. While Congress is in recess, negotiations, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have begun on a fourth phase for the coronavirus recovery package. Despite earlier discussions of this phase being focused on infrastructure, Speaker Pelosi has recently indicated the package will be like the recently passed CARES Act and focus on small business assistance, direct payments to Americans, and funding for public health. At the state level, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission will temporarily close all state parks and historical sites to strengthen social distancing measures. At the local level, Harris County Commissioners Court approved an agreement with Houston-Galveston Area Council for a Small Business Economic Assistance Loan Program in response to COVID-19. The program aims to help businesses impacted by the pandemic by offering zero-interest, forgivable loans up to $25,000 to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses and obligations. 

Federal 
Phase 4 Recovery Package – “CARES Act 2” 

  • While Congress is in recess, negotiations, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have begun on a fourth phase for the coronavirus recovery package. 

  • Despite earlier discussions of this phase being focused on infrastructure, Speaker Pelosi has recently indicated the package will be like the recently passed CARES Act and focus on small business assistance, direct payments to Americans, and funding for public health. 

  • It is anticipated the bill will be on the House floor on April 20th, when Congress is expected to return to Washington, D.C. 

CARES Act Hospital Funding 

  • CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced $30 billion from the $100 billion allocated to hospitals in the CARES Act will be disbursed this week. 

  • Hospitals will receive the funding based on the individual hospital’s Medicare revenue and funds will be received via direct deposit. It should be noted that the money will not be released on a first come, first serve basis. 

Numbers 

  • As of early Tuesday morning, Johns Hopkins University is reporting nearly 400,000 cases and over 12,900 deaths in the United States. 

  • African Americans may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 

  • Reports are showing African Americans make up over 70% of deaths from COVID-19 in Louisiana and Chicago, while only approximately 30% of the population. 

  • In Chicago, African Americans make up 30% of the population, yet represent 52% of the reported cases of COVID-19 and 72% of the related deaths. 

  • Similar reports are coming out of Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Michigan. 

  • More testing and better data are still needed, as most states and territories have not released racial or ethnic data. 

State 

  • At the direction of Governor Abbott, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas Historical Commission (THC) will temporarily close all state parks and historical sites to strengthen social distancing measures in response to COVID-19. State parks and historical sites will remain closed until further notice otherwise to be given by the Governor. 

  • Governor Abbott announced that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has implemented an emergency rule that will provide increased flexibility to providers to serve dialysis patients during the COVID-19 crisis. This will allow end stage renal disease (ESRD) facilities to operate off-site outpatient locations for those who test positive for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the virus to other dialysis patients.  

Numbers 

  • As of late afternoon on April 7: 8,262 cases in Texas. 154 deaths. 161 counties reporting cases. 88,649 tests administered. 

Local 

  • On Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court approved an agreement with Houston-Galveston Area Council for a Small Business Economic Assistance Loan Program in response to COVID-19. 

  • The program aims to help businesses impacted by the pandemic by offering zero-interest, forgivable loans up to $25,000 to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses and obligations. Businesses must demonstrate that they have been harmed by the pandemic. Loans can be forgiven through county tax breaks over five years. If the borrower violates the loan's conditions, the business will become ineligible for loan forgiveness and will begin repayment following a three-month grace period. 

  • An amendment was accepted to track whether businesses that are approved for loans are MWBE businesses. 

  • The program will go live Wednesday and anticipates cutting checks to businesses within 30 days. 

  • To be eligible, businesses must have existed for at least one year, be in Harris County and in good standing with the tax assessor, have a net worth of less than $15 million and annual average net income of less than $5 million over the past two years. 

  • Houston Chronicle

April 7 

Executive Summary 
COVID-19 related deaths topped 10,000 in the United States on Monday. The State of Texas and the Houston region are working to address critical education and child care needs in response to COVID-19. At the state level, Governor Abbott announced an initiative with Care.com to increase in-home childcare for those working on the frontlines to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. Care.com will be offering free, premium services for 90 days, along with specific portals for frontline workers and caregivers in Texas. At the local level, the City of Houston, Harris County, Workforce Solutions, the Houston Endowment and Collaborative for Children have partnered to develop a child care resource for essential workers responding to COVID-19. Essential workers can register for child care and financial support online at FindChildCareNow.org. The Partnership is beginning work this week to connect school districts with technology resources their students need to continue their education online. If you or your business have any available technology resources such as laptops, computers, tablets, or cellphones that you would be willing to donate to a local school district, we request that you contact Ben Melson, Director of Public Policy, at bmelson@houston.org

Federal 

Numbers  

  • As of Monday afternoon, Johns Hopkins University is reporting 352,000 cases, and 10,389 deaths. 

  • Milestone: America has reached over 10,000 deaths. For reference, this time last week we were at 2,800 deaths. It is expected we will see an exponential rise in deaths this week. 

State 

  • Governor Abbott held a press briefing joined by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, to provide an update on the state's distribution measures of personal protective equipment (PPE).  The Governor stated that Texas has received 2.5 million masks in the last 24 hours, and 3 million more are arriving by April 11, 2020. Governor Abbott also presented a breakdown of PPE distribution within the past week by region and also discussed the distribution process of materials. A copy of the slide deck shown at the press conference can be viewed here. https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/FINAL_SUPPLY_CHAIN_UPDATE_4.6..20.pdf 

  • Governor Abbott announced an initiative with Care.com to increase in-home childcare for those working on the frontlines to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. Care.com will be offering free, premium services for 90 days, along with specific portals for frontline workers and caregivers in Texas. More information on enrollment and can be found here https://texasfrontline.care.com/ 

Numbers 

  • As of late afternoon on April 6: 7,276 cases in Texas. 140 deaths. 157 counties reporting cases. 85,357 tests administered. 

Local 
 

  • The City of Houston, Harris County, Workforce Solutions, the Houston Endowment and Collaborative for Children have partnered to develop a child care resource for essential workers responding to COVID-19. Essential workers can register for child care and financial support online at FindChildCareNow.org.  

  • Essential workers can log onto the website to complete an online registration form. Information provided on the form will enable Collaborative for Children’s early childhood specialists to research child care centers that best meets the workers’ needs and begin the process for Workforce Solutions to determine eligibility for financial assistance. Essential workers will receive up to three high-quality child care centers from which they can choose and notification of financial assistance eligibility within two business days. 

  • On Monday afternoon the City of Houston reported 402 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the city's total cases to 1,145. The city said that the influx was related to a testing backlog and that some of the cases dated back to mid-March. 

Public Education 

Distance Learning: 

  • A recent review of census data shows that a significant number of students who attend school in one of the five largest school districts in our region do not have reliable access to the internet. 

  • Aldine ISD: 31.2% 

  • Houston ISD: 24.4% 

  • Cy-Fair ISD: 12.3% 

  • Fort Bend ISD: 6.8% 

  • Katy ISD: 6.7% 

  • More information on distance learning in our region can be found here. 

  • In partnership with the Region 4 Education Service Center, we have issued a technology survey of surrounding school districts to assess student’s technology needs. Out of 22 school districts and charter schools who have responded to this point, we have identified about 114,500 students who do not have access to a laptop or computer at home. 

  • The Partnership is beginning work this week to connect school districts with technology resources their students need to continue their education online. If you or your business have any available technology resources such as laptops, computers, tablets, or cellphones that you would be willing to donate to a local school district, we request that you contact Ben Melson at bmelson@houston.org

Higher Education 

Institution Implications: 

  • Rice University has made their dorms available to healthcare professionals. 

Policy Implications: 

  • Higher education associations (along with other groups) are advocating for states to provide reciprocity for health care and mental health care licensure requirements to allow professionals to readily move across state lines to support COVID-19 efforts nationally. 

April 6 

Executive Summary 
Over the weekend, the federal government and State of Texas each announced new measures to respond to the public health impacts of COVID-19. At the federal level, the CDC recommended that all Americans should wear fabric masks while in public in order to reduce the spread of the virus. At the state level, Governor Greg Abbott waived regulations to expand the health care workforce in Texas in response to COVID-19. This will allow certain health care candidates for licensure who have completed all other requirements to enter the workforce under supervision during the emergency. The Texas Education Agency has announced that for 2020 state academic accountability, all districts and campuses will receive a label of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.” 

Federal 

  • CDC Mask Recommendations 
    • The CDC has announced its recommendation for all Americans to wear fabric masks while in public. 
    • Cloth coverings are recommended in lieu of medical grade masks due to the overwhelming shortage of medical masks for health care workers. 
    • The recommendation for Americans to wear masks does not replace the social distancing guidelines and should be viewed as in addition to the social distancing measures. 
    • Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html 

Numbers 

  • As of Monday morning, Johns Hopkins University is reporting over 337,000 cases, and 9,653 deaths. 
  • The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Americans should prepared for a tragic week, as it is expected for the death toll to increase exponentially this week.      

State 

  • On Friday afternoon, Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference providing an update on the state's increased hospital bed capacity. The state is also preparing to bring additional facilities online to provide supplementary health care if needed.  
  • Over the weekend, Governor Abbott held a call with Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. They discussed the trajectory of COVID-19 in Texas, the current social distancing measures that are to stay in place until April 30th, and the expansion of testing in the state. Dr. Fauci stated that the efforts Texas is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will help slow the spread and protect public health.  
  • On April 5, Governor Abbott waived regulations to expand the health care workforce in Texas in response to COVID-19. This will allow certain health care candidates for licensure who have completed all other requirements to enter the workforce under supervision during the emergency.  

Numbers 

As of early morning on April 6: 6,812 cases in Texas. 127 deaths. 152 counties reporting cases. 70,938 tests administered. 

Public Education 

  • A-F Accountability System: 
    • The Texas Education Agency has announced that for 2020 state academic accountability, all districts and campuses will receive a label of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.” 
    • Higher Education 

Institution Updates 

University of St. Thomas is offering medical personnel use of dorm rooms while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.  Personnel are expected to start moving in this week. 

Permanent University Fund is anticipating a decline in growth this year due to sagging oil prices.  This will not immediately impact distribution or the promise of free tuition for those households meeting the income threshold. 
 

Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information. And sign up for daily email alerts from the Partnership as the situation develops. 

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