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COVID-19 Public Policy Update: April 17, 2020

Published Apr 17, 2020 by Taylor Landin

Washington, D.C.

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 
In the ongoing response to COVID-19, all levels of government continue to balance the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19. At the federal level, the Trump administration has released guidance for an approach in three phases to reopening the country’s economy, which details public activities and health protocols for each stage. An additional 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to 22 million people who have filed for unemployment. The Paycheck Protection Program as authorized under the CARES Act, which injected $349 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses to keep employees on the payroll, has hit its cap in less than two weeks. At the state level, Governor Abbott made a joint announcement with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo to open two new drive-through testing sites in Harris County at two Houston-area Walgreens as part of an ongoing effort to expand COVID-19 testing sites in the region. 

Federal 
Reopening the Country  

  • Opening Up America Again guidelines 
    • In his recently released guidance, the President laid out a three phased approach to reopening the country.  
      • Despite earlier comments, President Trump recently stated the governors would take the lead on opening in their states. During Thursday’s governor’s call, President Trump reportedly told governor’s that states could begin to allow public activities as soon as May 1st.  
    • Phase 1: All vulnerable people and all individuals in public spaces should maintain social distance, avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people and limit non-essential travel 
      • This brings us back to where the country was prior to the strict stay-at-home orders.  
      • Also mentioned during the first phase, it is suggested that schools which are currently closed should remain closed, and any employees who are able to telework should keep working from home.  
      • Large venues, including some restaurants, can operate under strict social distancing protocols, but bars should remain closed. Gyms can open if they maintain social distancing guidelines.  
    • The benchmarks for moving to the next phase include: 14 days of sustained decrease in overall numbers; ensure hospitals are at pre-crisis capacity, and have adequate PPE.  
    • Phases 2 and 3 gradually decrease the recommended restrictions.   
  • Response across the states: 
    • More than 90% of the population are currently under stay-at-home orders. 
      • Some states have extended their stay-at-home orders to varying times in May. New York has extended the state stay-at-home order until May 15th. Wisconsin extended the order until May 26th. Most states’ orders currently expire at the end of April or beginning of May.  
    • Multiple states are implementing face coverings for those in public.  
    • Protests over Stay-at-Home orders occurred in three states.  

Unemployment

  • An additional 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to 22 million people who have filed for unemployment.  
    • It is likely 9.2 million workers have lost health insurance due to unemployment.  
  • Sources: 

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) 

  • The PPP, the small business lending vehicle, has officially run out of money. 
    • The $349 billion program hit its cap in less than 2 weeks and is no longer accepting new applications or issuing new loans to small businesses.  
  • Congress is still in negotiations to bring an additional $250 million to the program, but the Senate adjourned today with no deal on the small business program.  
  • Source: NPR

Numbers 

  • Johns Hopkins University is reporting over 653,000 cases and over 30,000 deaths.  

State 

  • Governor Abbott made a joint announcement with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on the opening of two new drive-through testing sites in Harris County at two area Walgreens as part of an ongoing effort to continue expanding testing sites in the Houston region. 

Numbers 

  • As of noon on April 16, 16,455 Texans are reported to have contracted COVID-19, with 393 deaths. 158,547 tests have been administered. 191 of 254 counties report cases. An estimated 3,677 Texans have recovered. Harris County has the greatest number of COVID-19 cases, at 4,097, with Dallas County second with 1,986 cases. 

Local 

  • Harris County Judge Hidalgo announced two new rapid-testing sites. Beginning Friday, April 17, Walgreens will open two of their locations to offer rapid, live virus testing. After an individual completes the online CDC screening questionnaire, he or she will take his or her number to the Walgreens, where pharmacists will oversee as the individual who self-administers the test, which is less invasive and has quicker results. Health care workers, first responders and individuals over the age of 65 will have priority. Locations are:  
    • 14531 Westheimer, Houston, TX, 77082 
    • 101 West Southmore, Pasadena, TX, 77502 
  • Mayor Turner announced a new campaign in partnership with the Texas Restaurant Association and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, called #TakeUsToYourTable. This campaign, with support from ExxonMobil, is part of the TX Restaurant Relief Fund's ongoing response to COVID-19. As part of the campaign, Mayor Turner encouraged Houstonians to order from local restaurants next Thursday. 

April 16th Public Policy Update

Executive Summary 
Texas continues to respond to COVID-19 with a focus on addressing vulnerable populations and slowing the spread of the virus. Governor Greg Abbott announced local jails and detention centers will receive $38 million in federal funding to help cover COVID-19 costs related to PPE, medical care and overtime pay for public safety personnel. At the local level, the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund deployed its first round of grants, totaling $1.5 million invested in 30 nonprofits, to provide food and emergency financial assistance to vulnerable families and individuals in Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Waller counties. Fort Bend ISD announced that campuses will remain closed for the remainder of the current academic school year. They are the first traditional public school district in the greater Houston region to extend campus closures. 

Federal 
Numbers

  • Johns Hopkins University is reporting over 632,800 cases and over 27,800 deaths. 

State 

  • Governor Abbott announced $38 million in federal funding will go to local jails and detention centers to help cover COVID-19 costs, including personal protective equipment, medical care costs and overtime pay for public safety personnel. 

Numbers 

  • As of noon on April 14, 15,492 Texans are reported to have contracted COVID-19, with 364 deaths. 151,810 tests have been administered. 184 of 254 counties report cases. An estimated 4,150 Texans have recovered. Harris County has the greatest number of COVID-19 cases, at 3,907, with Dallas County second with 1,877 cases. 

Local 

  • The Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund deployed its first round of grants to provide food and emergency financial assistance to vulnerable families and individuals in Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Waller counties. 
    • You can find the full list of Round One grantees, as well as information about the fund’s investment strategy, volunteer task force, donors, and more at greaterhoustonrecovery.org
    • The first round of grants includes $1.5 million invested in 30 nonprofit partners to provide critical basic needs assistance to vulnerable families and individuals who may not receive any other aid, such as government stimulus funds. 

Public Education 
School Closures 

  • Fort Bend ISD announced that campuses will remain closed for the remainder of the current academic school year. They are the first traditional public school district in the greater Houston region to extend campus closures. One week ago, Houston’s largest charter school networks, YES Prep Public Schools and KIPP Texas Public Schools, announced the same decision. 

Higher Education 

  • The federal Department of Education laid out the amount of money each institution should expect to receive from the Education Stabilization Fund in addition to what amount is intended for direct student aid. 

April 15th Public Policy Update

Executive Summary 
All levels of government continue to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. At the federal level, President Trump announced a slate of more than 100 industry leaders he described as the “Great American Economic Revival Industry Group” with whom he will engage. The administration has also struck a deal with airlines for a $25 billion recovery package outlined under the CARES Act. At the local level, wireless hotspots are in extreme demand as Houston area school districts attempt to provide their highest need student populations with access to their online distance learning platforms. In a survey issued by the Region 4 Education Service Center and the Greater Houston Partnership, 32 area school districts and charter schools have reported that tens of thousands of Houston area students do not have access to a laptop or computer, do not have access to a cellular device, or need a WIFI hotspot to access the Internet. 

Federal 
Economic Revival Industry Group 

  • President Trump named more than 100 industry leaders he described as the “Great American Economic Revival Industry Group” during Tuesday’s daily press briefing. 
    • While it had been anticipated the President would possibly announce a task force focused on the plan to re-open the economy, the President instead announced a list of business executives, faith leaders, and thought leaders with whom he will engage. The President stated he will begin to consult the panel of advisors by phone as soon as Wednesday. 
    • The panel of advisors will work separately from the White House Task Force led by Vice President Pence, however, it is anticipated there will be some overlap. 
  • White House Press Release
  • Source: New York Times

Airline Bailout

  • The Trump Administration and airlines have struck a deal for a $25 billion bailout. 
    • A number of the major airlines will be participating in a payroll support program which was created under the CARES Act passed last month. 
    • The federal assistance is designed to help pay employees, and those airlines which take the assistance are prohibited from major staffing cuts or pay cuts through September.  
  • Airlines have cut flying by almost 70% with passenger volume down 95% from the same time last year, and revenue has fallen over 90% year of year.  
  • Source: WSJ 

WHO Funding

  • President Trump announced during his daily briefing that he is halting funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) pending a review of the organization.  
  • The United States is the largest contributor to the WHO providing for $893 million over the current two-year funding period.  

Numbers 

  • Johns Hopkins University is reporting approximately 600,000 cases and over 25,000 deaths.  

State 
Numbers 

  • As of Noon on April 14: 14,624 Texans are reported to have contracted COVID-19, with 318 deaths. 146,467 tests have been administered. 181 of 254 counties report cases. An estimated 2,580 Texans have recovered. 

Public Education 
Distance Learning

  • Wireless hotspots are in extreme demand as Houston area school districts attempt to provide their highest need student populations with access to their online distance learning platforms. More information on the demand for hotspots and the inequities associated with distance learning can be found here. 
  • In a survey issued by the Region 4 Education Service Center and the Greater Houston Partnership, 32 area school districts and charter schools have reported that:  
    • 146,500 students do not have access to a laptop or computer.  
    • 50,000 students do not have access to a cellular device. 
    • At least 76,000 students need a WIFI hotspot to access the Internet. 

School Closures 

  • In a press conference on Monday, Governor Abbott said that we can expect a decision to be made this week on the possibility of allowing schools to re-open this academic school year.  

April 14th Public Policy Update

Executive Summary
All levels of government continue to respond to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. At the federal level, negotiations over the next round of federal assistance to small businesses have stalled in Congress. At the state level, Governor Greg Abbott announced a $50 million small business assistance loan program to respond to COVID-19 in partnership with Goldman Sachs and LiftFund. At the local level, the City of Houston has expanded COVID-19 testing to anyone wanting to get a test and doubled their drive-thru daily testing capacity to 1,000. 

Federal 
Interim Stimulus Package

  • As of Monday afternoon, negotiations over the next round of federal assistance to small businesses have stalled in Congress. 
    • Senate Republicans decided to not bring forth the measure during the Senate session on Monday as Democrats pushed for broader legislation to include assistance for health care and local and state governments in addition to the $250 billion proposed by Senate Republicans for small business assistance.  
  • Source: 

Numbers

  • Johns Hopkins University is reporting over 568,000 cases and almost 23,000 deaths.  

State 

  • Governor Abbott held a press conference on Monday to announce a $50 million small business assistance loan program.  
    • The fund is being offered by Goldman Sachs through the Small Business Administration to distribute money to small businesses suffering as a result of COVID-19.  
      • $25 million comes from a partnership between Goldman Sachs and LiftFund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which helped Texas businesses recover from Hurricane Harvey.  
      • Other CDFI's around Texas will help distribute the remaining dollars.
      • The LiftFund application page can be found here
  • In related news from the press conference, the Texas Workforce Commission has distributed over $400 million in unemployed benefits, though many more applications are still in progress. 
  • The Governor did share a brief positive update on COVID-19 cases. Statewide, hospitalizations are at their lowest point in the last week, deaths are at a 3-day low, and the growth rate of new cases continues to decrease. The Governor emphasized that while positive, it is too soon to draw conclusions from these trends. 

Numbers

  • As of noon on Monday, April 13, 13,906 Texans have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of those, 287 have died. 178 of 254 counties report cases. An estimated 2,269 Texans have recovered. 

Local 

  • The City of Houston has expanded COVID-19 testing to anyone wanting to get a test and doubled their drive-thru daily testing capacity to 1,000. Each community site will ramp up its testing capacity from 250 to 500 people per day. The tests are free to the public. 
  • People can call the city's COVID-19 call center at 832-393-4220 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to receive a unique identification code and instructions on where to go for testing and how to obtain their test results. 

Higher Education Update 
Institution Updates

  • Higher Education institutions are shifting to online campus tours with plans for orientations to occur online as well. 
  • UH announced a 1-month extension for admissions applications. 

Funding Requests

  • Over 40 higher education organizations are requesting an additional $46.6 billion in the next federal aid package to be divided equally between students and institutions. 
     

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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