COVID-19 response memo, 6/17/20

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COVID-19 response memo, 6/17/20

COVID-19 Cases

New cases: 264

Total cumulative cases reported Wednesday: 41,013

Total cumulative cases reported Tuesday: 40,786

Increase in cumulative cases: 227

Increase in cases reported June 11-17: 2,713

Increase in cases reported June 4-10: 2,625

COVID-19 Deaths

New deaths: 24

Total deaths: 2,289

County Numbers

Marion County new cases: 28

Marion County cumulative cases: 10,862

Marion County new deaths: 3

Marion County cumulative deaths: 657

Hamilton County cumulative cases: 1,371

Johnson County cumulative cases: 1,177

U.S. and Worldwide Numbers

U.S. cases: 2,141,306

U.S. deaths: 117,033

Global cases: 8,214,571

Global deaths: 444,853

Indiana’s K-12 Schools Won’t Face State Funding Cuts, Holcomb Says

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday that K-12 schools will not face cuts in state funding next school year despite significant revenue shortfalls after the coronavirus pandemic closed businesses and caused unemployment rates to soar.

Holcomb and state lawmakers have agreed to move forward with the current budget, he said during a scheduled video conference. That includes maintaining the planned $183 million increase in school funding.

The state is expected to end the fiscal year with a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall, said Indiana Office of Management and Budget director Cris Johnston—a big enough shortfall to potentially deplete the state’s surplus.

Funding for K-12 education accounts for about half of the state’s spending—more than $7 billion a year. Budgets for other state agencies have already been reduced and plans were released last week for public universities to take a 7% cut, worth $103 million.

Early in Indiana’s coronavirus response, state leaders said K-12 funding would not change under the current budget. But their promises didn’t initially extend beyond this year. The Indiana General Assembly is scheduled to set a new two-year budget in the upcoming legislative session, which is set to start in January.

School districts have been looking to lawmakers for financial assurances as they put together plans to reopen in the fall. New safety precautions recommended by the state could be costly to implement, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has cautioned that federal relief likely won’t go far for most districts.

Holcomb also said he supports a decision by the Indiana Department of Education last week to protect schools from losing funding for students who choose to take classes online. Typically, online students are funded at 85% of what brick-and-mortar schools receive.

State Could See $3B-$4B Revenue Shortfall in Two-Year Budget—About 10% Of What It Planned To Spend

State revenue will be $3 billion to $4 billion less than expected in the current two-year budget cycle that ends in June 2021, according to estimates shared during the State Budget Committee meeting Wednesday.

Tax receipts for fiscal year 2020 were already off by $1.2 billion by the end of May, and that number is expected to grow to $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion before the fiscal year ends June 30.

In fiscal year 2021, State Budget Director Zac Jackson said, some of the revenue that otherwise would have been collected in this fiscal year—about $800 million—is expected to be paid in the next one, due to the deadline for income tax payments moving from April to July 15.

Still, even with that boost, the state expects to miss revenue projections by $2 billion next year.

The total shortfall over the biennium—possibly $3.7 billion to $3.8 billion—would be about 10% of the state’s $34.6 billion budget and would far exceed the state’s $2.3 billion in cash reserves.

Jackson said the estimates are based on internal projections, but he expects to have an updated revenue forecast by September to have a more accurate outlook. Still, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration is taking steps to prepare for the budgetary problems.

State agencies have already been asked to cut spending by 15% for fiscal year 2021, which could save the state some $900 million. And state colleges and universities are taking a 7% hit, which will save about $103 million.

As for this fiscal year, state agencies were told to identify any cost savings measures possible and have been under a hiring freeze. Capital projects totaling $466 million also have been sidelined for now.

The state is also keeping $13.5 million in gas tax revenue in the general fund, as opposed to transferring it to a fund within the Indiana Department of Transportation. Within the general fund, the money can be used for health care, K-12 education or child services.

Jackson said the money will likely help fill a $20 million budget gap the Department of Child Services has in its fiscal year 2020 budget. Jackson said the state is also creatively using any federal assistance it receives to help the budget situation this year and next.

Indiana received $2.4 billion through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, but the law does not allow the money to replace lost tax revenue or cover expenses already outlined in the state budget. The funding must be used for COVID-19 related expenses incurred from March 1 to Dec. 30. Johnston said the state is using the $2.4 billion in three categories so far: $500 million for direct expenses related to the public health emergency, $500 million for state government recovery costs and $500 million for relief programs. The public health crisis expenses include costs such as testing, contact tracing and expanding the unemployment insurance call center. Some of the state government recovery costs include public health and safety payroll, other staff overtime, reopening state offices and remote work expenses.

Holcomb’s administration has already announced how it would like to spend $430 million of the $500 million set aside for relief programs, including $300 million for local governments, $50 million for workforce development programs, $50 million for developmental disability and aging support programs and $30 million for small businesses. Johnston said the state is holding back allocating the rest of the CARES Act funding because officials are waiting for more guidance from the federal government about how exactly it can be used and out of precaution in case COVID-19 cases spike in the fall. Johnston said he’s not counting on additional federal assistance, but the administration would like Congress to give states more flexibility in the way the existing funding can be spent.

The state also received an additional $1 billion in federal aid for specific state agencies:

  • $378 million to the Department of Education,
  • $238 million to the Department of Transportation,
  • $232 million to the Indiana State Department of Health,
  • $103 million to Family and Social Services Administration,
  • $61 million to the Governor’s Office,
  • $64 million  to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority,
  • $38 million to the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and
  • $31 million to the Department of Workforce Development.

Of the $378 million the education department received, $164 million was for the child nutrition program, $192 million was allocated to K-12 schools based on Title I funding and $22 million was for grants for targeting groups and state services related to virtual teaching.

Another $1.6 billion in federal support never passed through state government and instead went directly to the recipients—hospitals, community health centers, higher education institutions, airports, farmers and local public housing authorities.

Health Commissioner Huddles With School Leaders on Reopening Advice

The Indiana State Health Commissioner on Tuesday clarified the state’s guidelines for reopening schools, which some school leaders have criticized for putting too much responsibility on individual districts.

During a webinar the state’s Department of Education hosted Dr. Kristina Box, answering questions from district leaders, expanded on the 38-page recommendations released by the state earlier this month. School districts statewide are scrambling to come up with their own plans for reopening next school year, after buildings were closed for months to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Reopening campuses is one of the last and trickiest steps in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to lift statewide restrictions. In Indiana, hundreds of new COVID-19 cases continue to be reported daily.

Here are five key takeaways from Box’s advice for schools:

1. School reopening plans don’t have to be approved by local health departments.

While county health departments will have the authority to intervene and potentially close schools in the event of an outbreak, they aren’t required to provide oversight at this point. Box said they can offer resources and advice, but don’t have to sign off on districts’ plans. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has largely instructed districts to work with local health departments to decide what’s best for everything from how to maintain social distance on a school bus to how long to shut down buildings should a student or teacher test positive for the virus. Districts’ plans also won’t be turned into the state Department of Education. That’s a change from this spring, when the state reviewed hundreds of remote learning plans.

2. Masks will be key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Box repeatedly said that wearing face masks will be key to keeping schools safe, along with implementing social distancing protocols. She recommended that both students and staff wear masks, although she acknowledged that may be more difficult to enforce with younger students.

A covering that sits close to your mouth offers the best protection, she said. But if children are more comfortable wearing a face shield, she has “no objection to that.” Box recommended students wear masks on the bus, especially if a district can’t allow for six feet of distance between students. The state is purchasing 2 million cloth masks, which will be distributed to schools.

3. Self- or home-screening is highly recommended.

Screening all students and staff for coronavirus symptoms at school every day may not be realistic, Box said, echoing the concerns of some school leaders. Those waiting to have their temperature checked could congregate and an unsafe distance, Box said. And often the person performing the screening ends up testing positive. Instead, Box recommended that families be given a checklist of symptoms, including a 100.4-degree fever, to check their child for every morning. Not sending a sick child to school will be critical, she said.

4. Water fountains should be shut down.

Federal guidance is clear that water fountains should not be used because they are classified as “high-touch” areas, Box said. Students should be encouraged to bring their own water, she said. Or teachers can refill their water bottles, disinfecting them before and after using the fountain.

McCormick also noted that schools can also now apply to be reimbursed for the cost of bottled water under the federal school lunch program. Other high-touch areas to avoid include cafeteria surfaces, especially serve-yourself options, such as a salad bar, Box said. And students should be encouraged to wash their hands before eating.

5. Schools should be cautious about activities, including athletics and choir.

Under the state’s guidelines, schools can safely restart extracurricular activities after July 1 if they follow a list of precautions, including limiting interpersonal contact as much as possible, making hand sanitizer available, reducing the number and length of events, and limiting locker rooms to 50% capacity. Box said school should make decisions about extracurriculars cautiously. Administrators should keep in mind that the coronavirus can be spread by workout equipment, she said, which schools and universities have experienced during past outbreaks of other viruses.

Activities should be moved outside or into the auditorium to allow for maximum social distancing, she said. This could be especially important for choir, when students are singing loudly and likely not wearing masks. Box referred to one case in which a single member of a church choir who had COVID-19 infected 87% of the group.

DWD Announces Extended Benefits

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development says the state has been approved for extended benefits for up to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. The DWD says it was notified of the change earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The benefits program, which the department says is triggered during periods of high unemployment, took effect last week.

The program is available to workers who have exhausted regular unemployment insurance benefits which are calculated per state. The DWD says Indiana’s unemployment rate currently exceeds the 5% threshold to trigger the extension. The department says federal CARES Act provides Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for up to 13 additional weeks, and EB is available after PEUC is exhausted. 

The DWD says the first week Hoosiers may be eligible for the additional EB is the week ending July 4. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation continues to provide an additional $600 per week to claimants until July 25. The department says the CARES Act also expands the pool of claimants eligible to receive unemployment benefits to include self-employed, contract and gig workers, as well as those that were previously ineligible under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

The DWD says no action is required by the claimant if qualified for EB, and claimants will be automatically enrolled in EB by the DWD. The department says claimants should simply continue filing their weekly voucher if they remain unemployed.

Since March, the DWD says it has paid out $2.8 billion in unemployment insurance benefits.

Virus Can Hit Minorities As Much As 10x Higher

Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans have coronavirus mortality rates as much as 10x higher than white Americans' when age is taken into account, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institution. 

Why it matters: We've known that minorities are being hit harder by the coronavirus, but we didn't know it was this bad. 

Between the lines: White Americans tend to be older than black and Latino Americans, putting a higher percentage of white people in older and thus more vulnerable age brackets. That's skewed the overall death rate by race.

  • When unadjusted for age, black people have a death rate twice that for whites, and Hispanics' death rate is about the same as whites'.
  • But when age is taken into account, the death rate for black Americans is 3.6 times that of white Americans, and Hispanics' is 2.5 times higher.

The bottom line: "Race gaps in vulnerability to Covid-19 highlight the accumulated, intersecting inequities facing Americans of color (but especially Black people) in jobs, housing, education, criminal justice – and in health," the authors write. 

Go deeper: Why the coronavirus pandemic is hitting minorities harder

SBA, Treasury Announce New EZ and Revised Full Forgiveness Applications for PPP

Today, SBA and Treasury issued a revised PPP loan forgiveness application to accommodate the implementation of the PPP Flexibility Act, signed into law by President Trump on June 5. SBA and Treasury have also issued a new EZ version of the forgiveness application. The EZ version of the application applies to borrowers that are self employed, did not reduce salaries or wages of employees by more than 25 percent, or experienced reductions in business activity as a result of health orders in the wake of COVID-19.

Both applications give borrowers the option to choose the 8 week loan period or the extended 24 week loan period.

A press release from SBA and both applications can be found here.

Operation Warp Speed Fact Sheet 

Yesterday, the Administration’s Operation Warp Speed (OWS) released a fact sheet highlighting efforts it has taken to accelerate the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The goal of OWS is to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine to Americans by January 2021. 

Fourteen vaccine candidates have been selected from more than 100 vaccines currently in development, and seven of those vaccines will undergo clinical trials with OWS.

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